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District 156 votes to keep referendums on ballot

McHENRY – The District 156 school board is sticking to its original plan.

The school board Tuesday voted, 6-1, to keep the $70 million building bond referendum on November’s ballot. If voters approve the measure, an owner of a $200,000 house would pay $146 more a year in property taxes until the bonds are paid back in 20 years.

Board members Mellody Ahrens and Daniel Koruna, who earlier this month voted against placing the building referendum on the ballot, joined board members Bob Glascott, Chad Mihevc, Bonnie Simon and Jeffrey McCutchan to keep it on the ballot.

“It’s putting the situation in the community’s hands,” Koruna said. “It’s a big issue. It’s an important issue. ... It’s a community school district. Let the community give us a direction of where we need to go.”

Board member Rob Zielinski was the lone no vote.

A new school building, which would be built on 110 acres near the intersection of Chapel Hill Road and Route 120, would replace East Campus and would be big enough to house 1,600 to 1,700 students.

The district proposed the building referendum for this fall so it could take advantage of Build America Bonds, which are subsidized by the federal government. There is no guarantee that those bonds will be available after Dec. 31.

East campus cannot be expanded because it is landlocked and is an old structure. The school is at near capacity.

Residents in the McHenry High School District also have to decide whether they want to pay more money for educational programming within the district.

The district is asking residents whether they are willing to pay 60 cents more per $100 of equalized assessed property value. An owner of a $200,000 house would pay about $400 more a year in property taxes. That referendum would help the district solve its budget deficit issue. This year the district is planning to run a $4.255 million deficit. A successful referendum would bring in about $6.7 million more a year to the district.

The district had received comments and objections about having multiple referendums on the ballot this fall as the economy continues to sputter.

After voting to keep the building referendum on the ballot, district administrators presented what it would take to close a $4.255 budget deficit by the 2011-12 school year.

Administrators presented three options, all of which would require a salary freeze, which would need to be negotiated with the teachers union, and include reduction in services from the Special Education District of McHenry County.

The first option would be to cut $1.2 million and borrow about $3 million. This would force the district to reduce extracurricular and athletic activities by 30 percent, not replace retiring teachers, scale back courses, and reduce the athletic director to a part-time position.

The second option would be to cut $2.2 million and borrow $2 million. That would include cutting all extracurricular and athletic activities, releasing the equivalent of 20.5 full time employees, and scaling back course offerings.

The third option would be to cut $4.2 million, which would lead to cutting all extracurricular and athletic programs, releasing the equivalent of 40 full time employees, eliminating course offerings, closing East Campus, and going to a split schedule with part of the district’s students going to a morning session from 7 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. and the rest of the students going to an afternoon session from 1 to 6:25 p.m.

Administrators did not say which courses the district would cut, but in the past Superintendent Teresa Lane said it would be courses that would have least impact on student achievement.

Board members are scheduled to vote on possible reductions at its Sept. 7 meeting.

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