District 41 survey indicates support for Hadley addition

 
 
Updated 11/30/2016 3:12 PM
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  • A Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 consultant says a recent survey of residents indicates support for an addition to Hadley Junior High that would replace the school's portable classrooms.

      A Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 consultant says a recent survey of residents indicates support for an addition to Hadley Junior High that would replace the school's portable classrooms. Mark Black | Staff Photographer, April 2016

A plan for Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 to seek voter approval to pay for a classroom addition at Hadley Junior High could pass muster in a spring referendum question, a polling firm says.

But the firm is less optimistic voters would approve funding to provide additional space for a possible full-day kindergarten program.

The school board hired Wisconsin-based School Perceptions to conduct a districtwide survey to help decide whether to place a question on the ballot in the April election. Board members will discuss the responses from nearly 1,500 residents and district employees during a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.

The survey results, released this week, provide input on a number of possible projects. Here's a look at some of the data.

Hadley Junior High

Roughly 49 percent of survey respondents who do not have children enrolled in the district say they likely would support a $9.2 million funding plan for an addition to replace 10 portable classrooms at Hadley.

The plan received overwhelming support -- 74 percent -- from parents who responded. But nearly 80 percent of households in the district do not have children attending its five schools.

Roughly 17 percent of residents who are not district parents are undecided, according to the survey. Generally, about two-thirds of those types of voters end up opposing ballot questions, while one-third tend to vote in support, said Bill Foster, the firm's president.

"From a statistical standpoint, I'd have a high level of confidence that if a referendum were put on the ballot and if it included funding to replace the portables, it would likely be successful," Foster told the board Tuesday night.

The junior high is now the only school in the district with classes taught in portable units. The district spent about $7 million in reserves and issued another $7 million in debt to build brick-and-mortar additions and remove portables at the four elementary schools.

District officials and some school board members also have voiced concerns about aging infrastructure and an undersized cafeteria in Hadley's main building. A district construction manager estimates a project to remodel science classrooms, update space for music classes and add a cafeteria that would include a performing arts auditorium would cost about $21.1 million.

Kindergarten

Foster was less optimistic about the fate of a funding proposal to provide space for a possible full-day kindergarten program.

Those who completed the survey were given three options:

• Building an early learning center on district-owned land at a cost of up to $29 million. The nearly 5-acre site has remained vacant since the district demolished Spalding Elementary in 1997. About 450 preschool and kindergarten students would attend.

• Building an elementary school for about 550 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at a cost of up to $30 million on the Spalding site. Existing schools also would house kindergartners.

Unlike the other options, the district would redraw its boundaries.

• Building additions at the four elementary schools at a cost of up to $30 million.

Roughly 41 percent of residents who aren't parents say they would oppose any plan, while 31 percent expressed support for building additions at existing schools.

"Clearly there's support for it in concept," Foster said of full-day kindergarten, "but there's not support for it from a funding standpoint."

'The sweet spot'

The district expects to pay off existing debt in February 2018. With that loan off its books, the district's portion of a property tax bill for the owner of a $373,200 home -- the average in Glen Ellyn -- is set to decrease $248.

If voters approved a ballot question, the district would issue new bonds to replace the expiring debt.

"If the district were to go out for $40 million, I don't think it would likely pass," Foster said.

He projected the "tax tolerance point" at between $32 million and $34 million.

While that may be the "sweet spot" at the polls, Foster cautioned that's only one variable in the equation.

"This is only one line on the graph. This is only 'how much money will I give you,'" he said. "It's got to intersect with some projects that people go, 'That makes sense. I think that's a good plan.'"

The district's financial planners say the property tax bill for that Glen Ellyn homeowner would drop only $89 if the district borrowed $30 million.

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