On April 9, the District 65 School Board went back to the drawing board. Board members discussed how to address the projected increase in student enrollment in light of the community’s rejection of the referendum on the March 20 ballot. If approved, the referendum would have provided $48.3 million in funds to build a new school, add classrooms to Haven and Nichols Middle Schools and make upgrades to the other middle schools.
Superintendent Hardy Murphy said there are two key issues now facing the Board. First, can the District handle the increased enrollment without adding classrooms – such as by increasing class sizes or moving special education programs? Second, can the District borrow enough under its debt extension service base to pay for any needed classroom additions and building upgrades?
There appeared to be general agreement that there are no “ideal solutions.” Board member Andy Pigozzi said he thought the only way to address the influx of students at Haven and Nichols was to put another referendum on the ballot.
Projected Increases in Enrollment
In November 2011, District 65 administrators and John D. Kasarda, a consulting demographer, each presented updated enrollment projections for the next five years. They each identify a need for space at three schools: Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols.
The accompanying table gives the current enrollment and the increases projected by District 65 and Dr. Kasarda for the three schools.
The Debt Extension Service Base
Absent a referendum, the District’s ability to take on additional debt for capital projects is limited by State law to its “debt extension service base.” Mary Brown, the District’s chief financial officer, said the District could currently access $24.5 million through its debt extension service base.
About $20 million of that $24.5 million is already earmarked for building repairs and technology. Dr. Brown said that the District has scheduled a total of $20 million in capital projects in the next three years: $11.4 in roof and masonry work; $6.1 million for technology; $2.1 million for locker replacements, asbestos abatement, and other projects; and $400,000 for bond issuance fees.
Assuming the $20 million is spent as planned, it would leave $4.5 million available under the debt extension service base for other uses, plus an additional $2.5 million would become available each year, said Dr. Brown.
Some of the amounts becoming available in the future may be needed for future roof replacements. Dr. Brown provided a summary of roof replacements planned for 2015-21 with a total estimated cost of $14.7 million.
Board members explored whether the roof replacements could be deferred. Dr. Murphy said the District’s roofing contractors said, “It would not be advisable to do that.”
While the Board will look at scaling back some of the other building work and technology expenditures, several Board members said they did not think the District would be able to set aside enough to pay for classroom additions at the schools using the debt extension service base.
Andy Pigozzi, a Board member and an architect, added that the Board should not spend the entire amount available under the debt extension service base. “I think it would be fiscally irresponsible to spend the debt service down to zero,” he said. “We have over a million square feet of building area. We have over 20 acres of roof surface. There are things that are unknown. We have to have a reserve ready of a substantial amount of money to address any need that might emerge.”
Lincolnwood Elementary School
Lora Taira said that District may need to add one fifth-grade classroom at Lincolnwood next year. Without adding the classroom, the fifth-grade class size is projected at 29 students.
Assistant Superintendent Mike Robey listed several options to create that classroom, “none of which are ideal,” he said. They include moving a special education program to another school, dividing two existing classrooms into three smaller classrooms, converting a lot of small offices into a classroom, and converting an area formerly used as a computer lab into a classroom that might be large enough for only 18 students.
Mr. Rykhus suggested another option to consider: shift some incoming students currently in Lincolnwood’s attendance-area to a school that might be closer to where they live, such as Walker, Kingsley or King Lab. Mr. Rykhus said the portion of the Lincolnwood attendance-area he was focusing on was the area south and east of the North Shore Channel. He said students currently attending Lincolnwood should have the option of finishing their schooling there.
Dr. Murphy said the option proposed was “limited redistricting.”
Ms. Bailey said, “I don’t see us doing limited redistricting next year. I think that’s a longer-term issue of looking at Lincolnwood.”
Ms. Bailey added she would like to put the discussion of Lincolnwood and any proposed redistricting on the Board’s agenda for a future meeting. She said the administrators could present the options to address the need for additional space and the proposed boundaries for any potential redistricting, and Lincolnwood parents would have an opportunity to provide input, she said.
Ms. Taira said she has not yet analyzed how many Lincolnwood parents have applied for magnet schools or permissive transfers. She said if enough kindergarten parents applied to attend another school, Lincolnwood could conceivably operate next year with three kindergarten classes which could resolve the space needs there for next year.
Haven and Nichols Middle Schools
As part of the referendum, the District proposed to add eight additional classrooms at Haven and Nichols by converting the science instructional areas currently at those schools into general classrooms and by building new science classrooms at those schools that could also be used for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) instruction. Additional upgrades to the common areas, such as the cafeterias, were also proposed to accommodate increased student enrollment. TMP Architects estimated the cost of this work at about $10.3 million at each school.
Before the referendum, District administrators said they could handle the increased enrollment at Haven and Nichols by increasing the target class-size to 26 students and converting other rooms into classrooms.
It appears, though, that this approach may not provide needed space in the common areas to accommodate the increased enrollment.
“Sometimes people look at it only as a classroom problem,” said Dr. Murphy, “but it’s also a problem for the common areas in the school and that presents as much of a challenge as anything else.”
Assistant Superintendent Susan Shultz likewise said, “The biggest issue in both schools is the common areas.” She listed cafeterias, gym space, and the fine arts area. Dr. Murphy mentioned the space needed for passing periods.
Tracy Quattrocki said, “We need to figure out how much it will cost to do [the work at the middle schools] without all the add-ons we wanted and then look at stretching out the roof and masonry work and figure out if we can make it work. The other option is to go out for a referendum again for the middle schools with a larger scope of work. Some Board members may favor that, but we need to look at how we can do it without a referendum too.”
Mr. Pigozzi, said he did not think the District would be able to set aside enough using the debt extension service base to pay for the projects at Haven and Nichols, which he said would total $20 million.
“The dollars just aren’t there,” he said. “We simply don’t have enough dollars to address these issues at both Haven and Nichols. So I think that rather than going through a very painful operational situation, you have to consider putting these back out on the ballot in November. I really don’t see a choice.”
Mr. Rykhus said adding eight classrooms at both Haven and Nichols was to address a “worst case” scenario. He said the District could “scale back some” and budget for “what’s actually necessary.” He said, “When this [the referendum] was proposed, it was more of an ideal state. And I think that’s great. Now, we’re not in an ideal state. So, we need to look at what’s an essential state.”
Another option mentioned is to consider redistricting students from Haven or Nichols to Chute Middle School. Ms. Schultz said, though, “There aren’t any empty classrooms at Chute.”
Ms. Bailey said at its April 23 meeting the Board should analyze the scheduled building work and see if anything could be deferred, the core space needed at Haven and Nichols and the cost, the number of classrooms needed and the cost, whether the building work could be handled within debt extension service base, and whether limited redistricting of some middle school students from Haven and/or Nichols to Chute was feasible. She said this would enable the Board to decide “what can be done, what should be done, and whether we should go to referendum again.”
Ms. Quattrocki said the Board still had not answered the question whether an operating referendum might be necessary to address the projected operating deficits. She suggested the Board resolve that issue before going out for a capital referendum.
The table below gives the current enrollment and the increases projected by District 65 and Dr. Kasarda in the next five years for the three schools indicated.