No drama at hearing over St. Charles school board's borrowing plan

 
 
Posted12/13/2016 5:10 AM

For more than a year, various St. Charles school district taxpayers fought against several versions of plans to cut costs, address declining enrollment projections and improve middle schools. On Monday, with $20 million of the final, $50 million solution on the table, they were silent.

School board members hosted a mandatory public hearing as a precursor to a vote that will sell up $20 million of working cash bonds to fund a facelift for Wredling Middle School, a major rebuild of Thompson Middle School and the closure of Haines Middle School. The district already has about $30 million in savings and grant money on hand to proceed with the construction.

 

"I think people have to accept what we're going to do," school board President Kathy Hewell said.

The board had, perhaps, anticipated some continued pushback from the community in the form of an official petition to force a referendum before any borrowing could happen. Haines parents threatened the petition to gain consideration of a new school. Such a project would require a tax increase referendum, and not a single board member, in multiple meetings, placed any faith in the community voting to approve such an increase. Haines parents ended their push, saying they would not proceed with a petition, after the board locked in the $50 million plan last month.

District officials did announce the formation of three committees charged with addressing some of the concerns of Haines parents. A "culture and climate committee" will meet for the first time Tuesday to work the question of how to meld the Haines culture and traditions into the two remaining middle schools and make recommendations on a possible new name for the rebuilt Thompson. An athletics and field use committee will tackle the issue of integrating the middle school sports teams. And a clubs and activities committee will also help determine the fate of all the other extracurricular activities.

The majority of the board shot down a final push by school board member Ed McNally to extend the Thompson construction to three years, instead of two. Such a delay would leave more of the building usable for classes during construction. But the majority of the board said delaying the project, adding to the costs and delaying future savings just wasn't worth it.

All that remains now is for the school board to take a final vote on the borrowing plan and decide how much and when to borrow the money. Just $15 million of the borrowing is needed for the middle schools. The remaining $5 million could fund a facelift for the Norris Recreation Center, a new football field at St. Charles North High School or both.

The school board's business committee will get a look at options for that football field this Thursday. There will also be a discussion on when to sell the bonds. Once the board votes to proceed with the borrowing plan, they have up to three years to borrow the full $20 million.

They could do it all at once. Or they could the $15 million and $5 million in separate bond issues.

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