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Petition for Palos 118 referendum filed

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Photo by Dermot Connolly 

Petition circulator John T. Donovan, of Palos Park, submits petition sheets signed by voters to place Palos School District 118’s $6.5 million working cash fund bond issue onto the November ballot as a referendum question.

 

 

     The organizer of a petition effort filed on Monday’s deadline to force Palos School District 118’s planned $6.5 million borrowing onto the ballot as a referendum question on the November election ballot.

     John T. Donovan said he and his supporters collected 2,100 signatures of registered voters on the petitions he filed with a representative of the board of education at the district’s administration building, 8800 W. 119th St., Palos Park.

       A minimum of 1,654 signatures, or 10 percent, of registered voters residing in the school district are needed to place the district’s working cash bond issue on the 2016 presidential election ballot. Donovan said he filed more than was needed, plus a cushion, to forestall any legal objection against the referendum petition.

     Icy snow covered the ground and was still falling as Donovan pulled up to the building, carrying a letter-sized document box containing the petition sheets, shortly after 2 p.m.

     Any legal objection to the petition for a referendum must be filed within a period of five business days from the date that Donovan filed his petition sheets, by state law. That deadline is this Monday, Jan. 4.

     A legal objection seeking to void the referendum would be heard by a three-member local electoral board made up of school board members – president, secretary, and longest serving member.

     If no legal challenge is made, the school board still has until August 2016 to decide whether to move forward with placing the question on the November 2016 ballot, district Superintendent Anthony Scarsella, citing the district’s legal counsel, said on Tuesday.

         The district, however, would be unable to issue any of the bonds unless and until the school board again undertakes the legal notice and public hearing process to vote a new intent to authorize the issuance of working cash fund bonds.

     “We respect those residents who signed the petition and we look forward to having the opportunity to provide additional and accurate information about the investments we are proposing, most importantly providing greater opportunities for our early childhood and pre-kindergarten students,” Superintendent Scarsella said in response to Monday’s action by Donovan. This school district has always prided itself on being transparent and we will continue to provide the facts to our community so they can make an informed decision on this important issue.” 

     Donovan contends he filed more than enough legally valid signatures to doom any legal objection to a referendum. “We believe we have a cushion large enough to survive a challenge, “ he said. “We checked the poll sheets prior to filing, and believe we have a high enough margin to succeed.”

     School board President John Faustino was critical of the costs associated with the delay of the bond issue caused by the referendum. “I respect voters’ right to sign petitions and move Palos 118’s proposed bond issuance to the ballot,” Faustino said. “Unfortunately, I don’t believe petition circulators shared all the facts they had with potential signers.  In addition to delaying our proposed investments, putting the bond issuance on the November 2016 ballot puts taxpayers at risk to pay more for these bonds based on lower prioritization for or potentially missing out on federal subsidies, which could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and expected increases in historically low interest rates.”

     Donovan was grateful for the help he received to get the petition sheets signed on both the weekends and days before and after Christmas, a daunting task.  “On behalf of the volunteers, I want to thank each and everyone of the residents who took time out of their busy holiday schedules to welcome us into their homes to speak about the petitions,” he said. “During the very short window we had to organize this, it was very humbling to see the overwhelming support from so many residents desiring to have input on this issue. Many thanked us, but we should be thanking them—they were the ones who were kind enough to welcome and reach out to us.”

Donovan added: “The two most prevalent comments we heard from residents were ‘Thank you so much for doing this, this is definitely something that should be on the ballot; if it wasn’t for you folks and the Regional News covering the issue, we would have had no idea this is what our school board has been doing,’ and ‘the board’s judgment here is the exact reason our country is $19 trillion dollars in debt, soon to be $20 trillion by the deadline week.’”

         How was Donovan able to pull off the effort in the 30-day period between Nov. 26 and Monday’s filing deadline? “I can tell you that 95 percent of people who opened their doors ultimately signed the petition,” he said. “We received more phone calls and emails asking to sign and see this issue on the ballot than I can count. This petition far and away has the overwhelming support of residents.”

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