The Riverside-BrookfieldHigh School District 208 Board of Education voted unanimously last week to approve a resolution stating their intent to issue $3 million in working cash bonds this fall. 

But 2,053 registered voters can force a vote on the issue in the March 2018 primary election by signing a petition to require a referendum on whether to sell the bonds.

RBHS officials want to borrow $3 million, because they want to try to work out a deal with the Brookfield Zoo and Cook County to give RBHS exclusive control of the ball fields just north of the school. 

The fields are owned by Cook County and are used for overflow parking by the zoo. District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis hopes to work out a deal with Cook County officials, probably a long-term lease, so that RBHS can use the fields without worrying that the zoo will preempt use of the fields by parking cars on the field as they do now on days when the zoo’s south parking lot is filled.

A few years ago, Skinkis had discussions about paying for the zoo to improve a gravel parking lot now used by zoo employees in exchange for giving RBHS use of the softball and baseball fields next to the school.

Those discussions were put on hold a few years ago while District 208 and the village of Brookfield fought in court about the new parking lot for the school. Now that issue has been resolved and the new parking lot is completed.

 “The idea would competition fields for baseball and softball, lower level soccer, possibly lacrosse,” Skinkis said.

Adding $3 million to the working cash fund would also provide a cushion that school officials would like to have just in case the state of Illinois shifts the employer portion of teacher pension costs to local school districts.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen with the pensions,” said District 208 school board member Tim Walsh.

District 208 is projected to end the 2018 fiscal year with reserves of about $13.8 million, which is just over half of its operating budget, red a healthy level. But Skinkis said selling working cash bonds is preferable to drawing down the reserves.

“There’s no way to really build back up those reserves, so you wouldn’t want to necessarily tap into those reserves,” Skinkis said.

Skinkis said that bolstering the working cash fund makes sense now with the district facing financial challenges and uncertainty over the next few years.

“We know that we have several teachers over the next eight or nine years that will be retiring,” Skinkis said. “If we can help keep everything in line and control the deficits and control our spending, that should help the district stay financially stable for the next 10 to 15 years.” 

The district will save money this fall by refinancing bonds issued in 2007, which financed the expansion and renovation of RBHS after a successful referendum in 2006. 

District 208 also plans to sell $2 million in life-safety bonds this fall. If the district refinances the 2007 bonds and sells $5 million in new bonds, the additional property tax burden to the owner of a home worth $350,000 is projected to be about $35 a year for the next 10 years. 

If the district chooses to pay back the life-safety and working cash bonds in seven years instead of 10, the yearly cost to taxpayers would increase to about $60 a year. 

Anyone wishing to force a referendum has 30 days to gather petition signatures. Petitions seeking to force a referendum must be turned into the district office by no later than Oct. 20. 

Ten percent of the registered voters residing in District 208, or 2,053 voters, must sign a petition to force a referendum. Petition forms are available at the district office or on the district’s website.

In 2008, RBHS sold $5 million in working cash bonds after a petition drive failed. A three-person electoral board, which included two school board members, ruled that proponents of the referendum did not submit enough valid signatures; 69 signatures were ruled invalid.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the proposed bonds issuances on Oct. 10. The board will probably vote to issue the bonds at its Oct. 24 meeting.

Some board members said that if a deal could not be worked out with the zoo they would favor abating some or all of the working cash bond proceeds, saying that they do not want to use the $3 million to fund general operating expenses of the district.