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District 99 board expected to place master facility plan referendum on March ballot

Superintendent strongly recommends bringing $136.6M plan to voters

Downers Grove South High School
Downers Grove South High School

DOWNERS GROVE – Voters in Community High School District 99 are likely to see a referendum question on the March 20 primary ballot seeking approval for a $136.6 million bond measure to fund significant improvements at both Downers Grove North and South high schools.

Superintendent Hank Thiele voiced his strong recommendation for the referendum at the Board of Education’s Dec. 4 meeting.

The board is expected to vote on the matter at its Dec. 18 meeting.

“You see the positive messages around this plan strongly support it overall,” Thiele said. “You see the negative ideas not supported overall.”

Results of both a mail survey sent to all homes in the district and a phone poll of 300 likely voters indicated district residents support a proposal that would include enhanced security measures and updated classrooms and labs at both schools, among other improvements.

Board members received an extensive presentation summarizing the results of the survey and the phone poll at the Dec. 4 meeting.

A citizen task force that has studied the issue “almost unanimously recommended moving forward with the full bond issue in March,” Thiele said.

Thiele said the community should have the opportunity to reinvest in learning opportunities for students. If the referendum question is rejected, the board could decide to present a scaled-down proposal to voters in November, Thiele said.

“The community needs to be given the opportunity to say ‘no’ to the larger plan before the smaller plan is brought to them,” Thiele said. “Our community clearly says to reinvest in our facilities. We owe it to the community, the District 99 community, to put on the ballot on March 20 the opportunity to support all of the identified needs for the facilities of District 99 for now and for the next foreseeable generations.”

Two board members said they were not in favor of the referendum.

“I just, at this point, cannot support a tax increase,” board member Rick Pavinato said.

Board member Dan Nicholas said he supported the alternative proposal that calls for spending $81.6 million on capital improvements and would not lead to a property tax increase.

“I would be hard-pressed to support the higher one that would increase taxes,” Nicholas said. “I believe it should be presented to the community, but I would present it in the fact that I would go in March with the $81 million because I think it has a higher chance of approval by the community.”

He said the district could always seek additional funds via referendum at a later date.

Board President Nancy Kupka said a second referendum initiative would be a misuse of district resources. Nothing in the data gleaned from the survey and phone poll supports a referendum question seeking $81 million, officials said.

Thiele said the results of both the survey and the phone poll indicated at least 30 percent of respondents support several components of the full plan.

“Ultimately, in the end, there’s always going to be the least popular thing on the list,” he said. “It reflects the community’s needs. That’s why communities have the opportunity to vote in this way.”

Fifty-four percent of the respondents to the mail survey said security enhancements were a high priority while 46 percent strongly favored building enhancements for people with disabilities. Thirty-four percent supported updating classrooms and labs, and 31 percent said installing air conditioning was a high priority.

The phone poll, meanwhile, indicated double-digit support for the full plan.

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