Just the Facts - Frequently Asked Questions
Will this referendum raise my taxes?
No. 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, covering the annual lease payments as a line item in the district’s annual budget with funding coming through various budget adjustments and an increase in State funds. The district has not run a deficit budget for the last nine years, and we have planned for these lease payments to ensure we will not run a deficit budget in the future.
Has the scope of the building 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. This cost includes fees and contingencies, and we have a goal of raising funds to cover post-construction costs (estimated at $1.2 million) through a fundraising campaign with the Student Excellence Foundation. Utilizing a lease agreement, we are able to fund this building through the district’s operating budget without a tax increase.
Why can’t the District just renovate the existing building? Did the District look at other options for a solution to the facility needs at Jefferson?
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 The existing building is outdated and does not support the learning and needs of the students served in the program.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.
How is the District able to allocate $1 million out of the operating budget towards 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.
Will leasing the new building cost the District more overall than if the District issued bonds?
No, the costs will be roughly the same! We did our due diligence and found the most fiscally-responsible option possible that would not require a tax increase. By issuing lease certificates through our lessor, Zions Bank, our interest rate will be set through a competitive sale process. The lease certificates will be competitively bid by municipal bond investors, similar to how the District has sold general obligation bonds. Interest rates will be approximately 0.15% (or 15 basis points) higher than the interest on a general obligation bond, making the rate we receive comparable to other financing options.
Why does the District have an early childhood center?
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.
Why didn’t the Board consider the lease or debt certificate options before now?
Construction of a new early learning center was part of a larger, overall April 2017 Referendum Plan. The lease certificate financing model was not an option for a facilities plan of that size. Given the Board’s current financial position, cost of the proposed early learning center, and feedback from the community following the 2017 referendum, a lease agreement became a viable option that addressed a significant need utilizing resources from our annual budget, and this path is fully compliant with the Illinois School Code.
What is the district charging per student for the early childhood program? Is it really $17,000 per student?
No, this is a factually-inaccurate claim. Those making the claim point to a grant by the Illinois State Board of Education for “Federal Preschool Expansion,” which provided $463,558 in funding to serve 40 students. This allocation of $11,588.95 per student was established through the grant.