At the Aug. 16 Community Finance Committee (CFC) meeting, the District 200 administration’s plan for funding Project 2 was presented by its bond consultant, Elizabeth Hennessy. She ballparks the pool/physical education (PE) project at $90.5 million and proposes paying for it by circumventing taxpayers, issuing $68 million in debt certificates along with $22.5 million from the cash reserve.

The funding plan would cost taxpayers a total of $36.5 million in interest.

Project 2 would demolish the structurally-sound southeast corner of the school to accommodate a pool with 16-practice lanes, each 7-feet x 25-yards, and a 6-foot-wide moveable bulkhead. The other elements in Project 2 could be achieved through a markedly less expensive renovation of the building.

Hennessy’s plan or, rightfully, Superintendent Greg Johnson’s plan, is undemocratic and disingenuous.

Johnson wants to fund the pool/PE addition with debt certificates specifically chosen to avoid a referendum. Simply speaking, debt certificates present the greatest affront to taxpayers as they allow a taxing body to borrow money without taxpayer approval, and there’s no petition process to put the funding on the ballot, making debt certificates even more insidious than non-referendum bonds.

Debt certificates are not best practice. Funding for major capital projects goes to a bond referendum for taxpayer approval and to spread out the borrowing over the life of the asset. If approved, current and future taxpayers of the district pay for the project and enjoy its benefits.

Taxpayers have made it crystal clear to D200 that they want to vote on such projects, petitioning and forcing non-referendum bonds on the ballot for a $37.5 million, Olympic-size pool in 2015 and overwhelmingly approving a 2020 non-binding referendum that major capital projects should go to referendum for voter approval.

The $68 million in debt certificates would be repaid out of D200’s operating budget, which means the school would have to run a substantial surplus annually to repay the debt. In addition, debt certificates cost more to borrow than bonds. Under D200’s proposal, taxpayers would pay a higher interest rate than necessary.

Also included in the funding plan are $22.5 million from the cash reserve, tax dollars D200 siphoned off from taxpayers through a loophole nearly 20 years ago. It allowed D200 to overtax residents for nearly a decade, amassing a cash reserve north of $130 million in 2013, making D200 unaccountable to taxpayers on spending. Similarly, Johnson’s plan would siphon off taxpayers’ dollars without their approval, making D200 unaccountable to taxpayers for Project 2. If the board approves Johnson’s funding proposal, it would repeat a grave taxation and moral mistake of the past.

Bottom line: Johnson and D200 want to bypass voters and push through Project 2, funding it with more expensive debt certificates that would cost taxpayers $36.5 million in interest.

Please consider emailing Johnson (gjohnson@oprfhs.org), the board (boe@oprfhs.org) and the CFC (cfc@oprfhs.org) and tell them to put Project 2’s funding on the ballot where it belongs.

Sources:

8/16/22 CFC Meeting Agenda: 6(B) Debt Policy/Options

http://go.boarddocs.com/il/oprfhs/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=CGZPT8661217

Project 2 Funding Proposal (linked in the agenda)

https://go.boarddocs.com/il/oprfhs/Board.nsf/files/CH9Q6X67D768/$file/Finance%20Option%20Update%20August%2011%202022%20w%20P2%20(Revised).pdf

Monica Sheehan is an Oak Park resident.

Join the discussion on social media!