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Lawsuit Filed Against D39 Referendum

Tax increase disputed after confusion over ballot question resurfaces.

A lawsuit filed by an anti-tax group aims to overturn the results of Wilmette's School District 39's tax hike referendum.

The complaint, filed Monday in Cook County court by resident Herbert Sorock and Taxpayers United of America, names the entire, newly-elected District 39 school board as defendants. This comes on the heels of a similar suit .

At the center of the lawsuit is an allegation that language appearing on the actual ballot question misled voters. The referendum passed, with .

Check out the letter that TUA sent to D39 officials .

Weeks before the April 5 election, the state's equalizer — a number the Illinois Department of Revenue determines each year to ensure that Cook County assessments are in line with assessments from across the state — wasn't factored into the ballot question's wording by District 39s law firm, who drew it up.

Whether or not the state's equalizer has to be included on ballot language is up for dispute. The law firm, Chapman and Cutler, has said it's not necessary. But legislation introduced in Springfield this month could require its inclusion of future ballots, according to Wednesday Journal.

Still, Sorock and the anti-tax group say its exclusion means voters weren't presented with an accurate estimate of the tax hike's impact on residents' wallets. According to the complaint:

The suit alleges the Board and its members knew before the election that the estimated tax increase was understated, but decided to go forward with the referendum regardless.  Wilmette and at least nine other school districts understated the property tax increase by failing to include the equalizer applicable to all Cook County property tax bills.

District officials have acknowledged the confusion, but say the figures they used to inform residents — the estimated impact of the tax hike would — are accurate.

