District 73 board turns focus to potential referendum

Hawthorn Elementary District 73 is closer to determining how much property owners will be asked to pay to renovate and expand its six schools to address overcrowding.

The range of what the district would seek through a potential referendum is $49 million to $57.6 million, both more than what voters rejected in April 2017.

Members of the board of education realize they will have their work cut out for them explaining to taxpayers what they will be getting for their money.

"That is the selling part," board President Sonali Patil said during a discussion Monday. "We're on a timeline where we have to decide what we want to do."

Meanwhile, the board stabilized its top administrative spot by approving a contract for two interim superintendents. They will guide the Vernon Hills-based district during the 2018-19 school year while the board searches for a full-time superintendent.

One of the interim superintendents is Mark Friedman, who served as superintendent at Libertyville Elementary District 70 for 17 years before retiring in 2009. Friedman is president of BWP & Associates Ltd., a Libertyville-based educational search firm.

The other interim is Joseph Porto, an associate with the firm, who served as superintendent at Avoca School District 37 in Wilmette for nine years before retiring in 2011.

They will tag team the position as independent contractors paid $1,200 per day. Neither will be at district headquarters full-time and the district will not be responsible for benefits or pension.

"To some it might seem high, but that's the going rate," Friedman said Tuesday. State law limits retired certified educators to 100 days or 500 hours each, he added.

"It's a tricky thing. We're going to follow the rules," he said.

Besides seeking a full-time superintendent, BWP also is conducting searches for a director of teaching and learning and principal at Townline Elementary school.

Dealing with crowded conditions is the biggest challenge facing District 73, which again will be seeking voter support for a school building program. Voters last year soundly rejected a $42 million request to fund upgrades.

The deadline to get on the November ballot is Aug. 28, and the board has been narrowing the scope of the projects before settling on an amount.

The previous plan included funding an 18-room kindergarten building with reserves. But the board has determined the $800,000 already spent on planning for that facility is all it can muster, as revenues are not covering the costs of new students that have been pouring in over the past few years.

That means the cost of the kindergarten building will be included in the total to be asked of voters. That project was estimated at $12 million, but the low bid was $14.7 million. The $57.6 million amount is an "all in" figure.

"I just can't imagine putting this number out there and it actually having a chance of passing," said board member Julie Simpson. "We have to do what we have to do to get it down or else we're going to be very crowded for a very long time."

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