Residents Wary of $196 Million ‘Moving 15 Forward’ Referendum Plan

Pile of One Hundred Dollar Bills
Photo: olia danilevich/Pexels

In the middle of a recession and record inflation, Community Consolidated School District 15 in Illinois is asking to spend an additional $196 million. On this November’s ballot, D15 will be asking residents of Palatine and surrounding communities to approve a massive $196 million spending plan, half of which will be a direct property tax increase on residents. Residents which are already living in a state with the second highest property taxes in the nation. One might say that’s an ambitious sell, and many residents are wary.

Moving 15 Forward involves redrawing school lines, construction, maintenance and salary costs. With years in the making, it seems this plan has been the primary focus of Superintendent Laurie Heinz and members of the school board. When asked at a May community presentation what “Plan B” is if this referendum fails given the current economic hardship on residents at this time, Heinz implied there isn’t a “Plan B” and she joked that she’d need to take a few days off to recoup.

Professional videos, flashy websites and expensive consultants have been hired with tax dollars to design and promote the plan. If you looked closely during the Moving 15 Forward community presentations this past summer, you might have even spotted the Moving 15 Forward branded jackets and clothing folks were wearing. According to a recent Freedom of Information request, they have spent hundreds of thousands on planning and promoting the proposal. They spent $42,650 on video production alone. The videos communicate almost no details of the plan, but instead provide vague, feel-good rhetoric filmed similarly to a high-budget Netflix documentary.

Although the school district’s pitch was flashy, it was scarce on figures and specifics, leaving residents with questions and concerns. Why is so much money needed in a school district that’s lost 9% of its students from 2018 to 2021? Where did the $20 million in Covid-19 emergency funds the district received go, especially in years when classes were on-and-off remote? Did the unprecedented 10-year teachers union contract, signed in 2016, strain the financials of the district and facilitate the need to ask for more taxes?

A major concern is why there is no “Plan B” with the priorities they would work to accomplish if the referendum failed and they just had the $93 million in internal financing. Looking through plans presented to the Board of Education, it seems by scaling back on the very ambitious construction projects and some other aspects of the plan, it’s feasible to accomplish major features of the Moving 15 Forward without knocking on taxpayers’ doors.

One of the largest factors that the school district hasn’t addressed is the potential impact of the Chicago Bears moving to Arlington Park. As long as the local government doesn’t hand out massive tax breaks to the Bears, tens of millions more in property taxes will flow into the school district in the years to come. Additionally, Arlington Heights Municipal Code requires the Bears to dedicate land and/or funding to the construction of schools in the district. Not to mention, the Bears’ development will most likely require redrawing of school district lines in a handful of years. So why draw them now?

In a year with a lot of uncertainty, it may be the wrong time to push a massive plan like Moving 15 Forward. The overly ambitious and unprioritized spending plan is being pushed as an all-or-nothing deal on the taxpayers, but in reality, a lot can be accomplished without additional taxpayer assistance. Residents are wary, and rightfully so, to rubberstamp the plan. The district needs to start working on its “Plan B.”

Justin Hegy
Justin Hegy is a resident of Palatine, Illinois.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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