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District 99 facilities referendum to appear on March 20 ballot

DOWNERS GROVE – Community High School District 99’s master facility plan is now in the hands of the voters.

The Board of Education on Dec. 18 voted 6-1 to place a referendum question on the March 20, 2018, primary ballot seeking approval for a $136.6 million bond measure to fund significant improvements at both Downers Grove North and South high schools.

Board member Dan Nicholas cast the lone vote against the proposal.

“I believe we have a unique opportunity right now to invest in our schools,” Nicholas said. “And it is absolutely the right time to be reinvesting in our schools. I also believe this is absolutely not the right time to be moving forward with a tax increase to an already heavily taxed community.”

Nicholas said he supported the alternative proposal that called for spending $81.6 million on capital improvements and would not lead to a property tax increase. That plan, he said, would allow the district to meet a majority of its most critical needs.

But Superintendent Hank Thiele said neither the results of the phone poll nor mailed survey indicated support for the $81.6 million option. In fact, polling data suggested the majority of respondents did not waiver in their support for the plan after learning it would result in a property tax increase.

“The community that I have met with and talked to supports these needs," Thiele said.

Thiele said the $136.6 million proposal garnered double-digit support across all gender and age groups, "which is not typical when you go out and ask this kind of question of your community,” he said.

Typically, he said, referendum proposals lose support among older residents who do not have children in the schools.

“People are in support of us improving our schools,” Thiele said. “There’s nothing in the data that makes the case for going for the less expensive option.”

If the referendum is not approved, the district will come back with something different at a later point, Thiele said.

Board member Rick Pavinato, who previously said he could not support a tax increase, voted in favor of the $136.6 million option.

“The voting public has a right to decide, and it is with that right that I will vote in favor of putting the higher bond on the ballot,” Pavinato said.

Board member Don Renner echoed Pavinato’s sentiments.

“Putting our own feelings aside, given the response we have received from the community, I think it is our obligation as a board to give the community the opportunity to say yes,” Renner said.

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