Hawthorn District 73 keeping message to voters on tax requests simple

  • Hawthorn Elementary South students head outside to mobile classroom at the Vernon Hills school.

      Hawthorn Elementary South students head outside to mobile classroom at the Vernon Hills school. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2017

  • Students share a common space for lunch and gym class at Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills. District 73 is seeking approval for $48.7 million bond issue and a tax-rate increase on Nov. 6.

    Students share a common space for lunch and gym class at Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills. District 73 is seeking approval for $48.7 million bond issue and a tax-rate increase on Nov. 6. Courtesy of Hawthorn Elementary District 73

 
 
Posted9/27/2018 5:33 AM

With taxpayer decisions nearing on requests for tens of millions of dollars, Hawthorn Elementary District 73 is trying to keep its message as clear and simple as possible.

The Vernon Hills-based district by law can't advocate for its requests in the two Nov. 6 referendums. But it can educate, and the district has changed its methods from April 2017, when its last tax hike request was thumped at the polls.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Keeping the message simple is the strategy at the first of five scheduled public information sessions, set for 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, at the Elementary South gym, 430 N. Aspen Drive, Vernon Hills. Times and locations of future sessions are listed at www.hawthorn73.org/.

Voters will be asked to approve a $48.7 million bond issue to build a kindergarten center and expand or renovate the six district schools, and an increase in the tax rate to raise about $1.3 million a year for operational costs such as utilities, custodians and transportation.

Schools are at or above capacity, class sizes have increased and space constraints have led to classes being held in areas not intended for instruction, according to district leaders.

With a wealth of exhibits, documents, charts, videos and financial information, the key is to create a clear, simple message, said Joe Porto, one of two interim superintendents guiding the district as it searches for a full-time leader.

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"We're asking the community for $48 million," he said. "We have a right and responsibility to let them know why."

The hope is to avoid overloading voters with information, a criticism of the last referendum push.

To that end, a special website accessible from the district's main page has been created, and the issues have been distilled to four talking points: What are the needs, what is the plan, what is the financial impact, and what if voters say "no."

A property tax calculator is among the materials available to those who want more detail.

"We took the role of the citizens -- what would be the things they want to know?" Porto said.

Porto described the website as "living, breathing entity" that is regularly updated as the district becomes aware of matters that haven't been addressed. "It looks a little different every day," he said. "To us, it's the very best way to get the information out."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The presentation at the upcoming public sessions should take about 20 minutes, leaving time for questions and answers.

Two districtwide mailings, each to 11,334 addresses, also are planned. The first should start reaching homes next week and the second in mid- to late October.

School board members Matt Jacobs, Wes Polen and Julie Simpson, who took office just after the last tax request was defeated, initially were skeptical of the need for a tax increase.

"I think it speaks volumes the three of us have flipped and said, 'This is much more serious than we thought,'" Jacobs said.

A group supporting the tax increase, Families and Friends of Hawthorn District 73, has a website, voteyestwicefor73.com/, that as of Wednesday claimed 946 members on its Facebook page. No organized opposition has surfaced.

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