Wilmette Parent: Proposed Referendum is 'a Reasonable Price to Pay'

Resident Stuart McDermott explains why he is pro-referendum.

The following is a letter from Wilmette resident and parent Stuart McDermott. McDermott has three kids in Dist. 39 schools, including two at and one in a pre-school program at . He has also helped work with the pro-referendum organization Citizens for Wilmette Schools. 

I am writing to ask the good citizens of Wilmette to support the District 39 School Referendum. Voting “Yes” in favor of this referendum is essential if we want to maintain the quality of education for the children that go to public school in District 39 in Wilmette. If the referendum is voted down, however, this will result in severe cuts to current educational levels. Among other things, 24 percent of teachers will be cut; class sizes will balloon, and average class sizes across grade K-8 will be 27 students/teacher. This number (27), will be +50 percent higher than the average class size (18) of the other “feeder schools” that send their children to New Trier High School. It will even be +25 percent higher than the average class size for schools across the state of Illinois. Numerous programs will be curtailed or abolished entirely, including all reading intervention and all foreign language programs. All librarians will be cut, as will all differentiation/gifted specialists. Basic classes for physical education, music and art, will all be cut back dramatically, by 30 to 50 percent.

If the referendum passes, our property taxes will go up by $58.80 for every $1,000 we currently pay. Let’s be clear, I don’t enjoy paying higher taxes, and I don’t know of many people who do enjoy paying more. If this referendum passes, this is what a Wilmette resident can expect to pay in additional taxes:


Property taxes

Tax increase

Tax Increase/week

















Most of us probably pay $10,000-$20,000/year in property taxes, so the added tax burden will be about $10-20/week. This would seem like a reasonable price to pay to ensure that we don’t have the severe budget cuts mentioned above.  It would also seem to be an affordable amount for almost all of us who live here.

There are many reasons to be in favor of the Referendum. From purely self-interested reasons, anyone with children attending our schools wants the education levels to be maintained at the current standards. But all homeowners should care, because maintaining the current education levels are also important for our property values. Don’t take my word on this, just ask any realtor who sells homes in this area. Or ask my wife, who gives tours of to prospective homeowners. Quality of schools is one of the most important, if not the most important reason why people move to Wilmette. Our property values benefit substantially from the fact that the public schools here are of such high caliber. If our schools start to weaken, prospective homeowners will look elsewhere to raise their families, and our property values will suffer. Besides self-interested reasons, on an altruistic basis, it also makes sense to support public education for the children of our community.   

Finally, some might argue that District 39 needs to control spending better, rather than increase taxes via a referendum. But an objective analysis of the facts suggests that District 39 is already quite frugal regarding expenses. Some facts:

Prior to putting forth this referendum, District 39 already slashed its operating budget by almost (10 percent);

District 39 teachers’ pay is hardly excessive: Of fifteen nearby area school districts, our teachers’ salaries are third lowest, and are (9 percent) below the area average (and this is after the most recent contract in 2008).  In fact, District 39 teacher salaries are the lowest relative to any of the other New Trier feeder school districts;

District 39 is efficient in educating its students, and not wasteful: On an operating cost per student, District 39’s costs are $13,060/student. This is third lowest among 15 area school districts, and it is (32 percent) below all of the other New Trier feeder school districts (their average spend/pupil is $17,300); 

Despite being at or near the bottom in terms of teacher salaries and operating costs/pupil (relative to these other schools), District 39 compares favorably with strong test scores (ISATs) and high independent rankings (such as the recent Chicago Magazine rankings and Blue Ribbon Awards).

Considering these facts, it would seem that District 39 has to date controlled its spending well.  These numerous expense metrics, coupled with District 39’s quantitative results (test scores), suggest that District 39 has been one of the most cost effective, if not the most cost effective school district in the area.

Investing in education is one of the most important things we can do for children.  It is for the above reasons that I am voting “Yes” in favor of the referendum on April 5. I would respectfully ask that the residents of Wilmette also vote in favor of this important referendum.

