WHEATON – Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 officials during an open house on Feb. 24 answered residents' questions about a $132.5 million referendum on the April 4 ballot to pay for improvements to the district's facilities, including a new early learning center.
The bond measure, if approved, would cost the owners of a median home in the district valued at $322,300 an additional $180 per year on the bond and interest portion of their tax bill, district officials said. The referendum would help fund $154.5 million in projects.
The rest of the money – $22 million – would come from district reserves and future budgets. If the referendum passes, the district would have five years, through spring 2022, to issue up to $132.5 million in bonds. The bond term is 20 years.
After 20 years, with principal and interest, the total amount paid for the $132.5 million bond issue would be about $206 million. The district's debt currently expires in 2025, and selling an additional $132.5 million in bonds would extend the district's debt through 2035.
The referendum would pay for a new $16.6 million early learning center at the Jefferson Early Childhood Center site. Jefferson serves students with special needs as required by state and federal law. About two-thirds of Jefferson students have some type of special need or disability, and one-third of students are typically developing students who pay tuition to attend the school.
Needs at the center include a secure entry, sufficient classroom and office space, and wheelchair accessibility. Voters in 2013 rejected a $17.6 million plan for a new center to replace the current building.
Other projects in the referendum include secured entry access at all of the district's elementary schools, renovation of the library learning centers at the elementary schools and updated mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
Renovated science classrooms and laboratory spaces at Edison, Franklin and Monroe middle schools, roof replacement at the high schools, technology lab renovations at Wheaton North High School and library learning center renovations at Wheaton Warrenville South High School also are part of the referendum.
More than half of the projects identified in the referendum are capital improvements.
"The capital improvements that we've identified as part of the plan are improvements that need to happen across our buildings," District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler said during a presentation at the open house. "If roofs need replacing, they need replacing. If mechanical systems need updating, they need updating. Really, the referendum question is more around the issue of how we go around funding those improvements."
If the referendum is rejected, the school district would have to set aside at least $6.5 million each year only to address the $83.6 million in capital needs.
"The measure that is in front of the community is really not a question of if we need to do the work, it's a question of ultimately how that work gets funded," Schuler said.
Darcee Williams of Wheaton, a 1991 graduate of Wheaton North, said she supports the referendum.
"It is in the best interests of the kids," said Williams, who attended the Feb. 24 open house. "They need safe, healthy environments to learn."
She is a member of the Friends of the Schools committee that is supporting the referendum.
"Our property values in our community are directly linked to the quality of our education system, and the stronger, better school system we have, the higher our property values will go in the long term," Williams said.
Wheaton resident Robert Stozek, who also attended the open house, voiced concerns about the proposal.
"I don't understand why you had to do the whole enchilada," Stozek said, following Schuler's presentation. "People here are on fixed income, and a lot of people are not seeing salary raises. This is a hard thing to swallow, that we have to bite this whole thing at this point in time."
Stozek also raised concerns that the district has not been doing enough to address maintenance concerns. Schuler addressed those concerns.
"Have we as a district spent as much money on our facilities as we probably should have spent? No, I would tell you that we have not," Schuler said. "The reason for that though, is that we have kept the money inside the operating budget, which is for the students. I do believe the focus has been on that."
Schuler said the referendum is designed to "address the needs of all of our facilities for what I can reasonably project to be at least the next 10-plus years moving forward."
"I see this as a plan that does take us, I think, well into the future," he said.
Community Unit School District 200 will hold coffee houses about the referendum from 9 to 10:30 a.m. March 14 at Hubble Middle School, 3S600 Herrick Road, Warrenville, and from 9 to 10:30 a.m. March 17 at Edison Middle School, 1125 S. Wheaton Ave., Wheaton.