District 39 officials addressed ballot concerns and potential budget cuts, while residents made more public comments on the proposed referendum during the school board's Monday night meeting.
Many in the room were undoubtedly looking for more information on the phrasing of the ballot question that addresses the referendum. It has been suggested that the phrasing gives an incorrect impression of how much of an increase in taxes each resident would see if the referendum were to pass.
A representative from Willian Blair & Co., the board's financial advisor, addressed this matter in a presentation.
The way various amounts are stated on the ballot question is a matter of state law, she explained. There is a statute governing how everything must be calculated and William Blair's assessment was that the board's legal counsel has followed the letter of the law.
The board also pointed residents to information on the referendum which can be viewed here.
Meanwhile earlier on in the meeting, residents again expressed their views on the $6.375 million referendum they will see on the ballot April 5. Several community members spoke who were in favor of and against the upcoming referendum.
Herbert Sorock, who is a frequent commenter at the school board meetings, spoke against the referendum, saying that there has been neglect on the part of the board and that a troubling financial situation was allowed to become a crisis. Sorock also alleged that the board has been deceiving residents with inaccurate information.
A subsequent speaker, Jerry Lavin, castigated Sorock for saying that the board has been negligent and deceiving. Lavin also spoke passionately about public education being a valuable service that costs money and that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Mark Weyermuller, in his first time addressing the board, said that he supports the schools and if it were up to him, Weyermuller would pay everyone a million dollars. However, as a real estate agent and Wilmette resident, Weyermuller was concerned about higher taxes causing property values to go down. Weyermuller closed by saying "I'm kind of tapped out. I'm not sure if I have the money."
Following Weyermuller, Melissa Hirschel spoke concerns for the way the referendum opposition group is conducting themselves in the community. Hirschel said she felt intimidated and harrassed and felt that this was inappropriate.
Other commenters, like Linda Huntley, asked why the school board didn't put more money in reserves when housing values were high and tax revenue was plentiful.
Following public comment and the ballot presentation, Superintendent Ray Lechner spoke about the possible cuts the district may have to make and gave a picture of the current performance of District 39 relative to similar and neighboring school districts.
According to Lechner's presentation, the district's operations have been judged to be one of the more efficient. This is based on a calculation that is made by the Illinois Board of Education. District 39's cost per pupil is $13,060 which is lower than 12 other districts in the area and higher than just two. Average teacher salary was also shown to be similarly low as compared to other districts.
In speaking about cuts, Lechner particularly referred to the seemingly large cut slated for special education staff. He said that this is being made possible by a host of other programs which identify and help students with special needs as early as three years old. As a result, the case load of special education teachers has gone down considerably.
Overall, the Superintendent stressed that as much as possible cuts have been made that do not affect the classroom directly. He said that should the referendum not pass, additional cuts would be necessary in order to avoid increasing class sizes, something he believe no parent is prepared to accept.
A group of District 39 school principals were also in attendance. The principals presented a video that showed many of the programs that would be cut if the referendum is not approved by voters. Some of the programs showcased were foreign language, library, technology and reading assistance.
For more information on the referendum, community members are invited to attend an informational meeting tonight, March 22 at 7:00pm at the Community Recreation Center located at 3000 Glenview Road. Superintendent Lechner will speak and there will be also time for a question and answer period.