Grass-roots Hawthorn Dist. 73 group celebrates split referendum decision

 
 
Updated 11/7/2018 5:26 PM
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  • Rendering of a proposed Hawthorn School District 73 kindergarten building to be built adjacent to the Sullivan Center on Aspen Drive in Vernon Hills.

    Rendering of a proposed Hawthorn School District 73 kindergarten building to be built adjacent to the Sullivan Center on Aspen Drive in Vernon Hills. Courtesy of Hawthorn School District 73

  • Students share a common space for lunch and gym class at Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills. Alleviating crowding there is a priority in pending building plans.

    Students share a common space for lunch and gym class at Hawthorn Middle School North in Vernon Hills. Alleviating crowding there is a priority in pending building plans. Courtesy of Hawthorn School District 73

Crowded conditions in Hawthorn Elementary District 73 schools has been an issue for years, but a proposed solution, approved Tuesday by voters, was made possible in large part because of a determined grass-roots group.

A resounding 57 percent of voters approved the district's request to borrow $48.7 million via bond issues for building projects involving all six schools, as well as construction of a kindergarten center.

That's nearly an exact reversal of the result in April 2017, when voters rejected a $42 million request.

However, a second request to increase taxes to generate $1.3 million a year to operate and maintain the new building spaces fell flat, with 54 percent of voters opposed. How the district can best absorb those operational costs will be evaluated, officials said Wednesday.

But for now District 73 supporters are basking in victory that will ignite a six-year building program and set aside the immediate need for program cuts or other measures to deal with space issues.

The day-to-day, door-to-door task of persuading voters to support the requests was shouldered by a group of determined volunteers organized as Families and Friends of Hawthorn District 73.

"It's really late, but you all were amazing," school board member Julie Simpson wrote on the group's Facebook page early Wednesday.

"Be proud that the big one passed and hopefully it can all be figured out. Without your group it wouldn't have been close," added Simpson, who was elected Tuesday to the Lake County Board and will be leaving her school board seat.

More than 4,200 students attend the Vernon Hills-based district schools, and enrollment has increased by 487 students over the past 10 years -- with more expected -- resulting in crowded conditions.

"We decided we had to find some way to help, and it built from that over eight months," said Michael Schenk, spokesman for Families and Friends of Hawthorn District 73.

"They were energetic. They were everywhere," said Mark Friedman, one of two interim superintendents guiding the district this school year. "They put their heart and soul into this."

As many as 50 volunteers, including some who didn't have kids in District 73. held about 15 coffees, knocked on 1,000 doors and placed 400 or more yard signs to spread the message, Schenk said.

"I strongly feel this campaign brought this community closer together, tighter," he said. "... People get it."

Next, school officials will begin refining the building concepts and work with financial experts to determine how to proceed without the requested operating funds.

At this point, construction of a kindergarten center to create space at four existing schools, as well as a bursting Middle School North, are top priorities.

"We want to let the dust settle and not rush into making statements (that) we're going to do this or that," Friedman said.

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