Monday, February 29, 2016

Comment of the Day: Past Referenda Supporter Who Will Vote NO This Time

Moments ago we received the following comment which we have decided to publish as the Comment of the Day.  We thank the reader for their past support of D181 referenda and for their willingness to submit this candid comment.  We think it should make each one of us ask the question:   Just how much can a public school district really expect its taxpayers to pay for capital improvements and new construction?  We sincerely hope that the VOTE YES supporters do not tar and feather this parent for putting themselves out there with their personal revelations and conclusions.  As each of us decide how to vote on March 15, we should all remember that everyone's personal financial circumstances justifiably influence how they will vote and past supporters have every right to choose to vote NO this time around without being run out of town.  Out of respect (and to encourage other readers to SOUND OFF) we will NOT publish any comments that attack the anonymous author of this comment. We will publish counter-arguments, but only if they are written in a respectful manner.

So as always, SOUND OFF!


Past Referenda Supporter Who Will Vote NO This Time said...
Today I decided to figure out what I've paid to D181 in property taxes over the last 15 years for past approved capital referenda (which I voted YES on), what I've gotten (personally for my kids) out of the past approved referenda and what the new referendum will really mean for my family. I started by looking at the "Debt Service and Homeowner Impact Analysis" that D181 recently published and can be found at:

I am rounding down very slightly, but for purposes of this exercise, I am stating that I live in a $1 million home in Burr Ridge. Most of my children have all graduated from Elm and HMS and Hinsdale Central High School. I will have one more graduating from HMS BEFORE the new school is built (if the referendum passes). I have lived in Elm's boundary area since 2000 and voted YES on the referenda that resulted in the new Prospect, new Walker, large addition to Madison and renovations to the other schools (other than HMS). By the time I moved here, CHMS was already built and the bonds to fund that were built into my property tax bill. For all of the other projects I voted yes on, my tax bill went up after I moved here. In the 16 years I have lived here, the ONLY physical improvement my children personally received as a result of the past referenda passing was a new multi-purpose room at Elm (and I believe air conditioning at Elm), and for a couple of them, the space they gained at Elm with the multi-purpose room addition was eliminated when the administration took over an entire wing of Elm School, leading to over crowding until this fall when the administration finally moved out.

So what did I pay over time? According to the chart on the D181 website, before the March 2016 HMS referendum, I CURRENTLY pay $1147 for the debt service on the previously approved referenda. Between now and 2025, according to the bar graph, that debt service will gradually increase, however, for purposes of this exercise, I will hold the $1147 flat. This means that over 10 years, I will pay $11,470 in property taxes JUST for the capital projects built as a result of the previously approved referenda. And all my kids will have ever benefited from those past YES votes will have been ONE SINGLE MULTIPURPOSE room and perhaps air conditioning at Elm School.

And what about the first 15 years of this debt service? The chart does't show me what I have personally paid, but assuming that the bar graph on the current debt service has gradually increased over time, (although I believe some of the debt service was refinanced and so it was already lowered a couple of times), but even assuming that it has gradually grown, I would bet that over the last 15 years, I have at least paid what I will pay over the next 10 years -- so at least another $11,470. This means that by the time the existing debt service is paid off in 2025 for the past approved capital referenda, I will have personally paid $22,940 in property taxes to fund new schools and improvements to the other D181 schools, and the ONLY physical benefits MY children will have seen was using one single Multipurpose room at Elm School and air conditioning.

Yet now, D181 is asking me to jump on the band wagon again and pay for a brand new middle school that will add $90 million in debt service to the backs of D181's taxpayers? And MY children won't benefit at all? That $90 million additional debt service will add an additional $537 dollars per year to my existing tax bill starting in 2019 -- an additional $3,222 between 2019 and 2024. And then once the OLD debt service is paid down, I will continue to pay $903/year to finish paying off the new HMS for another 12 years, for a total of $10,836. So between 2019 and 2036, I will personally pay $14,058 in property taxes to pay for ONE middle school, that NONE of my kids will ever attend.

