Taxation is an ugly subject, likely to wring a sudden surge of discontent from even the most amiable, civic-minded of souls. And in the face of the largest referendum request ever in Riverside or Brookfield, it’s easy to understand that “just say no” impulse?”up to a point. After all, the cost of living isn’t going down for anyone any time soon.
Unfortunately, neither is the cost of educating the next generation of thinking, working, responsible adults. That’s why, somehow, we must find it in our hearts, minds and pocketbooks to vote in favor of the Riverside-Brookfield High School tax referendum this month.
Regardless of personal sentiment?”and of how we vote on March 21?”we are all going to pay huge amounts of money to District 208 over the next several years. RB’s physical plant is so woefully outdated that the state is requiring massive, non-negotiable life safety upgrades to the tune of $27 million.
If we do not vote these funds to the district, it will levy them from us without referendum, because the state will demand it. And then we will have dumped nearly half the money we could have spent into creating a fine new facility into yet another generation of make-do solutions. We will be forestalling the inevitable and causing future taxpayers to eventually do the job right, paying far more than we are being asked for now.
Some in the community have used Superintendent Jack Baldermann’s statement that an education fund referendum will be needed in the future as a rationale for voting against the physical upgrades now.
But the reality of school funding in Illinois dictates that every district will periodically have to go to its voters for more money, usually every seven or eight years. So, that ed fund referendum is coming, regardless of what happens with the physical plant.
It’s safe to say that if the March referendum doesn’t pass, the District 208 board will throw it right back at us for however many elections as it takes to finally be accepted. The upgrades are that important.
The longer it takes us to accept a facilities referendum, the more we will pay. Current estimates place construction costs as rising at 10 percent per year, a significant loss of purchasing power if this project is delayed significantly.
I have heard many complain that the district’s numbers are too vague, and I think those criticisms are valid. The board and referendum committee should be doing more to make those numbers transparent and, better yet, specific. They seem to think that taxpayers want only the big picture; on the contrary, the more detail, the better at this point.
The proposed improvements seem logical, coherent and efficient. In my opinion, the new science labs, special education facilities and facility-wide refurbishments would represent money very well-spent. I initially regarded the parking and athletic improvements skeptically, but my stance has softened.
All students?”not just the varsity athletes or non-students?”will be the primary beneficiaries of the new athletic facilities. Literally every student uses that pool during their RB career, so why not have their pool be adequate, rather than the decrepit eyesore it currently is?
And, while the elevated running track may sound excessive, Baldermann argues convincingly that the elevated track is actually more cost-effective than trying to carve out ground-level space somewhere else.
These plans are not extravagant. To get a true top-of-the-line facility would cost well over $100 million. The fact that we’re being asked for $58.8 million indicates a modicum of financial restraint and awareness of taxpayers’ realities, particularly those who are also facing a District 95 referendum.
Given RB’s landlocked nature, I think the only prudent way to make the improvements is as part of a coherent master plan. Dividing the academic from the athletic improvements in the referendum may satisfy some fiscal purists, but it would prove shortsighted in the end.
Those of us who own older homes are fond of comparing them to the old movie “The Money Pit,” in which a couple buying an old home learns that making the home habitable takes vastly more money than they had ever expected.
But the ultimate money pit is an outdated, inadequate high school that presents obstacles to its students, rather than encouraging them with basics like proper heating and cooling and lab-based science instruction. And that’s no laughing matter.