Published Aug. 18, 2016
Only HMS vote will be on November ballot
By Ken Knutson
and Pamela Lannom
Voters in Hinsdale High School District 86 might have been asked to approve more than $133 million worth of school building projects on Nov. 8.
Instead they will be asked to vote on a solitary measure: spending $53.3 million to build a new Hinsdale Middle School.
Community Consolidated Elementary District 181 board members Monday voted 5-2 to put the question on the Nov. 8 ballot. The amount is less than the $65 million bond issue 56 percent of district voters rejected in the March 15 election.
In response to post-election survey feedback, the board lowered the project cost by eliminating the stand-alone auditorium and an indoor running track. The original 160,000-square-foot building was reduced to 133,900 square feet.
The dissension on the board this time around was not about size and cost, however. It was about timing, with board members Jennifer Burns, Rich Giltner and Leslie Gray calling for the referendum to be held in the April 4, 2017, consolidated election to avoid a fast-tracked project bidding process and a more educated public.
Advocating a November referendum, board member Jill Vorobiev said she thought the district learned lessons from the March election, which are reflected in the revised proposal.
“I feel, at this point, ready to present this to the voters in November. If the referendum doesn’t pass, we will do some more due diligence,” she said.
At a special board meeting Aug. 11, Giltner expressed concerns about the condensed schedule for receiving bids that would be necessary if a November referendum is successful and an August 2018 completion is to be realized.
“I’d hate to see us make some mistakes because we’re just trying to rush it through,” he said. “I don’t argue it could be done. But is it the best way for it to be done?”
Burns said an April referendum was more prudent, even though the amount asked of voters would rise to $55.3 million due to escalation costs and the project’s completion date would be pushed back a year.
“I believe, given sufficient time before the election to educate voters and a realistic construction time line, my concerns about cost and process can be mitigated,” Burns said. “But I cannot compromise on a November time line because I don’t think it gives the referendum the best chance of success, and the ramifications of another failure are significant.”
In a multi-step process, the board first chose Nov. 8 over April 4, 2017, for the referendum by a 4-3 vote. Then, by the same vote, approved paying architect Cordogan Clark and Associates $125,000 to produce schematic designs of the concept, which are necessary for the bidding process.
Gray sided with the minority in those votes, but “reluctantly” voted with the majority to place the referendum on the November ballot.
“In my mind, at this juncture, there is nothing left for us board members to do. At this point, I believe it is time to turn the question over to the voters and let them decide,” Gray said.
The board is still considering options for structuring the bond issue.
At the Aug. 11 meeting, Giltner remarked that deferring the property tax increase for several years might curry favor with voters, but it would not be smart financially.
“I don’t want to have politics get in the way of the fiscally responsible thing to do,” he said.
District 86 bond issue
After listening to more than an hour of public comment from Hinsdale South High School area residents opposed to a proposed $79.9 million referendum, the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board voted against putting it on the Nov. 8 ballot.
An estimated 150 people filled the meeting room at the district’s new transition center on Plainfield Road. Several carried yellow signs that read, “NO DIST 86/FILL SOUTH FIRST.”
Many of the 19 speakers who opposed the referendum mentioned the need to fill classrooms at South before spending money to build more classrooms at Central.
Burr Ridge’s Betsy Levy suggested the board explore all the avenues before putting a referendum on the ballot and pursue a more fiscally responsible alternative.
“Fill South first in the smartest, fairest way possible,” she advised the board. “Then go back to the drawing board to come up with the best plan for the entire district.”
Many suggested moving to a one graduating class/two campus model, with freshmen and sophomores attending one school and juniors and seniors attending the other.
Other speakers spoke out against higher taxes and the percentage of projects (70) slated for Central. Several bemoaned lower property values in the South attendance area, and one man accused the board of racist actions.
Resident Vivek Garg, apparently under the impression that up to 600 South students would be moved to Central, said the board was creating a school that is segregated and not equal. He said he had set up a meeting with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and would file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
“We will do everything possible under the sun to stop your illegal action,” he said, then approached the board table carrying a white pillowcase, suggesting it should be required attire for every board member.
At that point, several in the crowd booed in disapproval and another audience member told Garg he would “bust (him) right in the mouth” if he did not stop.
Garg later apologized, saying he was over the top.
Ultimately, board members Ralph Beardsley, Bill Carpenter, Ed Corcoran and Claudia Manley voted against putting the referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot. Kay Gallo, Jennifer Planson and Kathleen Hirsman voted yes.
Later in the meeting, Planson expressed her dismay at the outcome.
“I felt that the room took away the community’s right to choose on the referendum,” said Planson, who serves as chairman of the facilities committee. “I’m disappointed about that. I think we would have had a healthy conversation. It would have been a healthy debate.
“I think you could have had the conversation of attendance areas in conjunction with this referendum,” she added. “I think there is room to do both.”
Board members agreed they need to discuss school boundaries at a future meeting.
“There is no shifting of students that is going to solve our space issues,” Superintendent Bruce Law said at the meeting.
Currently South could accommodate an additional 177 students without exceeding the school’s ideal enrollment, he has said.
Administrators began talking Tuesday about ways to cope with overcrowding at Central and meeting other objectives the referendum would have addressed,” Law said. Central’s optimal capacity is 2,490 students, but its current enrollment is 2,873.
“We’ve made changes this year at Central to try to accommodate the students we didn’t have room for,” he said. “We did it as cheaply and unobtrusively as possible. Now we’re looking at this as, okay, we need to think of more permanent solutions, and we’ve got to get these in front of the board pretty quickly.
“We have been thinking of contingency planning but it’s no longer contingency. It’s now real.”