Lake Villa District 41 streamlines its loan pitch to voters

Voters in Lake Villa Elementary District 41 again will be asked for authorization to fund school projects, but the new pitch has been revised and greatly reduced.

Instead of two ballot questions to raise about $50 million for improvements at the district's five buildings, voters in the March primary will see one request to authorize borrowing $30.7 million for work at four schools.

Voters soundly rejected both requests last April, prompting school officials to reboot. Since that defeat, nearly two dozen public meetings have been held to solicit input, discuss building and maintenance needs and revise the request.

Last time, one ballot question asked if the school board should borrow $34.2 million to boost security, renovate classrooms and tackle other projects. The other asked if the board should extend its debt service base to raise an additional $790,000 annually for maintenance costs.

"It was a confusing ballot question," board Vice President Kurt Hansen said last month during one of the public discussions.

The scope of the proposal, which included 21st-century learning initiatives and extensive building work, was too much for voters, he said.

"Not too surprisingly, the community spoke loud and clear," Hansen added. "They thought it was expensive."

While there was a community support group for the requests, the measures also faced stiff organized opposition from a group called District 41. Safer. Better. More Sustainable.

That group agreed there were needs to be met at the aging schools but objected to the cost and extent of the plan, notably $4.4 million in proposed work at Joseph J. Pleviak Elementary School, which the district owns but doesn't use.

That was the first item removed from consideration for the revised referendum question. Also, extensive cafeteria renovations were scaled back and the bond debt question removed.

"We went school by school and project by project," Hansen said Thursday.

Last time, the school board was divided. The votes to put the two questions on the ballot were 5-2, although only one board member opposed both.

"We really spent a lot of time to get consensus not only from the board, but from our more outspoken critics," Hansen said. The effort has been successful.

On Dec. 16, the board voted 7-0 to place the revised question on the ballot. Opposition also has mellowed.

"It appears the board heard much of what we asked for," said Dick Barr, a Lake County Board member and an initial opponent.

"We believe that strong schools are very important to the community," he added. "We will likely not oppose their referendum request this time around, as it accounts for most of what we asked for in 2019 and provides a better deal for the students and taxpayers of the district."

One constant is the district's outstanding debt will drop as money borrowed in 1997 and 2000 is paid off.

If no projects were proposed or money borrowed, tax bill for the owner of a $250,000 house would decrease by $773 annually. The decrease would be $368 per year if the referendum request passes and the money for projects is borrowed for 15 years.

District 41 serves about 2,600 Pre-K through eighth-grade students in Lake Villa, Lindenhurst, Round Lake Beach, Round Lake Heights, Ingleside, West Miltmore and Venetian Village.

Lake Villa District 41 will ask voters for money for various school building projects through a ballot question in the March primary. Courtesy of Lake Villa Elementary District 41
Lake Villa District 41 will ask voters in March to approve borrowing for various school building projects. Here, a rooftop unit at Hooper School is repaired. Courtesy of Lake Villa Elementary District 41
Crews install exterior lighting at Thompson school. Lake Villa District 41 will ask voters for authorization to borrow money for school building projects. Courtesy of Lake Villa Elementary District 41
Students from Round Lake School District 116 at Pleviak School in Lake Villa. The building is owned but not used by Lake Villa Elementary District 41 and an extensive list of proposed building projects there has been dropped. Daily Herald File Photo
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