We must solve the issues surrounding Jefferson Early Childhood Center.
Jefferson is not a preschool. Jefferson is an early childhood center that provides critical, necessary interventions for 3,4 and 5 year olds in our community that have an identified special need.
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We must do this to remain compliant with state and federal requirements. The building was built in 1958 as an elementary school, and it has a number of serious problems:
- The building is not ADA compliant and is only accessible through a makeshift ramp.
- Therapies are being provided in old janitor closets.
- There is no health office in a building servicing medically-fragile children.
- Food warmers are being stored between bathrooms.
- Hallways are used for therapy spaces.
- The building has no central heating or cooling, requiring medically-fragile kids to be kept out of certain parts of the building.
- Access to the playground requires crossing a parking lot.
- Kids with toileting/changing needs have no private space to go, and bathrooms made for elementary-aged students leave children in wheelchairs unable to reach the sinks.
November 6 Referendum Question
Shall the Board of Education of Wheaton Warrenville Community Unit School District Number 200, DuPage County, Illinois, build and equip a new early childhood center without levying a separate, special property tax to finance the costs thereof?
This referendum question will not raise taxes. The specific language of the referendum question gives the school district no authority to levy additional tax dollars to fund the early learning center project. We’ve budgeted for this project. Annual lease payments will be a line item in the District’s annual budget. In fact, through various budget adjustments and an increase in State funds, the payment was built into this current year’s budget.
The scope of the building has been reduced. Based on your feedback, we reduced the number of classrooms from 20 to 16 and made more efficient use of space. As a result, what started as a $17.6 million project is now down to $15 million in the latest construction bids. Utilizing a lease agreement, we are able to fund this building through the district’s operating budget without a tax increase.
The proposal is for the construction of a new building. Jefferson was built in 1958 as an elementary school and was never intended to house a program that serves 3-5 year olds, ⅔ of whom have disabilities or special needs. The existing building is outdated and does not support the learning and needs of the students served in the program. The building is not up to current space, accessibility, security and environmental safety standards, making it difficult for the staff to work effectively with each child on an individual need or in a group setting.
The Board considered, reviewed and evaluated nine alternative solutions to constructing a new facility on the existing site including renovating and adding an addition to the existing building; constructing an addition to Monroe Middle School; closing an existing elementary school and moving the program; splitting the program into a north and south campus at an existing elementary; leasing another existing space in the community and more. Ultimately, the most cost-effective option was to build a new on the existing site.
To fund this project the District will utilize a lease agreement. We have planned to allocate $1 million out of the operating budget toward an annual lease payment. In the last year, the State of Illinois adjusted their funding for schools in the State and, for District 200, that resulted in an increase of General State Aid and categorical funding totaling a little over $1 million. The new revenue was directed to high priority capital projects and the lease payment for the new early learning center.
We are required to provide early childhood services. Jefferson is an early childhood center that provides critical, necessary interventions for the three, four and five year olds in District 200; it is not a preschool. State and federal mandates require the district to begin providing services to children who are identified with a special need or disability on their 3rd birthday. Just as important, providing early learning interventions is the right thing to do for children. Of the children with an identified need that attend Jefferson, 80% transition into a mainstream kindergarten classroom. There are significant cost savings to the system when children are able to transition into a kindergarten classroom with typical peers.
Keeping true to our renewed commitment to you, we are engaging the community to solve these issues together.
Based on your feedback, we reduced the number of classrooms from 20 to 16 and made more efficient use of space, reducing the building size by over 3,000 square feet. As a result, what started as a $17.6 million project is now down to $15 million in the latest construction bids. Utilizing a lease agreement, we are able to fund this building through the district’s operating budget without a tax increase.
This continues our efforts to reduce costs and be fiscally responsible. We’ve lowered our tax rate each of the last three years, and we now have the 3rd lowest tax rate among our benchmark districts. Our fiscal responsibility has earned District 200 the highest-possible “Financial Recognition” designation with the State Board of Education, an upgraded AA+ Stable Standard & Poor’s bond rating, and a balanced budget for nine consecutive years despite state support dropping by over $50 million since 2008.
While we’ve been advised we could move forward without a referendum, we believe the right thing to do is to put this issue to the voters. Staying true to our commitment to transparency and collaboration, we have placed a referendum question on the ballot in the upcoming election for you to give us direction on how you would like us to proceed.
We share a common desire with our community to inspire excellence in our students, our community and ourselves. To achieve that mission, we must work together.
We recently renewed our commitment to the community: we will collaborate with you on the future of our schools, reduce costs and be fiscally responsible, and provide our children a 21st century education. To communicate our renewed commitment to our community, we implemented a multi-faceted communication plan to share that information with our community. In addition to utilizing our website, e-news and social media, we developed and mailed three communications to all homes in the District. One of our mailings included an invitation to come to a series of Listening Town Halls hosted by the District's leadership. At our town halls, a number of community members have asked for details surrounding the November referendum question. It is our hope that this video answers questions the community may have.
Proposed Early Learning Center - Photos and Program Summary with Costs