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Democracy just beginning in Dist. 15
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 4/14/2010 12:02 AM

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The disconsolate tone was unmistakable in Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Dan Lukich's comment following a successful petition drive to force a referendum on $27 million in proposed borrowing.

"Some compromise could or should have been reached," Lukich told Daily Herald reporter Kimberly Pohl. "It is what it is."

But the school system ought not think of the drive as some sort of defeat. Indeed, for both the community and the board, it is an opportunity.

Conventional wisdom would quickly label the referendum push as a victory for opponents of the bond proposal that the District 15 school board attempted to push through last month. And, to be sure, school referendum questions are difficult to pass even in the best economies; in the current recession, voter affinity for any bond issue is even more doubtful.

But it's not impossible. The petition drive does not preclude the borrowing a majority of the school board wanted. It merely ensures that the community at large will have a voice in it.

That should be considered a good thing. If the bond plan laid out by the board is wise, beneficial and timely, supporters ought to be able to demonstrate that to the community. They now have more than six months in which to do that.

They have some big questions to answer, of course. They'll need to show why it's worth $5.5 million just to get access to borrowing $10 million in working cash, not to mention whether the interest on the $10 million is warranted. They'll need to explain why $17 million is justified for roof work, plumbing, electrical work, carpeting and light bulbs.

Presumably, the board thinks these things are good and necessary for the community's schools. If that's true, surely there must be enough reasonable people in the community that it can persuade of this to get approval in a November referendum. True, we elect school, municipal and state and national officials so that we don't need a direct public vote on every controversial proposal brought forth. However, a 20-year, $27 million bond plan with a variety of peculiar, sometimes puzzling provisions ultimately costing as much as $51 million surely merits authorization by the community that will be required to pay it.

Now, it is simply up to the board to demonstrate the plan is worthy of that authorization, and it's up to reasonable voters in the district to listen with an open as well as critical mind.

School board member Tim Millar, an opponent of the bond plan, declared this week's successful referendum drive as "a great exercise in democracy." It is that to a degree, but for District 15 or any school system contemplating this kind of spending, it's important to note that the real democracy is only just getting started.

That is something neither Supt. Lukich nor anyone else with the best interests of the community at heart should be sorry about.