Acknowledging that the community lacks trust in the District 200 school board, and it needs to work on rebuilding it, the OPRF board decided not to bypass voters and borrow money for Project 1 at its May Committee of the Whole meeting. The board’s decision not to issue debt certificates shifts the funding back to its original plan to pay the $32.6 million fully from the cash reserve.
At its April general meeting, the board pivoted sharply and reached an apparent consensus to take on debt to partially fund the construction of the academic and special education facility-needs project scheduled to begin construction in June. The board cited low-interest rates and the district’s lack of debt as reasons to borrow money for the project. The board’s pivot raised questions regarding its transparency and accountability to taxpayers.
Generally, taxpayers would disapprove of D200 issuing debt now, given its nearly $100 million cash reserve, which includes the $20 million the board has earmarked for “urgent needs” in Project 2, namely a massive pool and 600-seat natatorium. While major capital projects should be fully bonded, approved and paid for by the voters who will benefit from them, D200’s mountainous cash reserve, amassed unethically via a loophole, continues to skew this funding dynamic.
Debt certificates are a funding tool available to Illinois school districts, which allows them to avoid referendums, bypassing voters. Because debt certificates are not backed by the taxing power of a district, they command a higher interest rate and cost the school district/taxpayers more than bonds.
There are a variety of bond options, including Life Safety which address critical building needs outlined in an approved safety survey report. As such, there is no justifiable reason for D200 to ever issue debt certificates.