District 31 referendum a good bet for schools
Updated: March 29, 2012 4:03PM
David Handler, a Northbrook resident, is president of the West Northfield District 31 Board of Education.
Because of legal constraints, I am writing this as a parent and resident, not as a West Northfield District 31 school board member.
Here’s the bottom line on District 31 and why you should vote in favor of the referendum: If the referendum doesn’t pass we will have larger class sizes; will not have any sports, plays, band, extracurricular activities, buses or gifted program; and will cut staff even further. The district spends less per student than any other in the township. The administrators and teachers are the lowest paid in the township, and they took a pay freeze this year. The student-to-administrator ratio is the highest. The district’s tax rate is seventh lowest in the state. About 50 percent of the incoming students do not speak English, requiring additional teacher to be hired per state mandate. The district’s state and federal funding has fallen by 60 percent in the last few years. Both assistant principals have been eliminated and there is no curriculum director (the superintendent assumed that job). All classroom aide positions will be eliminated. While neighboring districts offer two to three foreign languages beginning as early as first grade, District 31 offers only Spanish beginning in sixth grade.
The district’s curriculum is outdated (the history books pre-date the 9/11 attacks, before most of the students were born). Consultants have advised that the buildings need $5 million of repairs over the next 5-10 years. Winkelman has uninhabitable trailers with no resale value, but the district can’t afford to have them demolished or hauled away. The district eliminated all technology expenditures, which in today’s world is like eliminating spending on curriculum. When the current computers no longer function, they will not be replaced. The gymnasiums will be filled with 70-75 kids at a time, after P.E. staffing is reduced. This is unsafe and impractical.
Residents are already selling their homes at steep losses, fleeing to other districts. Those who remain will continue to see their home values fall. For the rest of Northbrook and Glenview, your share of the property taxes will go up.
Some claim that we have $7 million of reserves, pointing to the district deficit reduction plan. That is not money “left over” from the school year. Although the fiscal year ends June 30, the funds remaining at that time need to last until the next tax receipts in November or so (about $4 million of expenditures). The $7 million also includes the $3 million bond that has not yet been issued to cover operations if the referendum fails, and the $1 million construction grant that is set aside for building emergencies (such as the boiler that will need replacement for $500,000).
Some claim the district plans to build a new gymnasium, which is untrue. Two years ago, the district hired a firm to perform a life safety study to ascertain the timing and cost of maintenance and repairs to ensure the safety of the students and staff. That report identified $5 million of repairs required over the next 10 years, with $1.35 million required within three years. During the presentation, the firm suggested (on their own) that the district reconfigure or rebuild the gymnasium, among other parts of the building. The school board and administration never considered or discussed the idea before that meeting, and has never discussed it since then.
Continuously issuing bonds is not a solution. They provide less than half the funds for operations than the referendum.
Dissolution or consolidation would raise our taxes much more than the referendum. Further, either one would require a successful referendum in both District 31 and the district(s) into which we would be merged — a highly unlikely event.
After the failure of the last referendum, the district made enormous budget cuts; but for the referendum opponents, it is still not enough. We have world-class high schools, libraries, park districts and public services. That is why people move here. Why do some in our community demand that the district’s educational programs be further dismantled before they will consider giving the district a dime to keep it from being taken over by the state (which could happen in 2014-15 if the referendum fails and drastic cuts are not made)?
Why are we begging to have small class sizes and keep extra-curriculars that make our children well rounded? When did this become a race to the bottom?
Good grades aren’t enough to get into top universities. They want well-rounded students active in sports, theater, debate or music. Without these activities in District 31, the students won’t have the experience and confidence to engage in them in high school. The high school orchestra, marching bands and sports teams will be void of District 31 students. How can this be acceptable?
Vote “yes” for the District 31 referendum, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.