Elk Grove schools don't need $20-million bond issue, board member contends
Tim Burns said he expected to lose at a recent Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 board meeting.
Burns, a member of the District 59 board, proposed Aug. 28 that the school district rescind a plan to issue up to $20 million in bonds, most of which would fund a new administration building.
The board was expected to approve a $139.7 million budget.
“In votes on these matters (involving spending more money), it’s usually 5-2 in favor of the spending,” Burns told the North Cook News.
A few hours before the meeting, a preliminary hearing was held in Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office as part of a challenge to a petition that would force the bond question on the ballot for voters to decide.
Burns, who was part of the petition drive, says that verifying the petition could take weeks.
“There are 15 separate objecting points over 472 pages,” he said.
Two days after that hearing, the Cook County clerk's office determined that opponents of the bond issue had enough signatures to have the question placed on the March ballot, according to a Daily Herald report. The objections to the petition were subsequently withdrawn and the district will need permission from voters to borrow the money.
The battle between the board and many in the northwest suburban Chicago community began in May, when the board announced plans to build a cafeteria for its 6,700 students and a new administration building for the districts' three junior highs, 10 elementary schools, an early learning center, a family center and a preschool.
The trustees of Elk Grove shot down the cafeteria as too close to a residential area, but approved the administration building. Burns said at first the board planned to use some of its $110 million in reserves to finance the new construction but then announced a plan to issue the bonds.
That’s when the petition drive started – nearly under its own power, according to Bill Christian, one of the leaders of the drive. The petition ended up with just over 4,300 signatures –- nearly 800 more than needed under state law, which requires 10 percent of the registered voters in the district – to get the question on the March primary ballot.
On Aug. 18, just five days after the petition was turned in, Esther Carrera, secretary of the Elk Grove Township Democrats, submitted the 427-page challenge with the Cook County clerk’s office. According to the Daily Herald, township Democrats disavowed any association with Carrera’s challenge.
Carrera had not returned a call for comment by press time.
Christian argued that Carrera could have hardly acted alone.
“No way one person could go through all those names to look for areas where they could challenges signatures and addresses,” he said. “It’s no surprise that the number she’s challenging will have us fall just short of what we need.”
The board then announced it would not include money raised from the bonds in its budget, but Burns said “it’s a sleight of hand move” while the board bides its time.
“The budget isn’t due to be filed with the ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) until Oct. 15,” Burns said. “If the petition gets shot down before then, they’ll put the bond deal back in the budget. If it gets shot down after, it can file an amended budget with ISBE.”
News reports indicate that district officials contend that the district will quickly draw down on its $110 million in reserves over the next five years after dozens of new hires.
Burns agreed the hiring was part of the problem, but contends the district also underestimated the number of employees that will need district health care over the next five years.
“They did bad math,” he said.
Superintendent Art Fessler and board President Barbara Somogyi had not returned calls for comment by press time.