By Terry Dean
Oak Park and River Forest High School has several options it can use to pay for major renovations – the remaking of classrooms and a new pool -- that are planned for the 107-year-old school.
Those options were discussed over the past month among the District 200 Board of Education and its various committees. And on Monday night the topic was brought to the district's ad hoc Finance Advisory Committee which is charged with making broad finance recommendations to the school board by December.
The tentative cost for the projects, which are driven in part by expectations of rising enrollment, was pegged Monday night at around $50 million. The funding options include selling bonds outright or going to voters in a referendum for permission to sell bonds. It is also expected that the school would use some portion of its $118 million fund balance and the roughly $5 million budgeted annually for capital projects to help cover costs.
The options under consideration, including a referendum, are only possible scenarios, said Jeff Weissglass, school board vice president and chair of the special finance committee.
In all, six financing options were proposed Monday by the school's financial advisory firm, William Blair. In each scenario, OPRF would spend between $13-30 million from the fund balance to pay a portion of the project. The rest of the funds would come from issuing bonds, either over 10 or 20 years, or via a referendum bond.
If, for instance, the high school were to put a referendum on the March 14, 2014 ballot for $36.6 million over a 20-year period, the tax impact on a home valued at $300,000 would be $133 per year, according to one of the options presented Monday by Elizabeth Hennessy, a managing director with William Blair.
Those options were also discussed by the D200 Board of Education on Sept. 26. Weissglass stressed that no decision was being made yet on any option but that the committee wanted to be transparent in vetting those options.
Monday's meeting also included a presentation by Tod Altenburg, OPRF's chief financial officer, on fund balance policies.
Several neighboring school districts, such as Evanston's D202 and D209 in Proviso, have policies concerning how to manage their respective fund balances. Proviso, for example, says the district seeks to "maintain year-end fund balances no less than 25 percent of annual expenditures in each fund." Other districts, such as Riverside-Brookfield, have similarly-worded policies.
OPRF has no such policy concerning its fund balance. The Facilities Advisory Committee will decide if such a policy is needed. But according to the high school, 25 percent of its current fiscal year expenditures totals $18.95 million.
The committee will now start moving toward forming its recommendations to the schoo boardl, Weissglass said. The FAC has met since July, mostly getting background on OPRF's finances. The committee is slated to make its recommendation to the D200 school board in December.
In the Oct. 2 article titled "OP schools decline in state standardized tests," Oak Park and River Forest High School actually experienced a percentage increase in reading on this year's Prairie State Achievement Test, as well as increases in math for some of its subgroups.
Wednesday Journal regrets the error.
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