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Scaling back Dist. 303 schools plan?
District might not quite seek $294 million
By James Fuller | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/21/2009 12:02 AM

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St. Charles Unit District 303 residents will almost certainly see a referendum on the April ballot, but it may not be the $294 million question they've been prepped for all of 2008.

The most likely scenario now appears to be a melding of the two messages residents sent the district through the Summit 303 process and a recently completed telephone poll of 500 registered voters in the district.

The summit yielded a green light from residents to go for the full $294 million to rebuild or renovate every school in the district. The poll, however, fell far short of echoing that sentiment. About 53 percent of respondents said they'd oppose such a question on April ballots. While residents support quality schools and the leadership of the district, the economy is just too poor to back a tax increase of that magnitude, poll respondents said.

A referendum with a lesser price tag would be much easier to swallow. About 70 percent of poll respondents said they'd back a $120 million referendum.

Perhaps the bulk of that support comes from the fact that the district would not have to increase its tax rate to issue that much debt. With no referendum at all, the district's tax rate would fall, resulting in about a $22 tax decrease in a couple of years.

That presents a new option the school board has not considered with only about a week before it must make a decision on whether to place a question on the April ballot.

The district's staff recommended a phasing-in of the original $294 million plan where only the middle school portion would be placed before voters in April.

That idea carries a price tag of about $99 million. It includes the renovation or replacement of each middle school in the district with all the upgrades that would come with.

The district would then continue the summit process with district residents to decide when the right time is to address the elementary and high school portions of the $294 million plan.

Breaking the plan into pieces will eventually result in a price tag even higher than the current $294 million cost.

The school board is set to make a decision on what to do at its next meeting on Jan. 29 after taking public comment.

Plan: District staff wants to phase in the project