Voters in Community Consolidated School District 21 appeared Tuesday to strongly support a referendum that would allow school officials to borrow $69 million to fund security upgrades and other building improvements.With 33 of 37 precincts reporting Tuesday evening, about 73 percent of voters had cast ballots in favor of the referendum, while around 27 percent opposed it, according to unofficial numbers from the Cook County Clerk's office.
“We’re up quite a bit right now, and I think one of the reasons is because everyone in the community understands we’re living in a world right now where everyone is more concerned about school security,” said Superintendent Michael Connolly, who also credited volunteers for rallying support for the referendum.
If the referendum ultimately is approved, a major share of the $69 million bond issuance would go toward building security, including the remodeling of the main entrances to the district’s 13 elementary and middle schools, as well as the creation of a “three checkpoints” system for visitors.
The upgrades are especially needed, school officials have said, at a time when mass shootings across the U.S. have put a spotlight on school security.
The borrowing plan also would allow officials to create classrooms that could, one day, accommodate a full-day kindergarten program, which District 21 board members recently have begun discussing.
“I also think that for parents with young children who are close to school age, they understand the need for having a full-day kindergarten program in the district,” Connolly said.
Phil Pritzker, president of the District 21 board, said officials spent nearly 18 months engaging with residents and other community stakeholders to ensure their voices were heard and to encourage them to be part of the decision-making process.
“It just all came down to a lot of hard work and the right story … the need for better school security, air-conditioned buildings and an all-day kindergarten,” Pritzker said.
Serving 6,500 students in nine elementary and three middle schools, as well as one early childhood center, District 21 enrolls students who live in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Wheeling and a portion of Northbrook.
Kelly Eidson, chairwoman of the District 21 Citizens Committee, is among the District 21 residents who have been working since last August to encourage voters to support the referendum.
“My oldest child was in first grade when there was the school shootings in Sandy Hook, and I’ll never forget that day,” Eidson said. “As a parent, school security is always on my mind, and it’s a big part of why I’ve worked so hard to pass this referendum.”
Since the proposed bond sale, if approved, would result in slightly higher district property taxes for area homeowners, Eidson said, district officials have made every effort to involve residents.
In addition to releasing community surveys, officials hosted town hall-style meetings, engaging in what Eidson said were “some very heated conversations.”
“I feel the district’s leadership was determined to get community feedback, and to hear what residents want to see in their schools and what issues they’re concerned about, and not concerned about,” Eidson said.
If the proposed $69 million bond sale is approved, a District 21 homeowner with a property valued at $300,000 is estimated to see an annual property tax increase totaling $78.
A homeowner with a home valued at $400,000 would see the district’s portion of their property tax bill increase by $107 each year, while an owner with a home valued at $500,000 would see an annual increase of $136, according to district estimates.
The election Tuesday marks the first time District 21 officials have placed a referendum measure on the ballot since 2003, when voters approved an operating fund rate increase.
Other security upgrades that would be paid for with funding from the proposed borrowing plan would include the installation of digital security cameras and enhanced exterior lighting in school buildings, officials have said.
The installation of air conditioning systems in all of the district’s buildings and the purchase of new classroom furniture, including desks and chairs, would also be done, if the referendum is approved.
District officials also have begun discussing the idea of a district-wide, full-day kindergarten program after more than 80 percent of residents who participated in a recent community survey said they support the initiative, officials have said.
The district currently offers a full-day kindergarten program at only the three elementary schools that receive federal dollars for serving a high percentage of low-income students.
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