Wheeling District 21 to seek tax hike for AC, security upgrades
Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 officials plan to put a referendum question on the November ballot -- the first in 15 years -- that would seek extra funding for building improvements like air conditioning and tighter security.
Unlike the last successful request in 2003 -- in which voters agreed to a tax increase to offset a projected shortfall in the education fund -- the upcoming ballot question would seek approval to increase taxes for operations and maintenance.
"We promised five to seven years of not going back to the community, and it's been 15," said board President Phil Pritzker. "It will allow us the best opportunity to advance the operational needs of the district and make physical changes to all buildings to provide 21st-century learning environments."
District officials believe the November election may be the best time to get a favorable hearing from voters at the polls, instead of a lower-turnout local election.
Pritzker said the referendum dollars would help pay for replacing HVAC systems in school buildings that would allow the district to add air conditioning. Officials estimate that work could cost up to $19 million.
The district also wants to upgrade security at building entrances; currently check-in procedures vary from school to school. Upgrades would include cameras, lighting and telephone systems.
Other planned work involves technology improvements and general building upkeep, such as roofs, boilers, electricity, energy conservation and other site improvements.
How much exactly the district is seeking to raise and what the ballot question would ask are still to be determined, Pritzker said. The district has identified a total of $85 million worth of upgrades that could be made, but officials haven't decided if all would be funded as part of the referendum effort.
The school board will formally vote in August to place the question on the ballot, though plans for a possible referendum have already been in the works.
The board met with a financial adviser earlier this month to talk about funding options for future projects. On Thursday night, board members met with attorney Lynn Himes to advise them on what they legally can and can't do during an election process.
The decision to go to referendum also comes as the district wraps up a yearlong community engagement process, Design21, during which parents, residents and school staff members weighed in on upgrades and programs they'd like to see. One survey found 90 percent or more support expansion of technology, updating building security and installing air conditioning in all buildings.
District 21 has nine elementary schools, three middle schools and an early childhood school serving residents in portions of Wheeling, Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Northbrook.