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Bond issue stalled, Palatine Dist. 15 faces tough choices
By Kimberly Pohl | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/15/2010 12:05 AM | Updated: 4/16/2010 6:43 PM

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Palatine Township Elementary District 15 is still figuring out the fallout from a successful petition drive that forced its $27 million bond issue to a referendum in November.

Board President Gerald Chapman told about 200 people who crowded the Sundling Junior High gym - most of whom were eager to admonish the bond proposal and its proponents - that any movement on the loan is frozen until the election.

However, board member Sue Quinn requested a legal opinion as to whether the district is obligated to put the question on the ballot or free to move forward with a modified bond sale.

One issue that remains crystal clear is the looming financial crisis facing the district over the next five years. To minimize deficit spending and maintain - at the board's request - savings totaling 30 percent of the overall budget, administrators on Wednesday identified about $2.2 million in cuts for the 2010-11 school year.

It won't be the case in the future, but officials said these reductions only minimally affect the classroom. Among the cuts affecting all departments are bilingual assistants, bus aides, a custodian and transportation secretary. The deadline has passed to lay off certified staff, so no teachers are targeted.

District 15 will also defer about $1.6 million in capital projects set to take place this summer. The only physical improvements still in the works are $600,000 worth of curtain wall replacements and $134,000 in new energy-efficient fixtures at Lake Louise School, in addition to repaving the church parking lot used by Winston Campus. The gaskets in the curtain wall, which is the glass, aluminum and stucco exterior of the classroom wing of the building, have deteriorated, allowing air and water to leak.

"We can't maintain a 30 percent fund balance without the bond sale and still spend money," Chapman said. "That's the reality."

That development infuriated parent Vicki Wilson, one of the petition drive's organizers. Calling the 20-year-old carpeting at Paddock School a health hazard, she said the board should have given more consideration to a smaller-scale bond sale proposed by Quinn last month that would have borrowed for capital projects, but not a controversial working cash fund.

"Don't blame it on that (the petition drive). It's on you. It's your decision," Wilson said to the board. "How can you say you're for the children? How can you sign contracts that you know this district can't afford and then turn around and say 'No, you don't get new carpeting.'"

Her comment was met with loud applause from attendees. So were statements by about a dozen residents who criticized the bond issue during a public hearing originally intended to discuss the proposal until it was halted by the petition drive.

Many felt the teachers union's contract should be reopened.

"You have immunized teachers to any adverse financial consequence during the worst recession since the Great Depression, at financial peril to the taxpayer and educational detriment of our children," Bryan Neal said. "You face the proverbial fork in the road. I hope you choose the less traveled path requiring hard choices and sacrifice which the community is willing to endure. I fear you will foolishly follow Dr. Chapman down the seductive and well-worn path of borrowing money today with a promise to repay later."