WHEATON – A referendum measure to build a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton has failed with about 60 percent of votes cast against the measure, according to unofficial vote totals.
The referendum measure asked voters to approve the building of a new center and the issuance of bonds to the amount of $17.6 million by the district to pay for it.
Jefferson mainly serves 3- and 4-year-olds in the district with developmental disabilities. The question was brought to voters in light of problems with the current facility including a lack of handicapped accessibility, insufficient bathroom facilities and classroom space, heating and cooling issues, lack of parking, and unsafe pickup/drop-off traffic flow.
From levy years 2013 until 2022, the annual property tax increase on residents to fund the Jefferson project would have been $300 for owners of a $300,000 home. But in 2023, the tax increase on residents would have risen to $344 for owners of a $300,000 home to finish paying for the project.
Overall, however, the amount residents were to pay in property taxes to the district that final year was expected to decrease.
"We are going to continue to work and be positive, and we maintain that our kids deserve more," said Dan Wagner, co-chair of the Friends of the Schools parents' committee, which was charged with campaigning for the referendum measure.
Although the measure failed, Wagner said the silver lining is that discussions surrounding the new facility had moved from whether the students needed a new center to whether this was the best way to provide it.
He said half the challenge was helping community members understand the special needs of many Jefferson students.
"I believe we clearly overcame that hurdle, and the discussion in the community was about how to fix this facility," Wagner said.
When new Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education members are seated in May, they will be charged with looking at all the information regarding Jefferson, as well as voters' responses, to find a suitable solution to the facility problems that still need to be addressed, Superintendent Brian Harris said.
"That's what the new board's challenge is going to be moving forward," Harris said.
As superintendent, Harris said he is committed to finding a solution that's acceptable to the community, and he's looking forward to working toward that goal.
Board members who will be seated in May are incumbents Joann Coghill and Barbara Intihar, as well as challengers Brad Paulsen and James Mathieson.
Those four candidates received about 14.1, 14, 13.8 and 13.4 percent of the vote Tuesday, respectively.
Other candidates for the four open seats included incumbent Ken Knicker and challengers Bruce C. Fogarty, Janet Shaw, Kyle Nenninger and Harold Lonks.
Much of the discussion surrounding the board race centered on financial concerns, from educational funding in the district meeting student needs to pension concerns to funding for a new Jefferson.