IPSD 204 considers tax referendum for facility and operating improvements

The IPSD 204 Howard Crouse Education Center.
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Indian Prairie School District 204 is considering adding a tax referendum question to the 2024 general election ballot to address the district’s critical needs. The district is deciding whether to propose a $0.37 limiting rate referendum or a $420 million bond.

“The proposal is really about extending a tax that’s currently going towards bond and interest payments. We’d like to extend that tax once those bonds are paid off so that we can reinvest in the facilities that those bonds built during the 1990s and 2000s,” said Matt Shipley, Chief School Business Official for IPSD 204.

What do the IPSD 204 referendum options look like?

Under the $0.37 limiting rate referendum, residents will pay $0.37 per $100 of equalized assessed value (EAV). This option is identical to the current tax residents are paying towards the bond that built Metea Valley High School. That bond was approved in 2006 and is set to be paid off on Dec. 30, 2026.

If the limiting rate referendum passes, it will last indefinitely, according to Mark Rising, IPSD 204 board member.

“I would eventually like us to be able to look at abating taxes at some point down the road, once we take care of this, the building issues and the staffing issues we have,” said Rising.

The second option is a $420 million bond, which would be the second largest in the state’s history if it passes. The bond will have a repayment period of 20-25 years, according to Shipley.

Officials said both options would cost the same for taxpayers and neither would result in a net tax rate increase. It also won’t overlap with the tax paying the current bond that built Metea. If the referendum does not pass, or if no referendum is put on the ballot, taxpayers will see a reduction of about $93 per $100,000 of property at the end of 2026.

Some board members concerned over the community feedback

Before deciding on what action to take, IPSD 204 has been gathering feedback from residents through surveys and has held multiple informational meetings for the public.

At the district’s June 10 Board of Education meeting, Shipley and Paul Hanley, managing director of Beyond Your Base, a group that the district has been working with to decide on funding options, presented survey feedback on the options from the last few months.

Hanley said bonds historically tend to do better than limiting rate referendums, which proved true in this circumstance. After the second hybrid poll from May 30 to June 2, data showed that 40% (uninformed ballot) and 45% (informed ballot) said yes to the $0.37 limiting rate, while 43% (uninformed ballot) and 52% (informed ballot) approved the $420 million bond.

“I think the bond has a good chance of passing and I think the limiting rate will be a struggle,” said Hanley.

Some board members expressed concerns about the survey results.

“My concern there is it’s 20 years and we just came out of 20 years. If we do 20 years again, guess what’s going to happen in 20 years? We’re going to have building issues again and the bond is not even addressing our class sizes and class sizes was [the] number two thing of what people wanted to see in any type of funding proposal,” said Rising.

According to Rising, another concern is that the referendum question on the ballot won’t state it’s a no net tax rate increase, meaning voters will only see that the district wants to increase taxes or take out another bond.

“So a lot of that work is going to have to be done by the committee to educate people between August and November,” said Rising.

The Board of Education will make a final decision at its Aug. 5 meeting on which option, if any, to place on the ballot.

What is the district looking to do if a referendum passes?

If a referendum is approved by voters, IPSD 204 will continue to receive $25.5 million annually after 2026, to pay for critical facility and operating needs. 

Facility needs include safety and security upgrades, such as updating main entrances with the necessary functions and visibility; infrastructure improvements for aging and damaged property, as well as ADA compliance needs and additional space; and updates to learning environments and resources.

Improvements will be made at all 33 buildings with a strong focus on Waubonsie Valley High School and Hill and Gregory middle schools, as they have the most significant needs. 

The district will also focus on Neuqua Valley High School to ensure a smooth transition for freshmen at the Birkett Center to the main campus. If the freshmen move out, the district plans to move Gail McKinzie High School, programs from Indian Plains High School, and the STEPS program into Birkett.

The other target area for the district is the operating needs. D204 has an average class size of 26 students, while the state average is 21. It hopes to reduce class sizes, especially in grades three through five, and to hire more teachers.

“We’re also hearing from our community and our students directly about the need for additional counselors and some mental health supports. So we would like to have some funds to hire some of those additional professionals as well,” said Shipley.

District officials said the $420 million bond might not be enough to improve its operating needs due to the limited 20-year lifespan. The limiting rate referendum however is indefinite and allows the district to maintain and protect any improvements made.

More information on the funding proposal can be found on the IPSD 204 website. The district also released a video on the facility needs it hopes to address.

“We believe this is a proposal that’s critical to keep our schools as some of the highest performing schools in the state, and ultimately we want to keep Naperville and the Aurora area as one of the best communities in the country,” said Shipley.

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