Max March 21, 2011 at 11:06 PM
NO. Strongly disagree with you and the author. This Tax Increase is neither affordable nor necessary. Look around EVERWHERE in the US. Many, if not most, municipalities are in fiscal trouble and the answer for these municipalities is to learn to live within the means NOT RAISE TAXES. Vote NO to this ill-advised Tax Increase Referendum just as the 174 mil proposal was DEFEATED. They just don't get the message. Vote NO to the Tax Increase.
Max March 21, 2011 at 11:20 PM
Vote No to this Tax Increase Referendum. D39 needs to live within the means, EVERYBODY ELSE DOES ! VOTE NO.
Ken March 22, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Margaret, Look, enough about the teachers' unions already. It's a red herring. I happen to agree with some of the opponents' views in that area (though I think it's important to distinguish between the teachers' unions and the teachers themselves). The teachers' unions nationwide have been insufficiently flexible in a number of areas. But the teachers' contract is not on the ballot, period. That will have to be dealt with separately, whether that is persuading them to renegotiate now or we negotiate a better contract when it's up. If you think that rejecting the referendum and manufacturing some kind of fiscal crisis is a good strategy to force new contract talks, that's insane. As even your fellow opponents have noted, a complete salary freeze would still only address one third of the current deficit. That kind of brinksmanship makes no sense, and the idea that we should do that at risk to our children's education is horrible. You are entitled to your opinions, even though you don't live here anymore, but I do find it hard to swallow that you are suggesting we take risks that your children wouldn't be subject to.
O March 26, 2011 at 09:26 PM
I will offer a solution. For all of you that are in favor of this referendum, do the math and figure out how much your taxes will go up. Next grab your checkbook and make a tax-deductible contribution to the District 39 foundation in that amount. Make it for more if you wish. Remember to do this every year. All of these funds will then be put toward keeping many of the programs funded that you don't want cut. It will also keep us in a favorable position to negotiate the next teachers contract. I think everyone is in favor of great schools. I know that my family has worked hard and in may ways for the school, and continues to do so. We have to many personnel and with 6 figure librarian salaries, we need to make changes to the employment contract. The way to do that is through strength.
Max March 26, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Margaret Mcintyre wrote on Wednesday, March 16, 2011 : Source : http://wilmette.patch.com/articles/wilmette-parent-vote-yes-for-district-39-referendum . "Top-paid New Trier Township educators in retirement Former Superintendent Henry Bangser was rewarded by the New Trier District 203 School Board with a series of 20 percent pay raises in the years preceding his 2006 retirement at age 57. Those pay boosts pushed his final salary up to $364,500. . As a result, Bangser now draws an annual pension of more than $230,000, which makes him the sixth best-paid pensioner in the Teachers' Retirement System." . Who do we know gets an annual pension of more than $230,000 ? ANNUAL PENSION, NOT PAY ! Who do we know that can retire at age 57 ? AGE 57, NOT 65 or 66!
O March 26, 2011 at 09:54 PM
Walter March 26, 2011 at 11:55 PM
I get my information from District 39. The website is http://www.wilmette39.org. From the banner menu, click "News" and then "Referendum Information." There is great stuff there, including a referendum fact sheet. I tried to cut-and-paste it, but it is twice as long as the comment feature will allow here.
Walter March 27, 2011 at 12:13 AM
Hey Margaret, I think that a gifted differentiation program, especially one that is producing "genuinely good news," is worth keeping. The problem is, if the referendum fails to pass, the curriculum differentiation gets the ax. And those amazing teachers? They get cut, too. From the District 39 Referendum Fact Sheet: If the referendum fails, class size guidelines will increase to between 26 and 33 students per class (depending on grade), and over the next two years the District will cut: 24% of the teachers -- 80 of 328 ALL foreign language (K-8), instrumental music (5-8), reading intervention ALL librarians, technology teachers & differentiation/gifted specialists Time K-4 children spend in music, art and PE by 30-50% These are things worth keeping. These are things of which we can be proud to provide to our neighbors and their kids.
