Sunday, March 19, 2006

Supporting the 204 Referendum

I’ve been remiss in talking about a local issue that is before the voters in Naperville on Tuesday. Our school district (Indian Prairie School District 204) has again put a bond referendum on the ballot asking whether we can build a third high school. We have two high schools currently (Waubonsie and Neuqua Valley) that house approximately 9,200 students. This is arguably over capacity already (more on that in a moment), but thanks to Naperville’s continued growth, the high school student population may swell by as many as an additional 800 students in the next five years.

Should that happen, our two high schools would become the two largest high schools in the entire state. To address the issue, the School Board is proposing construction of a third high school.

In the five years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen the city this energized politically. Both sides of the issue (the pro group is here and the anti group is here) are actively lobbying voters, and yard signs outnumber candidate yard signs.

I’m strongly in favor of the referendum, and I’m in good company. My organization, the Naperville Democrats, voted to endorse last month. In addition, the Naperville and Aurora Chambers of Commerce support the referendum, and the two local papers (the Sun and the Daily Herald) both support the referendum. The Mayor, six of the seven school board members, the 204 teachers’ union, 25 PTAs from elementary, middle and both high schools — all support the referendum.

Passing the referendum will not raise my property taxes (by refinancing the district’s current debt from a 12 year payout to a 20 year payout, my property taxes will actually go down starting in a few years), and the construction of a new high school will almost certainly raise my property values. Even if the projected population increases don’t materialize as quickly as predicted, a third high school in the district will lead to lower student/teacher ratios and more opportunities for extracurricular involvement for more kids.

A word on enrollment. The no group has taken the district’s prior state filing to show total capacity as in excess of 10,000 students when the District claims that the current capacity is 8,400 students. Why the discrepancy? Superintendent Crouse explains it fairly well. The short answer? Just because you have 30 seats in each classroom doesn’t mean that all 30 seats get used in every class and every period. Let’s say my kid wants to take art history, and only 9 classmates are similarly interested. Meanwhile, there are 50 kids who want to take web page design. Just because the art history classroom has 20 additional seats, we’re supposed to take the “extra” 20 from web page design and shove them in there? No, of course not. As a result, the state takes max capacity and discounts it by 20% to get to an “actual” capacity. Our current capacity is 8,400 students. And yet the two high schools between them already have 9,200 students.

The impact of this overpopulation? Some schools have lunch periods starting at 9:30am. Neuqua high school has hallways and stairways that are now one way to deal with the crammed hallways. Intervals between classes had to be extended because students couldn’t make it from one class to another in enough time.

Naperville has earned a reputation as being the best place in the country to raise a family. Passing the referendum will ensure that we plan for future growth, and ensure that we retain a top-tier school system. Vote yes on Tuesday.

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