Backers say the time is right for $147M Barrington 220 referendum

Barrington Area Unit District 220 will seek voter approval next month to borrow $147 million for building projects, including safety and security upgrades at all its schools.

Regardless of the outcome of the March 17 referendum vote, district residents will see a reduction in their property tax bills. How much depends on voters.

With the district 220 expecting to pay off some debt in 2021, so the owner of a $500,000 median value house would receive a decrease of about $75 a year, compared with the 2019 property tax bill, if the ballot measure passes.

However, if voters reject the request, the same homeowner would see a reduction of about $468.

Officials said the $147 million would pay for basic projects, including upgrades to school safety and security, plumbing, electrical, roofing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

The ballot measure comes almost a year after voters rejected the district's request to borrow $185 million for facility upgrades. That measure, if approved, would have added about $100 to the annual property tax bill for the owner of a $500,000 house.

Former school board President Brian Battle said the decision to pare the proposed borrowing by $38 million shows officials listened to voters.

Battle, now part of a residents' group called Yes for Barrington 220's Future, said the timing is right to support the request. That's in part because of historically low interest rates.

"Those historically low rates are not going to last for 20 years," he said. "The second thing is, construction costs really have been heating up the last few years. And they're going up easily 3(%) to 5% a year. So, delaying a decision that is based on real needs is just going to cost the taxpayers more money in a combination of interest and cost inflation."

However, some like Barrington resident Willard "Bill" Bishop are questioning the district's request, saying that after extensive study, he's concluded too little annual spending on building maintenance has led to the $147 million proposal.

Over the years, Bishop contends, the school board elected to "fully support spending on personnel in each year's budget" while not devoting enough to facility maintenance.

"District 220 is not the only district in the Northwest suburbs that's deferring annual maintenance, but that doesn't make it the right way to manage school spending," he said.

Bishop also said the proposed projects don't include better technology and other upgrades that would align with Blueprint 220, the district's long-term strategy on school renovations designed to meet future education needs. He said a "no" vote on March 17 could serve as a call for the school board to budget more for maintenance and direct future referendum money to upgrades needed to support modern teaching methods.

District 220 officials say that in addition to basic improvements, the referendum would fund construction of a physical education and wellness center at Barrington High School, additional classrooms at the district's two middle schools, and new classroom space at all elementary buildings for science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes, and for students with special needs.

Support for the ballot measure is coming from the Barrington Education Association and Barrington School Employees Organization. Members of the teachers' and support employees' unions have been canvassing and performing other duties to promote a "yes" vote. Barrington Education Association President Melissa Atteberry said at a recent school board meeting the volunteers are working to achieve a stronger learning environment for students.

"Educators are always ready to go the extra mile for kids," Atteberry said.

District 220 serves all or part of Barrington, Barrington Hills, Carpentersville, Deer Park, Fox River Grove, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Lake Barrington, North Barrington, Port Barrington, South Barrington and Tower Lakes. It educates about 9,000 students in prekindergarten through high school.

Former Barrington Area Unit District 220 board President Brian Battle is part of a residents' group pushing for the district's March 17 referendum.
Barrington resident Willard "Bill" Bishop is questioning Barrington Area Unit District 220's request to borrow $147 million for building projects.
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