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Ken, every taxpayer is entitled to propose solutions to the public sector budget Crisis upon us at every level-- national, state and local. Somehow, an attitude of “insulation” has developed there in Wilmette as if Wilmette schools have had no hand in the cause of the crisis or are above making changes to ameliorate the fiscal crisis abetted by such outlandish contracts as the WEA 2008. I still have friends and family in Wilmette and IL who cannot afford to finance lavish pay and benefits for an expanding public workforce. I don’t agree that solutions should or must be born by the children. My children flourished in D39 on 2000 budgets which could reasonably be increased by CPI. I paid for “gifted” education at KUMON, Huntington and Northwestern Center for Talent Development. Today’s parents can do the same. Worse, today’s “all inclusion” classroom model necessitates more teachers per classroom instead of grouping the top 25% of students into larger class sizes and grouping the other 75% in smaller classes. With ability/motivational/behavioral grouping, fewer teachers are needed and all student needs are met. Solutions are possible if only there was motivation to cooperate and innovate with a smaller budget, rather than employ brinksmanship tactics that prey on the emotions of parents. Shameful. That some realtors seek special ed families as buyers to pay a premium for Wilmette homes that entitles them to services of greater value— is immoral.
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Ken, FYI. My children all had the same wonderful fourth grade teacher who was president of the WEA--and we loved her; she was the best president the WEA ever had, smart, fair, realistic. Her name is not on the contracts. Don't tell me how to distinguish between 'the teachers" and "the WEA" or the WEA and the NEA. The WEA and the NEA are 100% political organizations that reward raw power and money seeking--and punish fair and balanced labor relations. When you 1. are elected to the school board as the top vote getter, 2. have the best president of the WEA as your own children's teacher (three times), and experience teaching a large sample of these children in grades 1-7 as I did while a religious education teacher ( a good sample of behavior--not necessarily the same as full time classroom teacher), then you will have credibility. I am informed, experienced and now have the objectivity of having my children in a public school system outside of IL; an excellent public school WITHOUT the influence of the NEA, a school which provides my accelerated children with a bounty of advanced opportunities, and also provides parents with significant choice in school attendance through school specialization. I paid taxes in Wilmette for 28 years so I paid for a piece of the Highcrest addition, the McKenzie addition, the WJHS remodeling and ceiling acoustics and many more benefits your children are enjoying today! A referendum is NOT justified to maintain the status quo!
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 06:18 PM
ken, and one more thing. The Wilmette community, by its support of overly generous teacher and administrator pay--which results in ever more generous retirement benefits which further burdens the less affluent private sector union members--the Wilmette community will accelerate the loss of private sector jobs in Illinois. Public debt chases employers out of IL. http://chicagobreakingbusiness.com/2011/03/caterpillar-threatens-to-leave-illinois-over-taxes.html Wilmette children are not being 'sacrificed". My children sure were not "sacrificed" when they attended Wilmette schools with 100+ fewer teachers! It's immoral that the administration persists in casting this financial conundrum as a "choice" between "gutting services" or raising property taxes while home prices continue to fall.
Daphne March 27, 2011 at 07:26 PM
The Fact is that all of our surrounding communities have passed one or two referendums in the last 13 years, in order to maintain the excellence of their schools. "Living within our means" as Max suggests would result in a notably inferior school system, and to suggest that homebuyers would choose to overlook that issue to save a few hundred dollars in taxes only demonstrates a lack of understanding of the local real estate market. We are not everywhere in the US, we are a very wealthy community with very high standards. For now.
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Walter, the gifted program was eliminated when my first child entered second grade--in favor of "differentiation". The problem is full inclusion trying to provide 'gifted differentiation" in the same classroom as everything else-can't call it gifted education. Most research shows that gifted, mature and motivated kids can be taught in larger classes of similar ability students. Such grouping would save the District money--instead, the "faith in" full inclusion prevails. I paid for gifted education for my kids out of my own pocket all the years my kids were in D39--it was the least I could do since the rest of the school benefit was paid for by my neighbor's taxes. What was good enough for my kids is good enough for the kids in d39 today. There is simply no justification for "full inclusion" models that require so many extra personnel in each classroom. What about the 10-13 "behavioral specialists" in the district? A school psychologist for each building? How many social workers, occupational therapists--none of these are related to instrumental music, art or PE (except for the special ed PE teacher). A 50% reduction in ART, PE or Instrumental music would not be a hardship for children in Wilmette considering the plethora of Art, music and PE opportunities available through the park district at a less expensive rate. There is so much duplication of services between the schools and the park district, school has become like camp! Fee for extra services seems fair.
