Letter to the editor: District 200 claims Jefferson is its priority – and that we must build a new school
I’m Jan Shaw. My husband and I have lived in Wheaton for 34 years. This is a wonderful, caring community. And it is HOME. All four of our sons were born here, raised here, and attended public school K-12 in Community Unit School District (CUSD) 200. They received an excellent education. Along the way we volunteered to help in the classroom, on field trips, with scouts, baseball, etc. I even worked as a substitute teacher for several years. I’ve seen our District from many angles over many years.
Like me, I suspect many of you who are long-time residents remember what the District has done and promised. Right now, District 200 claims Jefferson is its priority – and that we must build a new school. They are counting on us to forget that Jefferson had not been their priority until it became Jefferson’s turn. In fact, they have spent our money on just about everything possible other than Jefferson. For example:
• In 1999, a $35 million referendum was passed to update elementary schools and middle schools – There was nothing for Jefferson.
• In 2003, a $72 million referendum was passed for expanding both high schools – Due to declining enrollment the high schools are now overbuilt –There was nothing for Jefferson.
• In 2008, a $58 million referendum was passed to build a new Hubble Middle School – a school that is now well below capacity – There was still nothing for Jefferson;
• In 2012, the district received a $14.46 million state capital improvement grant that could have paid for a new, appropriate-sized Jefferson in cash, but the District put it in the bank to shore up their deficit spending – There was still nothing for Jefferson.
• In 2013 the voters rejected a $17.6 million referendum to build a new Jefferson that was too big and too expensive.
• After that, the District skipped five opportunities from 2014 through 2016 to seek voter approval of a right-sized, affordable Jefferson project.
• In 2017, the District bundled Jefferson as part of a massive $132 million borrowing plan to do many other unrelated things. It sank of its own weight.
Along the way District 200:
• raised our property taxes every year to the maximum amount permitted by the tax cap,
• supported Courthouse TIF financing that kept valuable property off the tax rolls and shifted the burden to homeowners,
• Issued $30 million in non-referendum bonds (“Working Cash Fund Bonds” in 2009 and 2014) to cover deficit spending,
• signed teacher contracts that gave raises in excess of projected property tax growth, and
• had the highest paid superintendent in the State of Illinois at one time, while fighting all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court against disclosing his contract terms.
Because of this track record, and their recent decision to find a “clever way” to borrow and build a new Jefferson without voter approval after two failed referendums, despite the law requiring a successful referendum to build a new school, I decided to file a lawsuit.
In response to my lawsuit:
Last Wednesday, the board tabled the two action items regarding Jefferson: One to issue millions in new debt called “lease certificates” and one to approve construction contracts. Monday,
8/20/2018, a special meeting was held at which they voted to terminate the lease agreement and to place the building of a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center on the November ballot. What I don’t see in the resolution is what the building will cost. Remember, if they spend it, we will pay it.
I am pleased that the Board has agreed to request authority from the community via referendum as required by law rather than proceeding without permission. However, the District must also be candid about the financial impact of a new building. Can the district afford to build a new Jefferson without raising taxes, increasing debt, or cutting other programs, while still maintaining all schools? The answer is, not without cutting something else. In a video posted last year, Dr. Schuler told us that if the 2017 referendum failed (as it did) the district would need to set aside $6.5 million per year for building maintenance. See: youtube.com/watch?v=7lpcowogMPs. Has anything changed?
We have suggested cuts from salaries and benefits, starting with eliminating all end-of-career bonuses and having administrators pay their own pension contributions, just like our teachers do. The Board ignored our suggestions and approved:
• a new superintendent’s contract with annual raises and a new bonus at the end of that contract extension.
• a new teachers’ contract that still contains end-of-career bonuses plus a new benefit of extra sick days for experience (varies from 15 to 27 sick days for teaching students 176 days per year. Up to 340 sick days can be accumulated for 2 years of service credit in computing their pension),
• new contracts for each administrator with raises and no concessions.
At the May 9 board meeting prior to approving the new teachers' contract, Jim Gambaiani read his prepared statement: “…The financial impact of this contract will place the district in deeper financial stress. The current 5-year budget forecast reflects a deficit of nearly $8 million. Approval of this contract will add an additional $13 million pushing the total 5-year deficit to $21 million…” That $13 million would have gone a long way toward paying for a new Jefferson.
After 34 years as an active Wheaton resident, I will continue to expect the best for our children. The real question is what are we teaching them? Are we teaching them to live within their means and to take care of what they have? Or are we showing them that they can ignore building maintenance until fixing the existing “old” building is “too expensive” in order to justify spending millions more for something "new"?
It is now up to the adults in the community to determine how we go forward from here. With honest information, I trust the adults will set a good example and make the best decision for our community. The children are watching us and they are learning. What will we teach them?
Jan Shaw – Wheaton Resident
Wheaton-Warrenville, CUSD 200 “watchdog”
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