ELMHURST – The Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Board of Education plans to discuss and vote at its Aug. 14 meeting whether to go to referendum for facilities funding in the November election.
The board decided to postpone discussion directly related to whether to go to referendum in November after hearing a few presentations at its Aug. 8 meeting, including the results of another Strategies 360 phone poll, an overview of the status of facilities needs and a synopsis of what district administrators believe would need to occur to address facilities concerns if the board chose not to go to referendum.
Strategies 360 Research Director Cornelia Treptosw and Senior Vice President Lesley Rogers presented findings from the live telephone poll their agency conducted between July 14 and 21, which included 300 residents' responses.
Among the questions they posed to residents was whether the district should consider a ballot proposition in which the district would "build and equip two school buildings to replace the Field and Lincoln Elementary School Buildings, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings including but not limited to improving security, energy-efficiency and technology infrastructure, providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) facilities and adding classrooms for full-day kindergarten, improve school sites across the district" at a cost of $168.5 million.
Initially, 51 percent of respondents said the district should consider that ballot proposition, and 43 percent said the district should not consider it. After hearing the tax impact, which would be $29.80 per year per $100,000 of home value, 55 percent of respondents said the district should consider it, while 40 percent said no. Upon a final ask, after respondents heard statements regarding district needs, 59 percent said the district should consider it while 38 percent said no.
Board member John McDonough asked if the inclusion of whether the district should "consider" the proposition rather than do the proposition might have impacted results.
Treptow said the survey was designed to avoid having the notion the district would "fiat" anything, as it would be the public's decision whether to support the referendum.
"I just want to caution against perceiving this as, 'Yes, these are people that will support a referendum,' ... I understand your coloring of a response, and it's not a definite response," McDonough said.
Todd Schmidt, the new director of buildings and grounds for the district, walked the board through the status of facilities. Schmidt said some of the buildings are "in desperate need" of maintenance equipment upgrades, and some equipment needs to be replaced because it's toward the end of its life cycle.
He added one of the facilities has four boilers that were installed 20 years ago, and two of them have died, as they tend to last only 15 boilers. Carpeting, flooring, paving, drainage and painting are also concerns, he said.
"So when we sit there and use some of our operating maintenance funds for this, it's kind of putting [on] Band-Aids. It's really not getting out ahead of the curve," Schmidt said.
He added he wants to make the facilities more energy-efficient and have a more "proactive approach" instead of a "run to failure mode."
Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Chris Whelton said if the district did not have a successful referendum, it would need to pull from the operations and maintenance fund – one of the five district operating funds, which are limited by tax laws – in order to fulfill the basic maintenance needs that would cost $26.1 million for the next 10 years. Whelton said the revenue going to the education fund also would need to be reduced in order to increase the operations and maintenance fund revenue.
District parent Mawi Asgedom spoke during public comment about Lincoln Elementary School, where a lot of YMCA basketball games he coached took place.
"When I was walking around Lincoln, I heard from some of the families there and I saw just the shape that that building was in, and I saw this tremendous inequity here in Elmhurst in the kind of facilities that kids have just based on which part of Elmhurst they're in," Asgedom said. "I got to admit that was quite shocking to me."
He said when the board decides if it will go to referendum, it will be choosing whether or not to give Elmhurst residents the opportunity to voice their opinions on financially supporting security and facilities improvements.
"I believe based on the energy that the community has shown, what I've heard from my neighbors, that we deserve that voice," Asgedom said.
The next regularly scheduled Board of Education meetings are 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28. There also will be a Policy Committee meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 13.
To learn about the master facility plan, visit elmhurst205.org/MasterFacilityPlan.