Lake Villa District 41 considers trying another referendum

Lake Villa Elementary District 41 officials are evaluating a plan to place a $31.5 million referendum on the March ballot to fund building improvements.

The proposal also could include a plan to shift the district's sixth graders to Palombi Middle School, freeing space in overcrowded elementary schools, officials say. Palombi currently houses seventh and eighth graders.

A facilities subcommittee presented "bare-bones" referendum scenarios to the rest of the school board Wednesday that addresses needs for school buildings that officials say the district cannot otherwise afford.

"It's not about us not being fiscally prudent; it's about us just not having the money," school board Vice President Kurt Hansen said.

District voters in April overwhelmingly rejected a pair of referendums that would have authorized a $34.2 million bond issue and extended the district's debt service base to produce another $790,000 in annual property taxes.

School board members are expected to vote Dec. 16 on whether to try again in April with a smaller measure.

If approved, the borrowing would fund numerous projects, including ADA improvements at the district's schools, upgrades to B.J. Hooper Elementary's kitchen, and parking lot reconstruction to create more bus spaces, alleviate backups during drop-offs, and offer safety for students who must walk through the bus zone to enter their building.

Officials noted that the district has been hit with numerous repair projects over the past 18 months, including the fire suppression system at Martin Elementary School, repairs from an electrical fire that required Hooper Elementary students to be transferred to another building for classes, an inoperative air conditioning system at Palombi, and roof issues at Thompson Elementary.

During Wednesday's presentation, a lengthy debate occurred between board members on whether public hearings should take place before the December vote.

"How did we decide that we addressed the right concerns (before the last referendum)?" board member Ed Liberman asked. "We never asked the public what those concerns actually were. We went off of things that we had heard or saw on Facebook."

But board member Joanne Osmond said public engagement should occur after the December vote.

"After the vote is when we need to get the information out and clarify it," she said. "We already know this is what we want. We know that because that's our job to know. We have done the investigation and we've done the work."

The board ultimately decided to hold public meetings at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 and 10 a.m. Dec. 4 at to-be-determined locations.

Cristina Hopkins, a parent whose children attend school in the district, said she appreciates that a more thorough plan is in place and that the community will get a chance to hear it.

"I think what has been lacking and needs to be addressed is the community outreach," Hopkins said. "When you say that large number of $31 million, everybody will immediately think 'my taxes are going up,' They will, but the impact is what needs to be conveyed as well."

District 41 educates about 2,600 students from Lake Villa, Lindenhurst, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Heights and Ingleside.

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