District 79 tax increase forum: slick presentation for hefty price tag

District 79 lays out its expensive grand plans for “21st century” school rebuild/expansion, but wants greatly outnumber its actual needs

Superintendent Kristin Kopta presentation skills were clearly in evidence at the February 28 District 79 tax increase referendum forum, as a professional, well choreographed operation.

Erick Sickbert of DLA Architects explains his architectural drawing vision for District 79

The walk through and presentation were proceeded by a professionally produced propaganda piece which seemed to take cues from Ilinois JB Pritzker’s “children-everywhere” campaign ads occupying Illinois airwaves.

But the laundry list District 79 presented to the audience was mainly that of wants, not needs.

And it glossed over one of the most important aspects of the presentation: the high price tag for homeowners. The amount given was an $1.36 increase per $100 of home value. As per the mailing that was sent out, passage of the referendum would cost a homeowner on average between $1,000 to $1,500 more in property taxes per year.

Kopta lavished praise on the board’s handing of the school’s finances. However, a school board and administration that knows how to budget properly would have been able to stay on top of many of these maintenance issues.

Also in the audience were members of the Village Board, including Mayor James Chmura, who Kopta claimed was “supporting” the referendum.

Supporters of SD79 PAC is… mainly school employees?

A political action committee, Supporters of SD79, has been formed to support the tax increase. Many of its members, with blue “Supporters of SD79” shirts, were present in the audience and at tables handing our literature, and are also visible in the tour video at the end of this article.

However, at one point Kopta asked the teachers in the audience and at the tables to stand up… and most of the blue “Supporters of SD79” shirts stood up.

Here’s the big question: how many people without a personal financial interest in District 79 are actually involved with Supporters of SD79? Not very many, it seems. The few “not-employees” may be vocal, but they do not make up the majority.

It is surely a conflict of interest for employees to be involved pushing a referendum that will benefit their public body.

Regional Superintendent Mark Klaisner explains the process of combining school districts

School consolidation option discussed

One of the highlights of the night however, was not the tax increase, but a short discussion by Mark Klaisner, the regional superintendent over the area school districts,  about how Norridge and Harwood Heights school districts could consolidate to save money.

Norridge and Harwood Heights has FOUR school districts for only FIVE schools. The duplicative administrative costs are a burden on taxpayers and is money not making it into the classroom.

Having so many school districts is a grand waste of taxpayer dollars. We could take half of the money saved, put it into the classroom, and give the remaining half back to the taxpayers.

Expensive “21st century school” is a want, not a need

In conclusion, the forum did expose some serious maintenance issues, and we question why the school hasn’t acted on these issues.

If they were able to hand out 7.5% raises to teachers during the first two years of their new three contract, then surely they have the money to fix at least some of the issues presented.

An expanded school would also increase both labor and maintenance costs, further increasing the likelihood of future tax increase to support the new, bigger school.

The biggest problem with their proposal, is there is no state mandate to build DLA Architect’s vision of a 21st century school. It’s a want, not a need.

Therefore, the District cannot credibly classify a $25 million dollar referendum as a “need”.

This very expensive tax increase referendum is clearly being pushed primarily NOT by residents concerned with their community, but employees and board members of the school who will benefit, and private corporations which have already or will profit from it.

Video of the February 28 2018 D-79 Forum presentation and tour

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