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After a presentation by Richard R. Murray on May 12, District 65’s New School-Referendum Committee decided to explore the possibility of building a new school without using tax revenues. The Committee’s charge is to evaluate whether the District should establish a new school in the Fifth Ward.
Mr. Murray, a principal of Murray and Company, Inc., told members of the Committee that he helps raise money to finance schools when a referendum, fundraising or conventional means of funding have failed, are not likely to work, or are undesirable. “The way we would look at your project here is how can you get a new school building without using tax revenues – essentially without cost,” he said.
He summarized five projects in which he raised funds to build or acquire schools, and in some cases to cover operating expenses, without taxpayer dollars. He said upfront, “none of these are necessarily a solution for you,” but at least “it will show you some of the different approaches we have taken.”
Perhaps his most well-known project is the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. He said he invented in 1995 the model upon which Cristo Rey is based; and today, more than 20 high schools in 16 states use that model.
Under the model, students work as interns one day a week in various professional settings, such as law, accounting, engineering, banking and health care. The internships provide learning experiences for the students and, in addition, the students earn about 70 percent of the cost of their education. The model also includes a mechanism to finance new construction.
In another project, Mr. Murray said a small college needed a new athletic facility. He proposed that the college build a sports facility that would double as a community recreation center. The community recreation center generates enough revenues to pay the capital costs of the entire facility, he said.
After summarizing additional projects, Mr. Murray said, “These are some paths. … There are other paths. There’s many ways of doing it.”
When asked if he had any ideas on how he could help District 65, he said he had not yet gathered information and considered the options, but said, “I’m very confident that I could come up with probably two and maybe three ways that you could get the school built without any tax revenues.”
In a follow-up discussion among members of the Committee, Jean Luft, president of the District Educators Council, said, “If a consultant says he can come up with several pathways to pay for a new school, I think you need to explore it.”
Paul Goren agreed it would be worthwhile to investigate the issue, but added the Committee should investigate whether there are other firms that perform similar work, and also check out Mr. Murray’s recommendations. He said the Committee should do its due diligence and get several proposals to look at and decide what is the best possible option.
Drew Stover said the Committee may be putting the cart before the horse, and suggested that the Committee may want to decide first if it plans to recommend a new school, and if so ,what type of school, before proceeding further with Mr. Murray.
In light of timing issues, the Committee decided to proceed on several fronts simultaneously. It decided to ask Mr. Murray to present a proposal to the District and to investigate whether other firms provide similar services. In the meantime, the Committee will continue to consider available options to address the District’s need for additional space and the possibility of preparing a community survey.
Superintendent Hardy Murphy suggested that Ms. Luft and Mr. Goren work with him in soliciting a proposal from Mr. Murray and in investigating whether other firms provide similar services. They are scheduled to report back to the Committee in June.