Teresa Tario May 17, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Thanks for doing this Herb and Taxpayers United Friends....Seriously a tax increase of BETWEEN $58. and $1,000.?????Maybe I'm from another era, but that's one heck of a big difference and it will mean a huge increase in MY tax bill so my neighbors' kids can have Spanish class IN school for FREE...seems to me, we chose to PAY PERSONALLY for our kids in District 39 to have BEFORE school Spanish class and they survived and thrived 15 years ago. Somehow it's kind of hard to believe that Mary down the street who paid $850K+ for her District 39 home can't personally afford the "enrichment" her Johnny "NEEDS" to "stay competitive". Get Real Wilmette!!!!! Have you seen the number of For Sale signs on Wilmette properties???? We are in BIG FINANCIAL TROUBLE and Spending More IS NOT the Answer!!!!!
Wilmette Voter May 18, 2011 at 02:33 PM
I find it interesting that so much of the argument against the increase was that the district needed to stop spending so much and yet here this group goes embarking on an effort that does nothing but take resources (both professional focus / time and money) away from running the district and educating. The referendum passed (somewhat surprisingly) soundly. So rather than let the vote stand, now this group wants to claim people were duped. You made your argument, people voted, you lost. Let it go.
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 03:33 PM
WV, Speaking of *not* educating, didn't D39 just transfer a Principal from an operational position to a "curriculum development" staff position? How does this do anything but "take resources (both professional focus / time and money) away from running the district and educating"? As much as we spend on curriculum development, one might think it is fully developed by now.
Wilmette Voter May 18, 2011 at 03:48 PM
I'm not sure, I wasn't involved with that decision. If you were, and didn't agree with the decision, I can imagine that must be frustrating. I would note that, however, the issue you raise has nothing to do with the lawsuit. The lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer time and and money. We are all entitled to our own perspectives and opinions - share them, debate them - get information and ideas out there. That's what happened, the ref passed, and now this group is using the legal system for what end exactly? The system worked the way it was supposed to - people went out and voted - move on...
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 04:04 PM
I think the lawsuit addresses the irresponsible behavior of the administration and the board. Purposely obscuring the actual amount of the tax increase is irresponsible. Rewarding referendum supporters with transfers to staff positions is also irresponsible. Irresponsible behavior is the thread connecting the two. I am not in favor of lawsuits in general, but is there another alternative to counter a board and superintendent who deliberately put incorrect information on a ballot issue?
Wilmette Voter May 18, 2011 at 04:29 PM
GP - It is clear you are angry that the ref passed. It will take time and $, but the lawsuit will be defeated (or dismissed) and the facts will not support your claim that the board intentionally obscured the information. Do you honestly believe the overwhelming support the ref received from voters was based on the wording on the ballot? Do you think the Super put words on a ballot that were not thoroughly reviewed by legal counsel and others? With regard to staffing, if you were involved and have information you should bring it to the board. Otherwise, seems like a stretch to sit on the outside and contend a staffing move was undertaken for nefarious reasons and is indicative of irresponsibility.
Andrea Hart May 18, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Hey Guys, I appreciate and encourage comments on stories, but it's Patch's policy that the discussion be relevant to the story at hand. We do not allow for personal attacks in the comments. Please keep the discourse constructive!
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 07:10 PM
WV, I am not all that angry about it. I am distressed that our children are subject to a superintendent who was openly campaigning on one side of the issue and obscured the ballot question to make his partisan case. One of the reasons we moved to Wilmette, a few years ago now, was to escape from the hapless politicization of every issue that occurs in Chicago. When theoretically non-partisan groups as the League of Woman Voters and the D39 Foundation take up sharp elbowed politics at the expense of good government, it is just thuggish Chicago politics bleeding into Wilmette.
Wilmette Voter May 18, 2011 at 08:19 PM
Well we are going to have to agree to disagree. Having lived in Wilmette for over a decade, and having voted on numerous Wilmette / Cook County referendums, I can assure you that the wording on every single one I have ever read is confusing. However, whoever is offering the ref is forced to follow statutes which are outside their control and subject to review by lawyers so they don't subject themselves to lawsuits like this one. Further, I never walked in and voted without knowing exactly what it was I was voting for / on. I simply can't believe this ref passed with 60% + of the vote because people were confused about what they were voting for. For anyone interested, here is the link to the Dist 39's press release following the lawsuit being filed. Draw your own conclusions... http://www.wilmette39.org/index.php?option=com_acymailing&ctrl=archive&task=view&listid=2-superintendents-news&mailid=120-district-39-responds-to-lawsuit&Itemid=1185
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 08:49 PM
WV, I don't think we have to agree to disagree. Rather we can litigate and get this thing reversed. Poor past performance is no excuse for continuing the deliberately deceptive petition practices. We should also look at the legality of Supt. Lechner's campaigning in favor of the tax hike, while theoretically being an employee of the public, not a partisan spokesman.
Wilmette Voter May 18, 2011 at 09:10 PM
<sigh> I will check back once the lawsuit loses or is dismissed. All that will have transpired is time and $ wasted. You are confusing bad election policies and statutes regarding how ref's must be drafted with deception. I must admit I find the continued accusations of the Dist 39 Super troubling. If you have facts that someone willingly deceived people, bring them to the Dist 39 Board. The Super serves at the pleasure of the Board, and while the salary is paid by the district, he carries out the directives and wishes of the board. If anyone attended any of the countless meetings he went to in an effort to get information out on this topic you would have found him to be fair, balanced and fact based. He supported the ref because the board supported the ref but had gone through a diligent exercise, line by line, as to what the contingency plan was should the ref fail. He is the face of the district and from my observation worked quite hard to put out information and answer questions to allow voters to draw their own conclusions. It is easy to criticize, but I for one have never done his job which I can imagine is quite complicated. I personally went into this ref open minded to both sides, did research, went to meetings, and asked questions. Regardless of where you stand on the outcome, falling to "let's litigate" to me is a cop out and nothing more than an overreaction to having lost - resoundingly...
