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Voters to decide construction bonds issue in Palos Dist. 118

Color page one palos 118

Source: Prek118.org

Schematic drawing of the proposed addition at the front of Palos West School. The $3.25 million budget for this part of the project would add 8,000 new square feet and renovate 1,600 square feet.

          Voters in Palos School District 118 will decide Tuesday whether to approve the borrowing of $6.5 million in construction bonds.

The four-year bonds would pay to improve the facilities serving the school district’s early-childhood and pre-kindergarten pupils and make additional capital improvements at all three district schools.

Both the district wide early-childhood and pre-K programs are housed at Palos West School, 12700 S. 104th Ave., in Palos Park.

District officials have held three voter information nights since late August to inform voters about all aspects of the bond issue. They also made their case for the bond issue in presentations to the Palos Park village and Palos Heights and Palos Hills city councils in recent weeks.

Early on, the district created a new website, Prek118.org, that contains virtually everything voters need to know about the referendum and proposed addition. It details budget figures and building plans, and shows artists’ renderings of the early-learning addition and its facilities.

District Superintendent Anthony Scarsella has emphasized that approval of the four-year bond issuance will not increase property taxes paid now.

Because the district is retiring its old working cash fund bond debt and will become debt free in December, the referendum will not increase or decrease the bond and interest portion of the district’s tax rate if voters approve the construction bond issue.

Conversely, if the borrowing is defeated at the polls, taxpayers will save the amount they had been paying for those bonds each year.

If voters approve the new bond issue, a homeowner would continue to pay about 64 cents per $1,000 in assessed value until the construction bonds are retired in December 2020. For the median home value in the district of $268,800, the property owner would continue paying $172 annually for four years.

Supporters of the bond issue have organized a Vote Yes for 118 campaign, creating a website and Facebook page.

A leading opponent is attorney John T. Donovan, who organized a successful petition effort last December to force the district’s working cash fund bond issue onto the ballot. The school board subsequently voided that bond issue in August and voted to place this construction bond issue on the ballot instead.

The proposed early-learning addition at Palos West would cost an estimated $4.85 million, including adjacent areas.

The estimated budget for the early-childhood/pre-K addition is $3.25 million. In addition to four classrooms, each with its own restroom, it would contain a large gross motor indoor play area, two storage areas for instructional materials, a speech therapy office, an occupational/physical therapy office, conference room and third office.

Renovation to areas inside the school adjacent to the addition is estimated to cost $1 million. Vehicle circulation improvements outside to improve the early childhood traffic drop-off serving the planned addition accounts for $600,000.

The rest of the $1.65 million in bond proceeds would pay for boiler and water heater replacement at Palos South and Palos West ($150,000), to replace a playground with soft surface at Palos West ($120,000), energy efficiency projects at all three schools ($400,000), replace a 56-year-old tar roof on a section of Palos East ($650,000) and classroom and science lab renovations at East, South and West ($330,000).

The district’s early childhood program is mandated by the state for students with learning disabilities, while pre-K is offered to pupils identified as at risk through a screening.

Assessments by the district have “found major deficiencies” in its spaces” that inhibit instruction for pre-K and early childhood pupils, officials have said.

Teachers of both programs say that time spent in meaningful instructional interactions is adversely affected by the physical facility. Valuable learning time is lost because none of the programs’ classroom spaces were designed to meet the needs of 3- to 5-year-olds. Much time is wasted just taking pupils to use the bathrooms, or lining up for activities in other parts of the school building. The addition would put them all in close proximity to each other.

The two targeted early learning programs aim to help all pupils with disabilities or identified as at risk reach their full potential.

Enrollment of early learning pupils has grown over the last 12 years from 14 early childhood (EC) and 20 pre-K pupils in 2005 to 25 EC and 56 pre-K pupils this school year.

To account for the rise, Scarsella has explained there are more students who are low income than ever before.

District officials note that interest rates for the bond issue are at historic lows. The interest rate for the bonds would be between 1.5 and 2.1 percent, depending on the market in December when they would be sold if the referendum is approved.

Palos Heighyts Alderman Michael McGrogan (4th Ward) asked Scaresella early last month how much cash the district has in reserves and why some of it could not be used to reduce the $6.5 million amount the district seeks to borrow. “Why borrow the whole amount?” he asked.

Scarsella replied that district has a year’s worth of reserves. The figure fluctuates, but the district as of this week has about $22 million in reserves, according to District Business Official Justin Veihman.

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