District 25 could go to voters twice this year in effort to fund additions for kindergarten

Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 hasn't had a referendum since 2005, but officials may try twice this year to gain voter approval for raising taxes to build school additions that would house full-day kindergarten programs.

The school board is expected to vote Thursday on finalizing a question that would appear on the June 28 primary ballot seeking permission to issue bonds to pay for new classrooms and renovations. The district now has space only for daily morning and afternoon half-day kindergarten sessions.

District officials have discussed seeking approval to borrow $60 million, which would cost the owner of an average $400,000 home an extra $228 in property taxes yearly.

Officials also are considering lopping in the kindergarten facilities with other projects in a five-year capital plan, which would cost the same property owner $324 more a year.

Because of the uncertainty of voter turnout in June and what that could mean for chances of the measure passing, many school board members already support trying again in the Nov. 8 election, should their first attempt fail.

"Worst-case scenario, we go back in November," board member Chad Conley said last week during the board's latest discussion on full-day kindergarten. "We may get a 'yes' in June. ... It's going to be a tough election for anything we try to do in that time frame. It's just reality. But I think it's worth putting it on. Then, if we get a 'no' we at least know how to wrap up to get ready for November."

Board President Scott Filipek added, "We'd like to take as many bites at the apple as we could."

Jim Hobart of Alexandria, Virginia-based Public Opinion Strategies, which conducted a poll of prospective voters on the district's behalf, told the board the November electorate will be younger and likely more supportive of the ballot question - especially if the voters have children in District 25.

"Any primary-type campaign, when you're not going in November of an even year, is going to require an aggressive turnout effort that maximizes turnout among younger voters, especially parents," Hobart said. "If the electorate is dominated by voters 65+, that puts passing the referendum in jeopardy."

Still, Hobart's poll of 250 registered voters - conducted using cellphones and landlines Feb. 16-21 - found 58% favored the proposed ballot question and 25% opposed it, while others were undecided.

At the end of the survey call, after more information about the proposed question was provided, favorability increased to 65%.

"The support is there," Hobart said. "The question is what turnout looks like."

Board members have narrowed their facilities options from at least five different plans discussed late last year to one. The plan - at an estimated cost of $32 million to $42 million - would add 25 new classrooms to elementary schools across the district, ranging from two at Windsor to as many as 10 at Westgate. The approach assumes an 85% classroom occupancy rate to provide an enrollment buffer, taking results of a recent demographic study into account.

The board rejected an alternate plan that cost $10 million less but would have moved a popular special education program at Westgate to Ivy Hill, where there's currently more space available.

The elected panel also turned down a proposal to move fifth-graders to the two middle schools, thereby freeing up space at elementary buildings for kindergartners. That plan would have cost $37 million to $47 million.

Other earlier options that would have required redistricting all or most students also were scrapped.

District officials initially targeted full-day kindergarten to begin in August 2023 should the ballot question be approved in June, but even still, it may not happen until a year later. The district would still have to spend $2 million to $3 million on additional architectural designs and traffic studies, then sell bonds, go out to bid and get necessary village approvals.

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

District 25 full-day kindergarten would require building additions, and maybe moving fifth graders to middle schools

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