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 09:43 PM
If the tax hike was so popular, why didn't they just put it accurately on the ballot? Why did the tax raisers feel the need to co-opt non-partisan groups such as D39 Foundation? Why did Supt. Lechner refuse to put union concessions on the table as part of his community presentations, instead of offering tax hike or doomsday alternatives? And what good does it do to approach the board with anything close to facts? The Board is part and parcel of the process which drains taxpayer money on silliness in the name of "education", then drafts deceptive measures to pay for their own errors. Read Lechner's "non-partisan" thank you letter if you think for one minute he wasn't actively campaigning to raise taxes. He sure was happy that it passes for someone who wasn't campaigning.
Wilmette Voter May 18, 2011 at 10:12 PM
Ok, this is my last post in this thread, you clearly have an agenda and this is not a dialogue... The tax hike had over 60% of the vote. In political terms, that's a thrashing, period. The last ref lost the first time and then won by only a few votes - i.e. it was CLOSE. This was not. You can continue to ignore that fact, but the overwhelming voice of those who voted was in support. The Super cannot "put union concessions" on the table - he doesn't speak for the union. I too, have issues with the union, but that wasn't the point of the ref. Might a lost ref have brought the union to the table at a later date? Perhaps, but we'll never know... On average, however, our teachers are not overpaid relative to other New Trier feeders. These are complicated issues... This lawsuit will lose, but it will take time and money. If you seek greater insight and information, then get involved in the process and go to some meetings, volunteer in the schools, etc.
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 10:20 PM
WV, Great, not sure what my agenda is, but glad you found it. Such a popular referendum should be clearly written on the ballot so we can all vote for it. Why lie about the numbers if everyone wants higher taxes? If you went to any of the meetings, you might have noticed that Lechner never brought up any plan to bargain for union concessions. The campaign pitted the taxpayers against the board, the superintendent, and the teachers unions... with our kids as our only bargaining chip. The taxpayers lost, but I am not so sure the kids won.
Facts May 18, 2011 at 10:32 PM
GP - You're off-topic on the lawsuit, but regardless, why don't you get facts before you malign others? If you spend any time whatsoever listening to and looking at publicly-available info, you'd know that a principal was moved because the longtime director of curriculum & instruction is retiring. So, they replaced a retiring director with a principal, and hired a new, lower-paid principal... I fail to see the problem. I suspect you knew this, but perhaps your objective is to throw anything at the wall that you can to see what sticks in an effort to obfuscate issues and generate ill will.
GrossPoint May 18, 2011 at 11:42 PM
Whew Facts, that's a real relief to know that we can have someone sitting around the admin building doing nothing for 100K+ while we have a lowered paid person with our kids. What would we do without such a highly developed curriculum? The problem is that we are in an economic and real estate crisis, and our School Board is spending money like the last 5 years never happened.
Facts May 19, 2011 at 05:09 AM
Well, GP, is it a big stretch to point out that perhaps you're misguided in your understanding of how a high-performing school district maintains quality in a community that demands superior education for students?Those who care about D39 education can rest easy knowing you're not in charge of overseeing curriculum & instruction, student oversight, or any other matter pertaining to school operations.
GrossPoint May 20, 2011 at 11:28 AM
It might have been illegal for D39 employees to campaign for tax increases, if this lawsuit in Buffalo Grove goes anywhere: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-05-18/news/ct-met-library-lawsuit-05-19-20110518_1_library-district-library-board-library-officials It would have been much better if our administration just followed some common sense non-participation in the tax hike campaign.
Quis Custodiet June 07, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Almost a month later, and here is what Christina Tobin and Herb Sorock have achieved so far. They filed seven frivolous claims against the volunteer board members in Wilmette, trying to intimidate them by making them pay for the lawsuit individually. The Judge dismissed those claims immediately because they were utterly baseless, and Sorock's attorney had no plausible argument for having included them. Similar claims will likely be dismissed in the Oak Park case. Speaking of the Oak Park case, Christina Tobin's motion for TRO was soundly defeated, the judge having found little likelihood of success, no emergency whatsoever, and no irreparable harm. In Wilmette, Sorock filed a motion to consolidate the two cases, which was soundly denied yesterday. He now faces a Motion to Dismiss the entirety of his case, for which he has no sound arguments. All in all, Christina Tobin and Herb Sorock have engaged in an utter waste of time for the citizens, boards, and court system. For what? To get into the press in order to further their selfish political agenda.
Margaret Mcintyre June 09, 2011 at 02:40 PM
I am most interested in the number of property tax protests/petitions that have been filed since the Referendum passed. Illinois tax code allows for taxing bodies (schools) to use tax payer money to hire attorneys to fight property owner tax assessment appeals/petitions. I voted against such efforts when I served on the Wilmette School Board. Interestingly, a board member who petitioned his own property taxes voted for the legal action against his neighbors' property assessment appeals. For this reason, I suspect that folks who may have voted "yes" to the Referendum (publicly), have/will file individual property tax petitions to lower their own share of the new tax burden. Remember, if I or my neighbor win a property tax petition, those tax dollars must come from somewhere--which is the neighbor(s) who don't file (and win) a tax assessment appeal/protest.
RallyCap July 25, 2011 at 07:03 PM
I would like Herb Sorock to defend the "generous, lavish, and gold-plated" boondoggles the Tax Payers United group attends in Las Vegas (http://www.taxpayersunitedofamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/TUA_vegas_flyer.pdf) and NYC (http://www.lfnyc.com/). Is this anything but proof that Sorock's "job" is to continue to file frivolous lawsuits against D39 so that his "organization" appears relevant at parties such as these. Anyone who has donated to TUA really ought to demand to see the books; what's being spent on advocacy and non-profit activities vs. going into the pockets of TUA "leadership" for such trips.

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