BERWYN – South Berwyn School District 100 officials presented their case Thursday night for tapping taxpayers wallets twice on the ballot in March.
While many community members said it was hard to argue with the district's need for financial help, many of those in attendence Thursday wondered what the financial impact would be on the community at large.
In a forum hosted by the All Berwyn Committee, district staff and board members explained the need for a $51.4 million bond issue to repair and modernize the district's eight aging schools, as well as a need to increase the limiting rate during a comprehensive power point presentation.
Under a 20-year building bond, the owner of a $150,000 house can expect to pay $326 annually for the bond that would provide $51,480,325 to the district, officials said.
Jim Calabrese, director of Human Resources and principal of Freedom Middle School, led a power point presentation on the bond issue, explaining the goal was to provide 21st century classrooms to meet the top 25 percent goal for student achievement. To do so, adequate space is needed to meet growing enrollment and eliminate forced transfers from neighborhood schools to schools in other areas of town.
Money is also needed to provide adequate lunchroom space to accommodate the number of students while providing reasonable time for eating. There is also need to upgrade existing heating, ventilating and air conditioning in all buildings, Calabrese said.
"Four of the six elementary school buildings have boilers more than 30 years old." he said. “You can't go out to the hardware store for parts.”
There are issues as well with leaks when it rains in several of the buildings.
Calabrese seemed to read the minds of many audience members over the multi-million dollar cost to rectify the physical problems facing the district.
"We understand it's a big number, but at the same time our kids can't wait," he said. "We are on borrowed time.”
School officials: Increasing enrollment also a need for referendum
Also presssing the need to upgrade buildings is an ever increasing enrollment. Over the past 10 years there has been a 21 percent increase in student enrollment throughout the district, Calabrese said, with no additional space added at the elementary buildings.
School officials also made a case for a limited rate increase, led by Jeremy Majeski, director of Literacy and principal of Komensky Elementary School.
That increase would cost the same $150,000 house owner an additional $491 annually to reduce class sizes from 28 to 24 students, hire 17 new teachers to staff new classrooms, provide reading intervention to needy students and increase professional development .
it also calls for increasing teacher salaries, which, according to the district, are 20 percent lower than the state average.
The limited rate increase, officials said, is essential to ensure all students are on track to being college and career ready.
Of the district's 4,020 total student population, 25 percent or more than 1,000 students, are English Language Learners, those who are learning the English language while in school, with 74 percent coming from low-income homes. Of those, 9 percent have identified disabilities, officials said.
Students in District 100 are 78 percent Hispanic, 14 percent white and 4 percent black.
According to research provided by the district, students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school than proficient readers.
For those who could not master even the basic skills by third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater. Struggling readers account for about one-third of District 100 students, officials said. About 31 percent of poor African-American and 33 percent of poor Hispanic students who did not hit the third grade proficiency mark failed to graduate.
The combined increases to the $150,000 homeowner's tax bill is $817, according to school officials.
Some community members concerned about impact of new taxes on Berwyn
Community members at the meeting wondered if the increased numbers only sow a portion of the whole picture, and others said the increase would be bone-crushing for many families living on the margin.
One resident accused the district officials of not having done some fundamental research on the effect the two issues will have on the investors, meaning taxpayers. He added his taxes have tripled since he moved into the community in 2003.
Another resident said the proposed increase does not take into account the fact that other taxing bodies will be having their hands out as well, and that increases can be expected from the city, state and county that will be added to the school district's increase.
Calabrese said the district had no control over what other taxing bodies will do but could only be responsible for its own needs.
Editor's Note: The Berwyn Suburban Life will be continuing our coverage and analysis of the Distrcit 100 referendum in the coming weeks. We encourage readers to contact us with their questions and concerns.