Referendum could be coming if District 25 pursues full-day kindergarten

Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board members haven't yet decided if they'll implement full-day kindergarten, but if they do, it'll mean building additions to existing schools or a new centralized school, and a ballot question that'll ask voters to increase taxes either way.

The prospect of expanding the existing daily half-day programs to full days of instruction - rejected in 2017 over space and cost concerns - has resurfaced.

Superintendent Lori Bein said full-day kindergarten would help create more well-rounded students, improve individual and small-group instruction, and make District 25 even more of a desirable district, possibly even increasing property values.

But board members said during a committee meeting in December that they want more information from Bein and her staff before making a decision in March. That would be ahead of a possible referendum, in the June 28 primary or Nov. 8 general election, to seek permission from voters to increase the tax rate or borrow money to pay for new classroom construction.

For every additional 10 cents on the district tax rate, it would cost the owner of an average $400,000 home $125 a year, bringing the district $2.1 million in revenue, district officials said.

Officials say they're 19 classrooms short across the district's seven elementary schools of what they'd need for full-day kindergarten.

If art, music and other specialized resources were to move out of their dedicated classrooms to make way for kindergarten rooms, the district would be short only one classroom. But the board was against that approach, and while Bein presented it as an option, she, too, opposes it.

It's also possible to free up space at elementary buildings by moving fifth-graders to Thomas and South middle schools, which would require building additions to the tune of $21 million. But some board members also didn't like that.

Among the options on the table, Bein and the board agreed, is building a centralized district kindergarten center, constructing approximately two new classrooms per school, or adding kindergarten rooms onto only a few schools and redistricting students to relieve capacity.

Board member Rich Olejniczak said despite the lengthy and emotional process that redistricting can be, it's prudent to at least examine.

"If it's a difference of $3 between those two options, don't do it - build out every home school. But if it's a difference of $20 million between building onto every school than just building onto two schools, maybe that is worth looking at," he said.

District officials in the fall estimated it could cost anywhere from $15 million to $30 million for construction, additions or renovations, but at the December meeting, they said that estimate was outdated and promised to bring the board new figures before March.

They did say it would cost $1.4 million a year to operate a full-day kindergarten program - mostly for the personnel cost of hiring about two dozen new employees.

Among districts that neighbor District 25, Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 and Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 have full-day programs at their neighborhood schools, and River Trails Elementary District 26 has it at a central location.

If the District 25 board agrees to pursue the full-day program in March, that would pave the way to the retention of architects and engineers to do schematic designs, renderings, site surveys and traffic studies. The district would also poll the community at large to get a sense of what they would support and how much they'd be willing to pay, Bein said.

A preliminary timeline projects construction beginning in the fall, and classes opening in August 2023.

District 25 parents push for full-day kindergarten

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