If narrow 'no' vote holds, Arlington Heights District 25 could go to referendum again in the fall

Only 71 votes separate "no" from "yes" in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25's referendum to raise taxes to fund full-day kindergarten and school building upgrades, as results continued to trickle in Wednesday.

With all 38 precincts reporting after 5 p.m. Wednesday, the $75 million ballot question has 5,097 "no" votes and 5,026 "yes" votes, according to the latest update of unofficial results.

Superintendent Lori Bein was awaiting clarification from the Cook County clerk's office about whether those totals included early voting and mail-in ballots.

Four more precincts had reported on Wednesday since initial results were released by the clerk's office shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday. In the first report late Wednesday morning, a slim margin of 59 votes leaning against the measure widened slightly to 147. The margin narrowed to 71 at the close of the business day.

Bein said if the ballot question fails, the school board will discuss what to do next at its Aug. 9 meeting. That could include going to referendum again in the Nov. 8 general election.

"The results are super close. That's something that no matter whether it passes or it fails, we need to take into consideration that our community felt strong enough to come out and voice their vote, and the community is kind of divided on the topic at this point," Bein said. "However we move forward, we really (need to) make sure that we're continuing to be transparent, educating our community, and sharing our thought process and our decision making with them. ... We need to make sure that we're communicating very clearly with them in whatever our next steps are."

The school board agreed to place the question on the ballot in March, though members of the elected panel expressed reservations over cost and scope. Some questioned combining two issues - kindergarten and the five-year capital projects plan - into one ballot question, and they feared what voters' appetite for it might be, especially as the proposed borrowing amount went from $60 million to $75 million.

Many board members at the time supported going to referendum again in November, should their first attempt fail.

A pollster hired by the school district told the board the November electorate will be younger and more likely to support the ballot question, especially if they have children in District 25.

Turnout among those who live within District 25's boundaries passed 10,000 on Tuesday - representing 28% of registered voters - when it's typically 2,500 for a primary.

That's despite no presence of campaign-style yard signs or little organized support or opposition around town - save for a group of residents that passed out vote "no" literature on cars, and the local League of Women Voters chapter that released a letter to the editor in support.

The ballot measure calls for District 25 to issue up to $75 million in bonds to build 25 new kindergarten classrooms across six of the district's seven elementary schools and fund five years' worth of infrastructure projects.

The classroom additions are estimated to cost $32.2 million to $42.6 million, while the capital plan would cost $32.9 million, officials said.

The measure, if approved, would cost the owner of an average $400,000 home an extra $300 in property taxes a year, or $25 a month.

The expanded kindergarten programming would be targeted to open for the start of the 2024-2025 school year. It's the same timeline if voters go to the polls again in November and the measure is approved then.

"It gets closer, of course, but we did plan that if we had to wait until November that we would still be able to make an August 2024 opening," Bein said.

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