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Palos 118 petition effort gathers steam

Voters in Palos School District 118’s are poised to file a petition by Monday’s deadline to force the district’s planned borrowing of $6.5 million onto the ballot as a referendum question in the November presidential election.

Petition circulators have so far gathered 1,550 of the 1,654 signatures of registered voters residing in school district needed to put the working cash fund bond issue to voters as a referendum question, John T. Donovan, of Palos Park, the organizer of the petition drive said on Monday.

By state law, the petition must be signed by a minimum of 10 percent of the registered voters who reside in the school district to let voters decide the bond issue.

“We are very confident we will get number of legally valid signatures, plus a cushion to withstand any legal challenge” supporters of the bond issue who oppose turning it into a referendum might make against it, Donovan told The Regional on Monday.

If a legal challenge is mounted by supporters of the district’s bond issue against the petition for a referendum, resulting in an electoral board hearing by members of the school board, Donovan is prepared to seek the legal counsel of such renowned election law attorneys as Michael J. Kasper or Burton Odelson to defend it, he said.

Donovan and supporters spent last weekend going door to door gathering petition signatures, said. Few people refused to sign the petition, he added.

Donovan was the sole resident who spoke against the bond issue at a public hearing required by state law on the school board’s intent to sell the working cash fund bonds held by the school board on Dec. 15.

Donovan on Monday reiterated his conviction stated at that public hearing that although Palos School District 118 is an exemplary one of excellent schools that provide a high-quality education, he wants the district officials to more fully explain their need for the $6.5 million borrowing and make the case for it to voters.

Donovan intends to file the petition for the referendum on the afternoon of the day of the deadline, Dec. 28.

It would be no small feat for the petition gathering effort to succeed, as it was constrained by the timing of the bond issue approved by the school board on Nov. 19: on the verge of Thanksgiving and the busy Christmas holiday season.

Donovan and fellow voters had 30 days from the Nov. 26 date of publication of the legal notice of the district’s intent to issue the bonds to file the petition for the referendum. If sufficient valid petition signatures are filed before the Dec. 28 deadline, the referendum question would appear on the November election ballot.

Donovan lists ways for voters to reach him to sign the petition in a letter to the editor in this week’s Readers Write section on Page 4. An attorney, Donovan now works on the staff of Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart and formerly on the staff of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. He ran unsuccessfully for the High School District 230 board of education last April.

If he and other voters fail to circulate a petition by Monday’s deadline, the district will have the legal authority to issue the bonds. Proceeds for principal and interest payments for the working cash bonds issued by the school district would be automatically levied on the property tax rolls as an obligation assumed by district property-tax payers.

School board President John Faustino has said that the district has historically used a combination of property tax levies and working cash fund bonds to operate its schools. “It’s standard operating procedure for us,” he said at the Dec. 15 public hearing.

District officials plan to use the working cash funds to upgrade facilities at Palos West to house a district-wide pre-kindergarten and early childhood program. Two classrooms would be added to the current two used for that purpose were not designed for them and lack adequate space, as well as restrooms appropriate for children 3 to 5 years old.

School board member Catherine Maier at the public hearing noted the district “is asking for a minimal amount compared to what we could ask for, which is up to $47 million” in its proposed $6.5 million borrowing.

Both she and Faustino emphasized that the planned bond issue would keep the bond portion of the property tax bill at current levels because the current debt will be paid off by the time the new proceeds show up on tax bills. The bond issue “will not in itself increase our taxes,” Maier had said. “It will replace our payments because our current bonds are being retired.”

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