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:
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.