WHEATON – In light of a lawsuit to prevent it from moving ahead with a project to build a new early childhood center without voter approval, Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 has changed its plans.
The district will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 to consider a resolution authorizing a question on the Nov. 6 ballot to build and equip the new building without levying a separate special property tax to finance the costs. The action comes in the face of a suit 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 on the site of the current Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton.
Aug. 20 is the last day for government bodies to adopt a resolution or ordinance to allow binding or advisory public questions to appear on the ballot.
At their Aug. 15 meeting, Board of Education members were set to vote on a resolution for issuing up to $14 million in lease certificates and approving a building permit for the proposed center. However, at the recommendation of board President Jim Vroman, board members unanimously voted to table taking action on the items.
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, the district has contended.
In her lawsuit, Shaw alleges that "Illinois 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.
The suit had asked a judge to prevent District 200 from financing the project using lease certificates until the question has been submitted to voters in a referendum.
"The district adamantly disagrees with the claims outlined in the lawsuit," Vroman said in a statement following closed session at the meeting. "Supported by our legal counsel, we believe the district has been fully compliant with school code in all of our decisions. The claims that the district has not been transparent in decisions are simply not true – we have sent more than 20 communications to the broader community outlining our process to determine a facility solution for Jefferson.
"With that said, the time and cost of resources to litigate this claim would be very costly to our community and taxpayers. We are not willing to take any more valuable resources from the 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds in our district that need us and deserve a facility improvement that meets their educational needs."
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.
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.