West Chicago, IL 60021
Is District 33 Planning a Back Door Referendum?
This is the second installment of a series of items about the possible addition of classrooms to Wegner Elementary School. In some ways it is the most critical. Most people understand that the voters must approve tax increases by a process called referendum. The school board and administration determine that they need more money to educate the community's children, and ask the voter to approve a higher rate. Many people also understand that when the school needs more facilities, they can propose a building referendum which asks for permission to sell bonds to borrow funds for building a new school or addition. Few people understand that the school, without the voter's expressed permission in a referendum, can refinance existing loans to provide funds for building construction and/or improvement. It's kind of like refinancing your home to put on an addition and/or take out equity for current purchases. Nobody would say that such a refinancing, although called a "back door referendum" and viewed by many tax reduction advocates as sneaky and unethical, should be done anything but above board, out in the open, with the full knowledge of the community and voters. Keeping this in mind, consider the following two descriptions of a recommendation under consideration by the District 33 board.
|From Dr. Leman's email to Mr. Smith||From the April 24th Memo provided to the school board at the May meeting:|
|"4) The funds described in #3 ["$670,000.00 in working cash bonds and approximately $400,000.00 in land cash donations from the Prestonfield developer" ed.], plus an additional $100,000 to $200,000 from the working cash fund (a fund used to cover cash flow problems, emergencies, or one-time projects - also not for Education Fund needs) is enough to add 4 classrooms to one of our facilities WITHOUT borrowing or going to referendum. The ongoing cost of operating an additional 4 classrooms is approximately $15,000 per year for utilities, custodians, and maintenance, or $4.30 per square foot. "||"D-33 is eligible to sell $31 Million in alternate Reveue Bonds without going to referendum. With that kind of money we could build a 6thy grade center at the middle school and build a new preschool/administation center! The projects and addition above will cost between $5 Million and $7 Million. At the current tax rate of $.66, we could sell $10 Million in bonds and have it paid off by 2013 with a total repayment of $14 Million. $5 to $7 Million would be paid off sooner, and the rate would begin dropping unless new bonds were sold."|
The description on the left is from a letter to a citizen. The description to the right is from a memo to the board. Does the description to the left, a $1.2 Million dollar addition to Wegner which would require NO ADDITIONAL borrowing seem equivalent to the $5 - $7 Million dollar addition and projects to the right which could be funded by back door referendum? Did the citizen to the left deserve the kind of information in the item on the right, which only went to School Board members? Didn't the citizen deserve to know that the administration had already recommended, not $1.2 Million, but $5 - $7 Million in expenditures? Is it being open, transparent, and forthright to answer to a citizen with the words on the left, when the words to the right had been distributed at an open board meeting weeks before?
Telling the truth is more than making true statements. It's the whole truth. It is not talking about a smaller expenditure to a citizen while discussing much larger expenditures when the audience is only the school board. It is not talking about $1.2 Million dollars out of one side of your mouth while talking about ability to spend $31 Million (without specific voter approval) out of the other.
The Administrative recommendation could have the bonds sold by the end of August. It is time for the citizens of West Chicago to get up to speed on this and make their feelings known to board members.
The entire contents of the email to Mr. Smith is at Plans for Addition to Wegner Elementary School. The full text of the memo to the school board can be found at the following: