Batavia school officials explain referendum plan
Questions about property taxes, sports practice schedules and the safety of artificial turf were on the minds of people at a meeting Tuesday night about the Nov. 4 Batavia school district referendum.
About four dozen people attended the meeting at Batavia High School, where administrators answered questions that had been submitted in advance as well as some from the floor.
In the nonbinding referendum, the district is asking whether it should borrow $15 million to speed up some of the work on its more than $30 million capital projects list, including installing two artificial turf fields at Batavia High School.
The district proposes selling general-obligation alternate-revenue bonds to raise the cash and would likely repay it over 20 years, according to district officials. Interest costs were initially estimated at $9 million.
But Tuesday Kris Monn, the district's assistant superintendent for finance, said interest may be $5 million to $7 million, depending on how much of the principal is paid in the first several years.
The referendum question says the district would repay the bonds from its operations and maintenance fund. It levies property taxes for that fund. But the question also says that if those funds should prove insufficient, property taxes could be levied "without limit" specifically to repay the debt.
Monn and an audience member disagreed about what that part of the referendum question meant.
"We are already committing our property taxes, so there would be no authority to do this (levy a specific tax for the bonds)," Monn said.
Superintendent Lisa Hichens also said the district wouldn't borrow the money all at once.
"On Nov. 5 we are not going to run out and issue $15 million in debt," Hichens said.
The projects, which also include roofing, lighting and other work at all the other schools, would be phased in over several years, she said.
She was responding to a question about what the district would do regarding the plan if Illinois Senate Bill 16, which would change how the state distributes money to schools, becomes law. The Batavia district would likely receive about $4 million a year less from the state then.
Several people noted that the district has been budgeting about $1.5 million a year in its operations and maintenance fund for capital projects and wondered how it would do the other work on its list if it uses $1.2 million a year to repay the debt. Monn said the school board could "repurpose" money from other expenditures in that fund, or transfer money from other funds.
It could also use money in reserves, he said, to which audience member Sylvia Keppel, a critic of the district's spending, said, "If there's so much money lying around, why not give it back to the taxpayers?"
District officials first made a presentation on the athletics fields plan, saying that it is unable to accommodate practices for all fall sport athletes, as well as the marching band, on the high school campus. It avoids having teams practice on the stadium field to preserve the turf.
Baseball outfields are used for football practices, boys soccer teams practice at H.C. Storm Elementary School, the lacrosse club practices and plays at Rotolo Middle School, and the marching band crosses Main Street to practice at Engstrom Family Park and Batavia Covenant Church.
In late October and November of 2013, as ruts and holes in the outfields grew bigger, it also sent football teams to practice on a field at Mooseheart, spending $5,875 on busing and $1,800 on field rental, officials reported.