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On May 7, the District 65 School Board unanimously approved the sale of bonds in the amount of $9.7 million to pay for capital projects. The Board also unanimously decided to use $5.3 million of the bond proceeds for roof and masonry work starting next month, but deferred deciding on how to use the remaining portion of the bond proceeds until it had an opportunity to prioritize all of the proposed projects, taking into account the space needs at Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols schools.
The bonds will be issued for twenty years at a 2.68 percent interest rate, said Mary Brown, chief financial officer. She said the interest rate is “phenomenal” and will reduce payments on the bonds by $700,000 from that originally anticipated.
The administration proposed that $5.3 million of the bond proceeds be used to pay for roof repairs at Haven, Lincolnwood, Chute and Kingsley schools and masonry work at Haven and Oakton schools. The Board approved bids for this work, which the District’s roofing architect, Tom Hutchinson, characterized as “urgent.”
At a Finance Committee meeting on April 25, Mr. Hutchinson said approving the bids on an expedited basis would enable the contractors to begin ordering supplies and making other preparations so they could start work when school ends and complete as much work as possible before school starts next fall. He said the work at Haven is not expected to be completed by the fall, and that scaffolding would surround the building when school starts.
Aside from the roof and masonry repairs, the Board deferred deciding on all other projects proposed by the administration for this summer. The other projects include:
• Locker replacements at Haven, Rhodes and Oakton schools at a cost of $300,000,
• Other building projects totaling $2.1 million, including asbestos abatement at Chute, work in the library at Nichols, replacement of the dividing gym door at Kingsley, installation of building control systems at eight schools, and installation of storage sheds at eight schools,
• $2.1 million for technology that would pay for a part-time network administrator, consulting services, computer/data wiring, software, lease payments for VOIP administrative equipment and teacher laptops, computer supplies, administrative computers, 460-610 iPads and apps, and enhancement to the wireless network.
The Board’s discussion focused primarily on the technology expenses. Lora Taira, chief information officer, said each classroom is equipped with a teacher laptop, projector, document camera, interactive white board and student computer. In addition, there are currently 3,337 computers (mostly laptops) available for student use, or one computer for every 2.2 students. According to Ms. Taira’s memo to the Board, 1,815 of the computers were bought in 2007 and another 926 were bought in 2008.
Ms. Taira said the administration was recommending replacing 700 teacher laptops now and developing a technology plan next year. Among other things, the technology plan will recommend whether to shift to iPads for students, which the District is currently evaluating through a pilot program. In response to questions, she said teachers would still need laptops even if the District shifted to using iPads for students.
Considering Everything Together
Several Board members were hesitant to commit the balance of the $9.7 million bond proceeds to specific projects without considering all of the proposed projects together and in context with the space needs at Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols.
Tracy Quattrocki said, “We have $5.3 million earmarked and all of these other projects are going to have to be weighed against the capacity needs we have at the middle schools.”
As a way to save money, she suggested that the District consider replacing the older teacher laptops with some of the newer student laptops, if the District converted to iPads for students.
Andy Pigozzi said, “Technology is continuing to grow and it’s going to continue to be a huge part of education. … I think it’s unrealistic to think we’re not going to spend anything on technology.”
He added, though, that the Board needed to look at how to address the capacity issues at Lincolnwood, Haven and Nichols, and said there were strong reasons to address asbestos abatement at Chute and to replace defective lockers. “What I’d hope to accomplish is a five-year plan that would be sustainable and that would pull that together,” he said.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable moving ahead with the balance of this money [the bond proceeds] without knowing what that big picture is,” Mr. Pigozzi said.
Richard Rykhus said he was reluctant to move ahead with technology expenditures next year before the District’s new technology plan was adopted. He added, “We are committed to the cutting edge,” on technology, and that he wanted to make sure there was funding available to train teachers so they “actually know what to do with it once it makes it to their room.”
Kim Weaver noted that about $400,000 of the funds allocated to technology were amounts due under prior equipment leases, and that these were existing obligations of the District.
Board president Katie Bailey summed up that the Board would consider and prioritize all of the District’s capital needs at its May 21 meeting and consider whether there were ways to economize or reduce costs.
Capital Funds Are Limited
Absent a referendum, the District’s ability to take on additional debt for capital projects is limited by State law to its “”debt service extension base.”” Mary Brown, the District’s chief financial officer, said the District could currently access $24.6 million through its debt service extension base, and that an additional $2.5 million would become available each subsequent year.
On May 7, the School Board approved the sale of $9.7 million in bonds, $5.3 million of which is earmarked for roof and masonry work this summer. On May 21, the Board will consider additional capital projects proposed by the administration totaling $4.2 million. Bond issuance fees are pegged at $200,000.
In a memo dated April 18, Dr. Brown said the District anticipates roof and masonry work totaling $21 million in the summers of 2013-21, life/safety work of $11.5 million in the next five years, and capital expenses for technology in the amount of $2 million per year.
Several Board members have said the District should not spend down the entire amount available under the debt service extension base, but keep a substantial amount in reserve to address any need that might emerge. On April 23, Dr. Brown proposed a reserve between $6.7 million and $8.3 million.