Ex-Wheaton resident opposes referendum -- from Indiana
A one-time Wheaton resident recently wrote a letter to his former community members urging them to oppose a $132.5 million school district referendum because of what he calls its misleading property tax increase.
Ronald Zhiss, who left the city after 23 years because of “unsustainable” taxes, told the DuPage Policy Journal that the proposed school referendum has “good ideas, but is presented with inflexibility, and people need to be informed.” His letter was printed online by the DuPage Watchdog group.
Even though Indiana is now Zhiss’ home, he said he was “upset but not surprised to learn about the school facilities referendum put forth by the CUSD 200 school board.”
Zhiss’ three sons attended school in the district.
The referendum is meant to pay for repairs and updates to facilities in the Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200, but Zhiss argues the cost is too high. As stated on the ballot, the referendum is for $132.5 million, although Zhiss said its true cost would be $228 million.
“The principal and interest payments will total $206 million," he said in his letter. "Another $22 million in taxpayer money is being committed from 'reserves and future budgets.' "
Zhiss said that although he supports providing students with an excellent school building, the price – almost a quarter of a billion dollars – is too high.
Proponents of the referendum are “taking a more emotional angle, saying it’s for the kids," Zhiss said.
He also argued that although the school board has told residents that their property taxes would increase by an average of $180 per house, it will actually be higher: approximately $180 for three years on some homes, then higher as time goes on.
Zhiss believes the increases would hurt senior residents the most, since they live on fixed incomes.
“Taxpayers don’t need to be run up," he said. "The school board can’t neglect their job and push it off on the taxpayers.”
Zhiss said it's worth thinking about consolidating students into fewer schools. He estimated enrollment at the new Hubble Middle School is at about 60 percent of its capacity – though others have told him it's closer to 69 percent. Other schools are also underused.
"This would keep the district from having to spend large sums of money on some schools for the repairs while taking better advantage of the excess capacity," he said. "It's a legitimate question as to whether all are needed long term, especially as enrollments trend downward."
Editor's note: The original version of this story included an error. It incorrectly stated Ronald Zhiss' suggestion to consolidate students into fewer schools. He did not suggest closing Hubble Middle School. This has been corrected.