District 220 hires former state lawmaker's firm to help with referendum
Barrington Area Unit District 220 will receive help from a former state lawmaker's consulting firm in an effort to spread the word about a referendum next year seeking voter approval to borrow $147 million for building projects.
"We're a school district," Superintendent Brian Harris said. "We focus on teaching and learning, right, and not necessarily on how do to community informational campaigns on major projects."
Libertyville-based EO Sullivan Consulting will assist District 220 under a monthly billing arrangement for a price not to exceed a total of $35,000, Harris said Wednesday. Operated by former state Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., who left the legislature in 2017, the firm's duties will include assisting in the creation of factual referendum messages and running community engagement sessions after Jan. 1.
Voters last April rejected District 220's request to borrow $185 million for facility upgrades. The district will return with a March 17 ballot measure seeking the $147 million that would include paying for basic improvements at all schools in areas such as safety and security, plumbing, electrical, roofing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
Although state law prohibits school districts and other governments from using public money on promoting a "yes" vote for a referendum, spending on factual information is permitted.
Harris said his staff became "taxed" and did its best to craft messages conveying facts to the community before the 4,077-3,909 vote against the $185 million request in April. The district also hosted several public forums with question-and-answer sessions.
After reflecting on what could be done differently or better ahead of the second referendum in March, Harris concluded that advice and support should be sought from Sullivan's firm, which has experience in political and referendum campaigns.
School board President Penny Kazmier was among those who backed the recommendation for the outside assistance.
"I do remember that we really taxed the bandwidth of our staff," Kazmier said.
District 220 already has money set aside for consultants and special projects in its current budget. Board approval is not required for professional services contracts, but Harris said the public nature of the referendum led him to place the consultant idea before the elected officials who endorsed it at a recent meeting.
Due to existing debt the district expects to pay off in 2021, approval of the ballot measure March 17 would have the owner of a $500,000 home still see a net decrease of about $75 a year compared with the 2019 tax bill.
But without the referendum, the same homeowner would see a reduction of about $468 on the annual bill due to the retiring debt. The new proposal is 20% smaller than the one rejected in April.
In addition to basic improvements, the extra money would go toward construction of a physical education and wellness center at Barrington High School, additional classrooms at the district's two middle schools, and new classroom space at all elementary buildings for science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes, as well as students with special needs.