District 200 board agrees to $132.5 million referendum question

 
 
Posted1/12/2017 5:38 AM
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It's official: A Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 referendum question will be presented to voters this spring.

The board of education voted 6-1 Wednesday to ask voters for $132.5 million to pay for $154.5 million in repairs, renovations and upgrades to 19 of the district's 20 schools.

Board member Jim Gambaiani cast the lone dissenting vote, and two residents spoke out against putting the question on the April 4 ballot.

Gambaiani said he didn't think the district should have spent as much money as it did in recent years on studies, surveys and community engagement to determine facility needs and said he would like to see more data about how the proposed improvements to the district's buildings would result in better test scores and college readiness.

He also said he didn't like the district increasing its debt obligation and stressed that taxes are already very high for residents.

The remaining board members, however, said the question has been carefully thought out over the past 2½ years, through the district's Engage200 process, community engagement efforts, extensive research and analysis from architecture firms, and thorough review of all options by board committees.

"I feel very confident in the process, the solution we created, the impact on kids and the impact on taxpayers," board member Brad Paulsen said. "I think it's a good plan and I'm ready to give the community members a chance to have their say and vote for it."

Some board members, including Barb Intihar, compared the projects to upkeep on a house. Intihar noted that the last time money resulting from a referendum was put toward improvements at multiple buildings was in 1999.

"How many of us have not done anything to our homes in 18 years?" she said.

If approved, the owner of a $322,300 home -- the median value in the district -- can expect an estimated $180 annual increase in their taxes.

The board has committed to using $22 million from future budgets and reserves to help pay for the projects.

Of the $154.5 million grand total, an estimated $83.6 million would go toward capital projects, such as replacing roofs, windows, and air conditioning and heating units, at 18 schools.

An estimated $46.8 million would be put toward projects at the middle schools, $6.8 million would be dedicated to the elementary schools, and $700,000 would go to the two high schools.

In addition, approximately $16.6 million would be used to demolish the 59-year-old Jefferson Early Childhood Center and construct a new building to house the early childhood program, which is mandated by the state. A proposal to construct a new early childhood center failed in a 2013 referendum.

Aside from agreeing to put the referendum question on the ballot, the board also unanimously approved a policy Wednesday that commits future boards to set aside specific amounts of money for capital renewal projects.

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