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Concerned Parent, in the neighborhood I grew up in, people did not 'throw their children" into institutions. You're right, when regular, special and more advanced children are raised together, an amazing socialization and acceptance occurs. And there is a huge spectrum of "disabilities". But the Connecting Kids does not pay for itself, it is subsidized by the taxpayers and has added some 24 personnel to the roles. If you can afford to live in Wilmette, you can afford to pay more for special services--unless you are a renter--and that raises all kinds of resentments and equity issues. My family also has 'special education" children in it as I come from a huge extended family--and no one would suggest putting all the kids in the same academic environment. All kids are not better off in a fully included environment. However, no one is suggesting locking children away--that's the bias of a status obsessed outlook that can't accept limitations. When I was on the board, I advocated for children (whose parents asked for my assistance) for private placements in special schools designed for the needs of that student. It seemed to be a kinder solution. In the end though, I believe parents should have both choices and pay a larger share of special education--especially if they can afford to live in Wilmette.
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 08:30 PM
There is an amazingly rich spectrum of pre-school, music, art, drama and technology offered by the Wilmette Park District, provided by non-union staff (many with same degrees as D39 teachers)-and yes, there are fees and there is choice. Still, Wilmette property owners pay to maintain the Park District, therefore subsidize these offerings. Back when my kids first started to enjoy the park district, the booklet of offerings was 25 pages--today, it is 96 pages long--not a criticism, just an observation. I have said this more than once, I feel our family benefited as much from the Park District as the Schools, with the added benefit of up front legitimate choices which amounted to a customized curriculum of enrichment. Whether is was soccer, gymnastics, gym and art, day camp, pre-school, ceramics, sailing, water sports, sports camp, ballet /tap /dance lessons, ice skating, the Wallace Bowl or Centennial Water Park ( paid for with referendum), with swim lessons, diving lessons, --the enrichments are unmatched on the North Shore. Even Winnetka residents use Wilmette's facilities for a small additional user fee. No child in Wilmette will be deprived if Art, Music or PE is reduced during the school day!
Max March 27, 2011 at 09:27 PM
Daphne wrote : (seems like Dapne's post may have been deleted.) Below is a partial quote : . ""Living within our means" as Max suggests would result in a notably inferior school system...." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- . Feel free to donate to the District 39 Educational Foundation as much as you desire. . . I have lived in Wilmette for over a quarter of a century now. I was happy with the schools my kids attended. I am also happy to pay for that same level of programs and services that my kids enjoyed. Just don't ask me to support additional programs or services. . If going back to the services we can afford means going back to an "inferior school system", so be it. My kids did just fine with that "inferior school system", I am sure your kids will do just fine with that too. However, should you feel unsure, feel free to get those programs and services privately, at your own expense. . I would like to maintain the quality of life and standard of living I enjoy in Wilmette and will continue to support your kids in school as long as I can afford to. . To ensure that, . Vote NO because you care.
O March 27, 2011 at 10:06 PM
By golly Max I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. Congratulations!
Margaret Mcintyre March 27, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Max, Daphne's comment resonates with what most of the parents thought of the Wilmette schools when I was serving on the Board. We certainly didn't think we had inferior schools then, or substandard schools, or schools that such a huge infusion of money! amen.
