As officials at Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 forge ahead, planning for major expansion/renovations at Brook Park School and S.E. Gross Middle School, one critical aspect of that planning remains unresolved.
Special legislation required for the district to obtain funding for the $35 million construction project is still pending in the Illinois House of Representatives. School officials had hoped the legislation would have passed both houses and would be sitting on the governor’s desk for a signature by now.
“The good news is that, from a timing standpoint, it’s not stopping us from moving forward and doing a lot of these things. It’s not hindering the process,” District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski told school board members at their June 8 meeting. “And if it gets done by June 20, that’s not going to hinder the process. It’s only going to hinder the process if it doesn’t get through.”
State Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) in February sponsored the legislation that would allow District 95 to exceed its debt limit in order to issue $20 million in construction bonds for the improvements.
On April 5, the day after voters in District 95 approved the bond issue, the House voted 62 to 49 to approve the legislation and sent it to the Senate. School officials believed the law would pass both houses by the end of May, but the bill got held up in the Senate.
On May 22, the Senate attached the District 95 debt limit extension to House Bill 760, another debt limit extension bill filed in January by Rep. Lou Lang. That bill was filed to allow East Prairie School District 73 in Skokie to issue about $47 million in bonds to build a new school. Voters in Skokie passed a referendum for that bond issue last November.
The amended House Bill 760 passed the Senate on May 26 by a vote of 51 to 1. The amended bill went back to House for a concurrence vote, which hasn’t taken place yet.
Zalewski told the Landmark that he expects the House to vote on the bill when it reconvenes in late June. He added that, since voters passed the referendum – the measure passed by a 54.5 percent to 45.5 percent margin – he didn’t see any potential roadblocks to approval.
“District 95 satisfied the stress test that we’ve been placing on school districts that want their cap extended, so I don’t foresee any problems,” Zalewski said.
Until the legislation is passed, the school district will be unable to sell the bonds that will help fund the construction. The school district separately will issue $15 million in construction bonds whose debt service will be paid for using cash the district has on hand.
The $20 million bonds attributed to the referendum are expected to increase local property taxes by about $59 for every $1,000 paid in 2016 in real estate taxes. The non-referendum $15 million bond issue will not impact tax bills.
If the debt limit extension legislation clears the House and is signed by the governor, construction is slated to begin in the spring of 2018 and continue through the 2018-19 school year.