Wheeling Dist. 21 to ask voters to hike taxes for building upgrades
Board wants permission to boost buildings' security, A/C
The Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 school board on Thursday decided it will seek permission from voters in November to raise taxes to fund building upgrades such as tighter security at school entrances and air conditioning in all classrooms.
The board Thursday night voted unanimously in favor of placing a request on the ballot that, if approved by voters, would allow the district to borrow $69 million for facility improvements at all 14 buildings. A preliminary plan calls for the district issuing bonds of $45 million in 2019 and $24 million in 2021, with the facility work taking place over the course of five summers beginning in 2019.
If approved, it would cost an extra $74 in property taxes for the owner of an average $300,000 home.
District officials say the facility projects are beyond what can be supported by the current operating budget and available reserves.
"What drives this whole referendum for me is security," said board member Arlen Gould. "It's making our buildings comparable to other school districts' and making them safe for the future."
First on the district's priority list is building secure vestibules at school entrances, installing more cameras and exterior lighting, and improving internal security systems.
At the same time -- likely the summer of 2019 -- the district would install air conditioning and update HVAC systems districtwide.
In 2020, work would begin to outfit six classrooms for districtwide full-day kindergarten. The district would also begin to convert to LED lighting and replace aging mechanical systems with higher-efficiency units. Officials would also start replacing aging classroom furniture.
Work in subsequent years would include paving, roofing, plumbing and flooring.
The last time District 21 went to referendum in 2003, voters approved a tax increase to offset a projected shortfall in the education fund. Officials believe putting a question on the ballot this November may be to their advantage.
"All indications are the kind of voters coming out would probably be supportive of this kind of initiative," board Vice President Staci Allan said. "At the end of the day, you need to empower your local voters to come out and support this."
The referendum comes at the end of a yearlong community engagement process, Design21, that sought feedback from parents, residents and school staff members on upgrades and programs they'd like to see. Phone and online surveys conducted found 59 percent supported the facilities plan in concept.
District 21 covers parts of Wheeling, Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Northbrook.