Max March 27, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Margaret Mcintyre, . Your opinion, sense of history, insight, knowledege and experience, knowing that you had lived in Wilmette longer than I have to date, is an inspiration and invaluable to me and hope, to many residents here. . I wish I had the time and the energy to have been more involved in local Village and School District matters when my kids were in school, but hope I have the chance to interact more in future, hopefully, more objectively, since I don't have kids in school. . So, please ignore the people who go attacking your character or personality. Don't let them stop you from expressing your opinion and offering us your insight about your former place of residence. . Thank you, sincerely, Max
Walter March 28, 2011 at 12:48 AM
Once again, from the District 39 Referendum Fact Sheet: If the referendum fails, class size guidelines will increase to between 26 and 33 students per class (depending on grade), and over the next two years the District will cut: --24% of the teachers -- 80 of 328 --ALL foreign language (K-8), instrumental music (5-8), reading intervention --ALL librarians, technology teachers & differentiation/gifted specialists --Time K-4 children spend in music, art and PE by 30-50% It matters not how a District 39 without librarians, differentiation/gifted specialists, music or foreign language would compare to the schools of your memory. What matters is that if the referendum fails, the District 39 of 2012 and beyond will be inferior to the District 39 of 2010. Vote YES to keep our schools just the way they are.
O March 28, 2011 at 12:55 AM
I will offer a different solution. For all of you that are in favor of this referendum, do the math and figure out how much your taxes will go up. Next make a tax-deductible contribution to the District 39 foundation in that amount. Make it for more if you like. Remember to do it this year and every year. All of these funds will then be put toward keeping many of the programs funded that you don't want cut. I think everyone is in favor of great schools. I know that my family has worked in may ways for the school district, and continues to do so. For the record the District 39 Educational Foundation is an independent volunteer group. It is not related to the school board. It operates independently. It does spend all of its funds for project related to District 39 school students, staff and community.
Margaret Mcintyre March 28, 2011 at 02:56 AM
Thanks Max. I also had the benefit of learning from the personal attacks, although, most of the nastiest ones were anonymous (most likely folks who didn't vote for me). It's hard to move and just forget about the prior good life and how much emotion and effort I poured into the school system--for all kids. Many fine teachers. Many very very intelligent parents who provided information, research, analysis, insight and friendship. If information and history can give some perspective to current parents and voters, hopefully reason and creativity will kick in and solutions will be found.
Carol Bennett March 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Carol Bennett March 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Carol Bennett March 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Carol Bennett March 30, 2011 at 12:43 AM
Carl March 30, 2011 at 01:13 AM
I have been reading these posts for a while, and I too find it interesting that Ms. McIntyre is spending so much time and energy on a town that is hundreds of miles from where she lives. Then I found the answer - on Facebook. Ms McIntyre writes to Senator Kirk: "Margaret Mcintyre-Farina Out here in Norfolk, we are still cheering for you! Hopefully, after you are elected, IL will come back, and we can afford to move back to Wilmette! November will be a tide turner!" Now I get it. Ms. McIntyre wants to live in Wilmette, but she can't afford it. So now she is trying to drive down Wilmette real estate prices by scuttling our school referendum. As a former school board member, she knows that 50-75% of all home buyers in Wilmette have school age children. They move here for the schools. She also knows that if she destroys our school system, she will drive 50-75% of the potential home buyers away from Wilmette and thereby cause our home values to decline. Presto - now Ms. McIntyre can afford to move back to Wilmette. Margaret, please stop. This is disappointing behavior to say the least.
Greenwood March 30, 2011 at 02:31 AM
I've researched the available information and was tending toward voting in favor of the referendum until I read posts like the caps-lock "IDEOLOGICAL ZEALOT" tirade and conspiracy theories about Margaret's one-woman campaign to drive down real estate values in the village. Ad hominem attacks don't help the pro-referendum cause, and in my view undercut the credibility of all referendum supporters. Thanks for making the decision easier.
O March 30, 2011 at 02:33 AM
Well said.
J.M. April 06, 2011 at 02:28 AM
Margaret - Those of us who actually live in Wilmette NOW have voted, and voted FOR our schools. Please feel free to go back to your life in VIRGINIA and give us all a rest from your opinions. Thank you.


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