D97 approves referendum questions

There will be two separate initiatives on the ballot in April

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

At their Dec. 20 regular meeting, members of the Oak Park District 97 school board unanimously approved two separate ballot referendum questions for the April 4, 2017 ballot. 

The first referendum question seeks to increase the district's tax levy by $13,344,415 to a total of $66,481,876 in order to provide the necessary revenue to fund the district's operations, the costs for which have increased along with the district's enrollment. 

Since 2007, according to D97 officials, the average daily attendance at district schools has increased by nearly 24 percent. 

The net impact of the new tax levy, if approved by voters, would be $74 for every $1,000 of a homeowner's current tax bill. It's designed to get the district's total fund balance to 27.5 percent of total operating expenses within five years. 

The district's fiscal policy requires the operating fund balance to be at least 25 percent of operating expenses. The district's fund balance is projected to go negative by 2018. 

The second question seeks voter approval to issue up to $57.5 million in bonds for a variety of facilities improvements and building expansions. District officials said that the additional financing will have no impact on tax bills.

"It's basically extending the current debt payments that are being made on 1999 middle school bonds out for another 20 years in order to fund the capacity expansions we need, basic maintenance to ensure buildings will function, 21st century learning spaces and climate control [updated air and heating systems] at the elementary schools," said board member Graham Brisben at the Dec. 20 meeting.

Brisben said that running both ballot questions would present a challenge for the district when it comes to informing the public about the measure, but that the board believed this to be the best approach.

"The board determined that this was the best course of action first and foremost because it provides the greatest and most transparency," he said. "Secondly, it allows the ask to be no more, no less than the minimum necessary to meet the needs of the surging enrollment and comply with District 97's fiscal policies, as well as [state] guidelines." 

If both questions pass, the district would be prohibited from co-mingling the funds generated from the referenda. Capital expenses would go only toward capital projects and operating funds would only be spent operations. 

The board is expected to formally adopt the questions on Jan. 10 in order to meet the Jan. 17 filing deadline. 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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