Adding it all up, between 2001and 2036, I will have paid $36,998 in property taxes to pay for work done to either build new D181 schools or renovate and put multi-purposes on the elementary schools. And MY children will only have gotten the benefit of one single multi-purpose room and air conditioning?

Well, I have to say, this exercise has reinforced for me the following:
1. I am pro-education and pro-school improvement.
2. I have been a D181 supporter and UNTIL NOW, voted YES on past referendum.
3. I have willingly paid to provide more benefits to all of the other D181 schools and students in the district than the schools my children attended.

Despite this past generosity and support,

4. I AM NOT A DEEP, BOTTOMLESS POCKET! I now have children in college and my children do not qualify for financial aid (we are lucky, I am not complaining, I am grateful for our economic circumstances).
5. There is a LIMIT to how much I am willing to personally fund for construction of schools that will not benefit my children. I can no longer mindlessly support adding $90 million of debt service to my or other D181's taxpayers' backs.
6. This does not make me evil or bad or hateful or stupid or ignorant or naive or a naysayer.
7. Over and above the numbers I have crunched above, I pay over $20,000 a year in property taxes, most of which go to D181 to pay for its operational expenses and pension funds. I will continue to willingly pay those amounts because I know that for the most part, D181 is a school district that has added value to our community and has driven property values up. And I have chosen to live here.
8. However, I do not believe my property value will go up if a new HMS school is built. I agree with others who have posted on this blog, that property values are driven more by the caliber of the teachers and educational programs offered. Therefore, I will not support a $90 million bond issuance to pay for one new school until I am completely convinced that all OTHER options -- such as a renovation of the existing school, or building a less expensive school that isn't inflated with millions of dollars in WANTS -- has been fully vetted.

Now I am sure I will be attacked by the Vote Yes folks for daring to make this comment and people will pick it apart and tell me my numbers are off. This wasn't a scientific exercise and I didn't go back into 15 year old archives to calculate exactly what I have paid in property taxes for the construction projects the past referenda led to. But I think I have sufficiently satisfied myself that while my numbers may not be 100% accurate, I have been MORE THAN GENEROUS with my willingness to pay for D181 schools and improvements. But there comes a time when even I, a past avid supporter, will say its time to SLOW DOWN this runaway train and properly vet ALL options.

I'm ready and bracing myself for the attack of the Vote Yes people. Take your best shot.

One last thing to point out. It is really disingenuous for D181 to suggest in their flyer that once the old referenda are paid off, property taxes for this referenda will go down. In fact, look closely at the chart. TOTAL property taxes to fund the TOTAL capital projects WILL go down starting in 2026 because all of the other projects (besides HMS) will finally have been paid off. HOWEVER, the property taxes each of us pay for the new HMS will GO UP that year. On a $1 million home, the property taxes on HMS project will go up an additional $366 -- from $537 to $903. That is an increase of 68%. You will notice that this "kicker" isn't explained anywhere on the D181 flyer!


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if many of this blog's readers agree. I don't mind helping out other people without reward once in a while. I very much believe in the "TEAM: Together, Everyone Achieves More" philosophy, but, like the poster said, why contribute to thousands of dollars to something and get little in return while everyone else gets so much more?

Just a few Devil's Advocate things, though: one could argue that HMS people are in the same boat. They paid for many of the other schools to get rebuilt or at least major, permanent additions (the portables don't count). However, HMS people have gotten CHMS which reduced overcrowding by a large amount. Plus, some of the HMS feeder schools have gotten additions, too, so parents would have gotten benefits, though not at HMS.

Another Devil's Advocate issue: if we are so concerned about paying so much to not see the benefits, why do so many people want to consolidate with Oak Brook and Maercker? That would only add more schools we'd have to support. While we might save some money by consolidating many of the administrative positions, we'd have all these complaints again should one of their buildings need major renovation.

If you really are concerned about getting more bang for our buck, maybe we should lobby our legislators and totally shut down public education in Illinois (if not the nation)? Our property taxes will plummet (hopefully), plus we'd only pay for the schools our schools go to.

