'A very valuable closure': Retiring superintendent relishes success of Warren District 121 tax hike effort
A mixture of relief and gratitude greeted Warren Township High School District 121 Superintendent John Ahlgrim late Tuesday night after it became clear that voters had approved a long-sought tax rate hike.
Relief that Warren High School students will continue to have opportunities in athletics, music, advanced placement courses and elective classes that officials said would be eliminated if Tuesday's proposal were rejected.
And gratitude for everyone who helped the Gurnee-based district share information with voters about why the tax increase was needed.
"The community was engaged in the process," said Ahlgrim, who, along with other administrators, hosted more than 30 community information sessions in the months leading up to the vote. "Some of them were big groups and some of them were small groups, but each of them hopefully provided info for people there."
The approval means property taxes in District 121 will increase 60 cents per $100 of taxable assessed value, with the owner of a home valued at $250,000 paying about $500 more yearly.
A similar ballot measure seeking a property tax hike in 2021 was rejected by a vote of 4,700 to 3,753. A major difference Tuesday was the amount of time district officials had to present information to the community and their ability to hold in-person events, rather than virtual sessions over Zoom.
District leaders said that if voters rejected the tax hike, all athletics and activities, as well 20 staff positions, would be eliminated as early as the 2023-24 school year. Additionally, students would have a seven-period school day instead of the eight periods they have now. Many elective courses would be gone, including programs for music, art, world languages and industrial technology.
After the 2021 tax hike effort failed, district leaders announced for the 2022-2023 school year that entry-level sports and some music programs would be cut.
Ahlgrim said that while it is a tight timeline, he hopes the district will be able offer those programs in the fall.
"I'm optimistic that we will have things as close to normal as they would have been as possible," he said.
Much of that effort to prevent planned cuts this school year will happen without Ahlgrim's input. No matter what happened with the vote Tuesday, Ahlgrim's tenure as district leader, which started in 2015, was to end Thursday with his retirement.
The end was all the sweeter with Tuesday's results, he said.
"Working through the referendum for the last couple years has been great work and obviously now has been very rewarding," Ahlgrim said Wednesday. "It's been a very valuable closure."
In December, the school board selected Daniel "Danny" Woestman, most recently the superintendent of Belvidere School District 100 east of Rockford, to succeed Ahlgrim beginning Friday.
Ahlgrim said he intends to take things easy for a while and see how long he can stay retired.