There are no plans to hold a referendum for Riverside-Brookfield High School this spring. In a story published by the Clarion, Riverside-Brookfield High School’s student newspaper on Oct. 13, District 208 School Board President Matt Sinde was quoted as saying “We will not have a referendum this year.”
In an interview with the Landmark later that day, Sinde was not quite so definitive, but said much the same thing. Sinde said that the District 208 school board has not even begun to talk about a referendum and instead will be focusing on next year’s budget.
“The board has not discussed the referendum issue at all, and if you were going to do a referendum you’d be discussing it sooner,” Sinde told the Landmark.” The board has not discussed putting a referendum on the ballot at all. We need to be able to start looking at developing the budget for next year.”
Sinde said it takes eight to 12 months develop a referendum question and campaign.
“The board will have to decide if they want to do a referendum,” Sinde said. “However, it requires a long lead time for re-education of the taxpayers to show them why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Sinde would not predict when the district would seek to pass a referendum.
He said the board is focused on developing a budget for the 2012-13 school year.
“We’re going to be looking at the budget very, very hard,” Sinde said, adding that there will be no sacred cows.
Board member Laura Hruska, who opposed last spring’s referendum which lost overwhelmingly when nearly 77 percent of voters voted against the tax hike proposal, agreed that the board has yet to even discuss another referendum and instead is focused on understanding the budget.
“It’s not a topic of conversation,” Hruska said. “We learned from that last vote that people have grave concerns. I think this board is really trying to do due diligence and understand what’s going on.”
The board is intent on giving the district’s new superintendent, Kevin Skinkis, and the new financial officer, Tim McGinnis, as well as a school board with four new members a crack at developing a budget. The current year’s budget was largely developed by the former leadership of District 208, led by former Interim Superintendent David Bonnette and former Business Manager Chris Whelton.
RBHS is projected to have cash reserves of nearly $4.9 million at the end of this fiscal year on June 30, 2012. The school is projecting an operating deficit of about $920,000 this year. Conceivably, the district could cover deficits for a few more years, though reserves are getting dangerously low.
The district is potentially in line to receive an $8.9 million grant from the Illinois Capital Development Board to compensate the school for some of the money it spent on its recent renovation and addition. However, that grant may or may not come through as there are 48 other school districts ahead of District 208 that must be paid before RBHS would get any money from the state.
Sinde denied that the possibility of the receiving the state grant was a reason for not going to referendum.
“The 8.9 million? Don’t count on it,” Sinde said. “You don’t know if you’re going to get it. If you count on it and don’t get it, you’re going to put yourself in a world of hurt.”
Last year the administration put out projections of cuts that would have to be made if the referendum was defeated. The document assumed that if the referendum was defeated in 2011, as it was, the school would try again in 2012.
If the referendum lost in 2012 the administration said it would cut all extracurricular activities, including all sports, and the school would basically shut down at 3:15 p.m.
Many in the community doubted that the school would really do that and considered it a scare tactic to drum up yes votes for the referendum.
Sinde said Thursday that the current board does not feel that it is obligated to follow through on that recommendation.
“I don’t feel bound by that at all,” Sinde said.
But Sinde wouldn’t commit to having sports next year. He said that the board and administration will work to develop a budget and take a fresh look at everything.
“We are working to develop the budget,” Sinde said. “That’s all I’m saying right now. We do not know what we’re cutting. We don’t know anything like that.”
Sinde said the board is committed to providing students with a good education.
“We’ll make the necessary cuts and adjustments to make sure that our children are educated and make sure we’re meeting the needs of our students,” Sinde said.