As much as I'd like to see a new HMS, I want it done correctly, for a decent, responsible amount, and not overexert non-HMS residents. I can see a lot of reasons to support the Vote Yes side, but not if they don't respect our side.

Madison Mom said...

While my kids attended Madison and got more for my past yes votes, I agree with this poster. When you actually analyze the numbers, they are quite shocking. While a $1 million dollar home TODAY pays $1147/year for all the past referenda that built 3 schools and renovated the rest (other than HMS), to think that once the bond repayment on all those other projects drop off in 2025, we will be paying $903/year for ONE school? Crazy! Especially since that amount will pay for WANTS not just NEEDS. I'm voting NO.

Anonymous said...

One of our children would benefit from the bright, shiny, new HMS. We will not be voting yes.

Until this child starts receiving a decent education, we would not think of voting for a new school.

We need to clean up one mess at a time.

Even then, we favor fixing the current HMS. We do not have unlimited means despite what the administration and BOE think.

Clarendon Hills Resident said...

Bloggers: I live in Clarendon Hills and received the latest C4CH (Citizens for Clarendon Hills) Newsletter in the mail today. It covers various topics of interest to CH, but also a section on D181's HMS Referendum. I have typed up the text from the newsletter on the referendum and would ask you to publish it as a free standing post. Everyone should read the C4CH perspective on this project. Thanks you.

Text from C4CH Newsletter:

Vote “NO” to the $65 M Hinsdale Middle School Project Press the Reset Button and Start Over with a $30M Project

C4CH would like to see a project at Hinsdale Middle School (HMS) but there is no way to rationalize the massive $65M cost (which will end up being closer to $90M with interest). We recommend a strong “NO” vote. We have much sympathy for the staff, parents and students at HMS due to management mistakes with both the frozen pipes and mold growing unchecked for years. Those issues were fixed at a cost of $3M only one year ago, with taxpayer (your) money. Even though we want the best for our children, it;s hard to justify a $65M project at $400/square foot (with average costs for middle schools less than $250/square foot).

There was NOT an exhaustive approach to reduce the costs and size. Other reasonable scenarios were NOT dutifully considered. Is it unreasonable for taxpayers to ask for a careful, analytic, and financially prudent plan led by parties interested in capping the spending at $30-$35M? It may not be common knowledge, but the architect and others receive a percentage of the project cost as their fee, so it makes sense for them to grow the project spending, not reduce it. These are primary points in which C4CH questions the validity and leadership in the process. Bigger and more spending does not result in smarter students or higher property values.

We have concluded that several reasonable scenarios have NOT been explored that upgrade HMS at a significantly lower cost. The $65M price tag for HMS with 780 students (only 20% more students at HMS than CHMS) is unbalanced relative to the 650 students and $17M spent on the very successful Clarendon Hills Middle School (CHMS). Construction costs have increased, but spending $400 or even $300 per square foot seems unreasonably high when the average is $232/square foot.

On a separate but meaningful note, we feel obligated to mention that Don White, the Superintendent of D181 recently released the seemingly confidential names and contact information of parents and students to a private lobbying group advocating for the $65M project. This maneuver by Superintendent White, without formal Board approval, seems to be unethical. This act alone taints the process and questions the Superintendent’s ethics as well as those involved.

Here are some unanswered questions to explore in depth;

1. Can a new addition be built adjacent to an upgraded HMS structure while utilizing the existing building?

2. The current HMS gym is nearly double the gym at CHMS with only 20% more students so why isn’t the HMS gym good enough?

3. Can’t the existing cafeteria space and most every other space be used?

4. Can the façade of the existing building be improved to fix the cosmetic issues and match a new 50,000 square foot classroom expansion?

5. Wouldn’t moving D181 admin offices to the existing HMS building save $?

6. Could the community privately raise funds for a new HMS auditorium if community demand exists for the auditorium?

7. What is the total financial liability D181 has accumulated for taxpayers? Include debt, interest payments, pension liabilities, health care liabilities, and routine capital repairs.

8. What actions are underway to reduce operating costs and debt levels of D181?