If voters in Mount Prospect School District 57 approve raising the tax rate in a March referendum, they will essentially be voting to maintain the status quo, ensuring the district has sufficient funds to keep existing staff and programs, district officials said at a public forum last week.

But if they don't, there will be a new status quo, one with less teachers, increased class sizes, plummeting fund balances and deteriorating facilities, officials said.

"That's really what this referendum is about, just simply maintaining the status quo," school board President Joe Sonnefeldt told a crowd of about 50 people at Westbrook School. "If this referendum is passed, we can deal with things immediately, before they become big problems."

At Thursday's forum, officials made the case for the March 20 referendum, which calls for a 31 percent increase in the limiting rate to 3.60 percent from 2.75 percent of equalized assessed value.

Adam Parisi, assistance superintendent of finance, said the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 would pay an extra $238 a year. The increase would be $85 for that homeowner with a homeowner and senior exemption, while it would be $153 for a homeowner with a homeowner exemption.

Parisi said the district has been spending $750,000 a year on facilities. With a successful referendum, the district would be able to spend the $3.25 million it should be spending, meaning it could begin chipping away at long neglected facilities issues.

Westbrook School, built in 1961, for instance, requires a total roof replacement, new boilers and a new fire alarm system, he said. At Fairview, built in 1995, a multipurpose room needs to be expanded as a result of growing enrollment and all of the classroom ventilators need to be replaced. Also, exterior doors are rusting and asphalt needs replacing.

If the referendum fails, Westbrook Principal Mary Gorr said, elementary class sizes could climb to 31 and middle school class sizes could climb to 40.

"The most high-impact learning occurs when students have frequent feedback from their teacher. That occurs in small groups," she said.

A referendum failure would lead to personnel cuts, with victims including classroom teachers, assistant principals, and the elimination of programs, including art and music, officials said.

Sonnefeldt said that without approval of a tax hike, fund balances would continue to dwindle, becoming depleted within three or four years.

"For 15 years, the district has increased enrollment, opened a fourth building, and I think the district has done an excellent job as stewards of the resources in past years. We have been working hard to make it stretch."