There seems to be some misconceptions about process, transparency, and recommendations regarding District 112 and its finances, reconfiguration, and facilities.
A brief look at the background may be useful for those just realizing there is an issue and for those who misunderstand the issues and for those who need a refresher.
Allow me to quote from our superintendent’s letter to the community of February 2016 where the problem is summarized:
Our Board has a fiduciary responsibility to place the District on firm financial footing. Due to the current financial landscape, where expenses continue to rise faster than our existing capped revenues, and where legislative decisions in Springfield may lead to additional financial burdens to the District, …The Board determined that continuing to operate twelve schools with no new revenue sources continues to place the District on an unsustainable financial path. By the 2018-2019 school year, our District’s expenditures will require us to cross the 25% fund balance threshold that we are required to maintain per our Board policy. Additionally, an absence of funds to address the mandatory Illinois Health Life Safety Code repairs to our schools would remain.
So, clearly, we have an issue; we are like other districts in our state. However, we are fortunate to have numerous individuals who have worked tirelessly for years to figure out a solution.
Initially, NSSD112 began Budget Deficit Reductions (BDR) in 2010 (BDR 1 and BDR2) that reduced the district’s budget by about $6 million in operating expenses. That allowed time for further study on developing a long-term solution that could sustain our district financially while the district continued to excel in education opportunities. The Superintendent’s Facility and Finance Committee (SCFACC) composed of volunteer community members, teachers, and administrators studied the issues for three years as a formal committee and determined the priorities of the community, creating a matrix, reviewed over 40 configurations, evaluated facilities, and studied the finances. SCFACC determined that a referendum was necessary for our district.
While a referendum was placed on the Spring 2016 ballot, many community members were concerned what would happen if it failed. In answer to the community request, the Board of Education felt it was important to explain what it would be forced to do if the referendum failed. In no way should BDR 3 be viewed as reactionary or a punishment or a threat. The need to save $5 million a year in operating expenses and the need to extend the District’s financial sustainability for at least a decade was clearly explained to the community.
BDR3 will allow our district to maintain its high educational standards while another district committee (2.0) uses its time to research configurations for the remaining buildings. These are parallel movements. 2.0 is not a decision-making body; the BOE is. 2.0 is reviewing the same numbers, facilities, and finances that SCFACC spent three years doing.
It is important to recognize that a post-referendum survey indicated a number of different reasons that people did not support the referendum: fear of change, worry about taxes, uncertainty about the middle-school campus, wistfulness for the past, and so on. No one issue was the predominant reason.
The culture of Highland Park and Highwood prides itself on diversity, philanthropy, and education. It is not a culture that should be critical of individuals who are working tirelessly. We should be supporting our administration and our school board it their efforts to do what’s best for our entire community.
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