Supporters rally behind District 153 as work begins on March 15 referendum

Tabitha Stine, right, accepts a monetary contribution
from Dana Zigmund, standing, that will help support
the District 153 referendum.

(Photos by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle)

Dozens of volunteers gathered Wednesday to learn about the upcoming Homewood District 153 bond referendum and offered to work to get the message out.

The ballot question will ask voters to approve the sale of up to $9 million in working cash bonds over a seven-year period. It’s the one way the school board has to keep the district from going deep into the red. State-imposed tax caps and limits on tax levies leave the district no other option, said School Board President Shelley Marks.

The board’s latest effort at reducing costs was its 2015 decision to close Millennium School. It is expected to save the district $600,000 beginning in the fall.

In 2011, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum that gave the district authority to sell $7.5 million in working cash bonds to help cover fiscal shortfalls as property values dropped and state aid was reduced. This March 15 referendum will extend the district’s ability to sell bonds to cover the budget’s deficit.

On Wednesday supporters signed on to host informational coffees, display yard signs, go door-to-door with information and make donations to cover costs of the referendum effort.

Ian MacLeod, father of two children in District 153 schools, said he came to the meeting to get more information. His questions were answered and he will be getting involved in the information effort. Dana Zigmund, the parent of two children, made a cash contribution.

Terry Keigher, chair of Citizens for Homewood Schools, said he was happy with the turnout. The committee heard from others who couldn’t make the meeting but pledged to support the efforts, he added.

Keigher stressed the importance of a ‘yes’ vote to help maintain the schools’ academic and extracurricular programs, to strengthen the value of Homewood property and preserve Homewood as an outstanding community known for its terrific schools.

Keigher said he knows there will be those who won’t support the referendum, but his team’s approach is “we want to get as much information out for sound decision making.”

Turnout could be heavy because of the presidential primaries. But this vote, unlike the national ballot questions, will have an immediate impact on the Homewood community, he noted.

By approving the referendum, taxes will go up for two years. For example, residents with homes valued at $100,000 will pay an additional $70 in taxes in 2017 and 2018.  Then the rate will revert to what homeowners are currently paying under the 2011 referendum.

If the referendum fails to pass, Board President Shelly Marks said major cuts will be made adding, “there really aren’t any other options.” The school board will be forced to increase class sizes because the great majority of cuts will come from the personnel line that is 85 percent of the school district’s budget.

Many school programs, including art and music programs and a host of special interest clubs, could be reduced or eliminated, she told the audience.

Board member Alex Bosch said District 153 is receiving just 92 cents for every dollar the state promised in aid.  The district has lost more than $2 million in state funding since 2011. At the same time, the Illinois legislature has passed more than 200 new laws since 2009 that require action by school districts. Yet the state appropriated no new money to carry out the new mandates.

“If we want schools in Homewood to be good schools, it’s our responsibility to provide for our schools and our community,” Marks told the more than 50 people gathered at Hart School. “We want to protect who we are, protect our community and protect our kids.”

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