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Education

Lawsuit filed against District 200 to prevent construction of new early childhood center

A longtime critic of Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 has filed a lawsuit to prevent the district from moving ahead with a project to build a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton.
A longtime critic of Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 has filed a lawsuit to prevent the district from moving ahead with a project to build a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton.

WHEATON – A longtime critic of Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 has filed a lawsuit to prevent the district from moving ahead with a project to build a new early learning center on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton.

The suit was filed Aug. 6 by Wheaton resident Jan Shaw in response to a proposal by the district to issue lease certificates that would help pay for the proposed new center. Lease certificates provide a way to borrow for improvements that allows for debt payments to come from the district's existing operational budget, not through a tax increase. The certificates would not require voter approval.

At their Aug. 15 meeting, District 200 Board of Education members are set to vote on a resolution for issuing up to $14 million in lease certificates and approving a building permit for the proposed center. Discussion of the items will take place following a closed session regarding litigation.

In her lawsuit, Shaw alleges that "lllinois law requires that when a school district desires to build a new school building or to borrow money for that purpose, it must first obtain voter approval to do so, through the referendum process."

Voters in April 2017 voted down a referendum that would have paid for a new $16.6 million facility at the Jefferson site. Prior to that vote, voters in 2013 rejected a $17.6 million plan for a new center. Needs at the center include a secured entry, sufficient classroom and office space, and wheelchair accessibility.

"I just want the district to follow the law," Shaw said, in talking about the suit.

A hearing on the case has been set for Oct. 18. The suit asks a judge to prevent District 200 from financing the project using lease certificates until the question has been submitted to voters in a referendum.

In response to the suit, Superintendent Jeff Schuler said the district "remains 100 percent confident in the steps that it has taken and the fact that those steps are fully compliant with the Illinois school code."

"I have no question about the legality of any of the steps that we've taken," he said.

Jefferson serves students with special needs as required by state and federal law. About two-thirds of Jefferson students have some type of special need or disability, and one-third of students are typically developing students who pay tuition to attend the school.

As proposed, the building would be ready for occupancy by August 2019. The existing school would be demolished during summer 2019.

In October 2017, the board decided not to proceed with building a new early learning center at Graf Park following public opposition. Residents had voiced concerns the plans would change the character of the park. The center addition would have been constructed on the current park property and connected to nearby Monroe Middle School.

Residents started a website, savegrafpark.org, and posted opposition signs throughout the city in an attempt to derail the plans.

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