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Palos 118 voters say Yes to construction bonds issue

 

Page one 4 col palos 118 story

Photo by Patricia Bailey

Christy Wright, of Palos Park, Vote Yes for Palos 118 campaign organizer, explains the school district’s referendum to voter Hope Lewellen outside the polls at the Palos Park Recreation Center on Election Day. A mother of two, Wright had her daughter, Kenzie, with her in tow shortly before lunchtime.

 

It wasn’t even close.

Voters in Palos School District 118 Tuesday approved the borrowing of $6.5 million in construction bonds by a solid margin.

The money will be used to improve the district’s early childhood learning center at Palos West School that houses both its pre-kindergarten and state-mandated early childhood programs, and make other capital improvements at all three district schools.

Voters passed the referendum by 56 percent to 44.percent — 6,547 Yes votes to 5,132 no votes, with all 21 precincts reporting, according to unofficial tallies posted by the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

School Board President John Faustino credited the grassroots efforts of the Vote Yes for 118 group for the referendum’s passage. “I’d like to thank the Vote Yes committee and community members for their support,” he said on election night.

The Vote Yes committee was responsible for the colorful red yard signs dotting the district that read “Vote Yes for the Palos 118 referendum.”

They created a slogan, website and Facebook page advocating the referendum’s passage. They also met together, and communicated with each other on the popular Moms of Palos Facebook page, using it to spread the view that strong schools equal a strong community and higher property values.

Christy Wright, a leader of the group, said 10 to 15 members covered six out of nine polling places on Election Day. She worked the polls outside the Palos Park Recreation Center.

“It was a busy day,” she said. “One longtime poll watcher told me the number of voters was higher this year than ever.”

She got involved in the referendum campaign because her son benefited from the pre-kindergarten program at Palos West, and is now in mainstream kindergarten. “Because my son is in mainstream kindergarten [after the services provided him in pre-kindergarten], he will never have to take all those resources and teacher’s time away from other kids in his classroom.”

She attributed the referendum’s passage to “the public trusting our school board to make good decisions for our district because they elected them in.” “And two, being a lifelong resident of Palos Park, I’m glad to see people proud to support our community, its schools, school board, teachers and especially our students, to give our students the best opportunities,” she added.

Looking at the vote totals early on, opponent John T. Donovan was magnanimous. He said of the pro-forces: “I think they will win” — and that he was not surprised. “Our goal was transparency, to let people have a say,” said 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 abandoned that bond issue in August and voted to place this construction bond issue on the ballot instead.

Donovan waged no organized campaign against the referendum, he said. “We relied on what people read in the newspaper, and word of mouth.”

“Going forward, I hope the board knows that people have an interest in how the schools are financed.”

The school board will canvass the vote and discuss its next steps to issue the bonds at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15, Faustino said. He noted that the margin of victory for the referendum was the second largest of all the school-related questions on ballots across suburban Cook County. “It shows there’s strong relative support of our schools from our community in an election cycle that’s tough for school referendums to pass.”

Faustino credited the board’s fiscal responsibility for the trust given it by the community, saying Palos 118 compares favorably with public school systems in Illinois and nationally.

The four-year bonds will likely be issued in December, Faustoino said. He expects an interest rate around 1.5 percent.

Most of the $6.5 million borrowing will pay to improve the facilities serving the school district’s early-childhood and pre-kindergarten pupils. 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 began making their case for the bond issue in late August, holding the first of three poorly attended forums to inform voters about it. They also made presentations to the Palos Park village and Palos Heights and Palos Hills city councils.

District Superintendent Anthony Scarsella consistently 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 new borrowing will not increase or decrease the bond and interest portion of the district’s tax rate.

Voters could have cut their taxes by voting no, saving the amount they had been paying for the old bonds.

Homeowners will continue to pay about 64 cents per $1,000 in assessed value until the construction bonds are retired in December 2020. That amounts to about $172 a year for the median home value in the district of $268,800.

The proposed early-learning addition at Palos West will cost an estimated $4.85 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.

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).

What the past several months have demonstrated is our community’s overwhelming support of their school district, including our highly regarded pre-kindergarten and early childhood programs,” Superintendent Scarsella said in an election night statement.  “Tuesday’s referendum result confirms that the school board has been and continues to be a good financial steward of taxpayer dollars.  In return for running a financially sound organization, a majority of voters approved a capital improvement plan that will benefit generations of Palos 118 students without raising taxes.  On behalf of the school district, I want to thank the community for continuing to invest in our students’ futures.”

 

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