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FAQ related to referendum
1. What is a bond referendum? A School Building Bond Referendum is a question posed to the voters of a district over whether or not to grant the Board of Education the authority to issue bonds, or long-term debt, to build new school facilities.
2. Why is a bond referendum needed? This bond referendum is needed because Minooka CCSD 201 has experienced high student enrollment increases and requires new classroom space to accommodate the student growth.
3. What is the tax impact for local taxpayers if the referendum is approved? The financial plan for the new bonds will attempt to keep the tax rate stable throughout the life of the bonds. By restructuring some of our existing debt and phasing in the new bonds as cash is needed, our annual debt payments will be structured to rise each year to allow new developments to help pay for the debt. The plan uses a 5% growth assumption in the district’s equalized assessed value, which is less than our previous three years have experienced.
In that scenario, the tax impact would be negligible. However, if the annual growth were to fall below 5%, the tax rate would rise slightly. Likewise, if the growth continues to exceed 5%, then the tax rate would actually go down.
4. What is the $50 million for exactly? The $50M would provide for a new 5-8 building modeled after the existing Minooka Intermediate School.
5. Why did the cost of the 5-8 school increase to $50M? The previous figure of $45M was based off of a very early estimate developed for the Facilities Advisory Committee in 2017. That estimate was made prior to the site layout and utility improvements being known and developed. As Administration worked with STR Architects and our civil engineers to develop the site plan it became clear that the cost for site improvements needed to increase. The most recent estimate of $50.1M includes all costs of site work, including the projected costs of building a roadway to the east of the property that would be repaid by developments over time.
6. What is the district’s plan for athletics and activities? No decisions have been made regarding athletics and activities, but it is likely that the new school would have its own athletics and activities.
7. When was the last time 201 voted on a bond referendum? The most recent referendum failed to gain voter approval in November 2018. Prior to that, the last successful referendum was in April 2007 for Minooka Intermediate School and Jones Elementary School.
8. What happens if the bond referendum does not pass? If the bond referendum does not pass we will continue to make the necessary arrangements to house the new students in our existing facilities. Each of our schools will make accommodations such as increased class size, loss of labs and fine arts classrooms, and possibly the use of mobile classroom units. We also anticipate that we will no longer be able to participate in our athletic conference due to the large enrollment, which will make scheduling games for our teams quite difficult throughout the year.
9. How much has the district enrollment increased? Since 2013-14, our enrollment has increased from just under 4,000 students to approximately 4,550 students, an increase of over 13% in just six years. Detailed information can be found in the enrollment projections on the District’s website.
10. How much is the district enrollment expected to increase over the next 5 years? The enrollment in grades 5-8 is expected to grow to between 2,300 to 2,400 students over the next five years, well beyond our current capacity of 2,000. Elementary enrollments have stabilized, but we still have over 500 students in each grade level between 2nd and 7th grade, which means our Intermediate and Junior High Schools will have over 1,000 students each for the near future.
11. How will students benefit from the bond referendum? Students in Minooka CCSD 201 will benefit from smaller class sizes, less crowded shared spaces in the schools and more opportunities to participate in activities.
12. How long has the district been studying the needs for additional facilities? The District has been monitoring its enrollments and space utilization for the last three years. Early in 2017 the Board directed the administration to create a Facilities Advisory Committee from our community to review our projections, study our current capacities and develop a recommendation on a course of action. The Committee completed their work in the fall of 2017 and recommended to the Board that they adopt the referendum question, which the Board acted on in December 2017. After that referendum failed to gain voter approval, the Board modified the question to allow for only the single 5-8 building to address the existing and immediate need.
13. When is the election? The election is during the Municipal Election held on April 2, 2019.
14. Is it possible to add onto current buildings rather than build a new one? The layout and footprints of the Intermediate School and Junior High School on the same campus make any additions both impractical and not cost efficient.
15. If a new school is constructed, when will the new boundaries be decided and what will the boundaries be? Boundaries for any new building would not be decided until after the referendum. A stakeholder committee would be convened to examine possibilities and make a recommendation to the Board.
16. How will bus service be affected? Bus Service would be affected only by the addition of a new building that would need to get added to the routes. It is expected that the number of buses going to Minooka Intermediate and Minooka Junior High would decrease as many routes would now go to the northern school.
17. Where will the new building be located? If approved, the new 5-8 school building will be built on the south side of Seil Rd in Shorewood, just east of County Line Rd and just west of the railroad tracks. The District purchased 42 acres there in 2004 and have been holding it for an eventual two building school campus.
18. How many bids were made on the construction project? Concerns over not having multiple estimates. Our estimates are preliminary detailed estimates prepared by professionals from Gilbane, a construction management firm. No work has been bid to date. If approved, each construction package will be publicly bid and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder in accordance with Illinois law.
19. What cost is saved by using the same blueprint/footprint of the existing intermediate school? There are some architectural savings associated with using the prototype building. However, the major benefit is the reduced time of completing the design and construction documents. Designing a building from scratch involves many early meetings with stakeholders before the initial layout of the building is determined. Using a prototype bypasses those months of planning and design and allows a more compact design and construction timeline.
20. What other options were considered besides building another school, and what were the costs of those options? Our Facilities Advisory Committee looked at temporary or portable classrooms, leasing existing space and building additions onto our existing facilities. The Committee decided that portable classrooms and leasing space should be short term emergency options the District could employ to deal with unexpected fluctuations in enrollments. Many other iterations of new buildings, adding onto buildings and re-configuring portions of our existing schools were then brainstormed. Summaries of these options can be found in the Facilities Advisory Committee’s Recommendation to the Board of Education.
21. How do we know taxes will not raise as a result of this referendum? We cannot promise that taxes will not go up. Our plan is to structure the bond payments so that they increase each year as our overall property value increases, allowing the tax rate needed to repay the debt to remain the same. If the tax rate remains stable, a property owner’s taxes would only increase or decrease according to the change in their property assessment.
The financial plan uses a 5% annual growth rate to the overall property value, which is smaller than the growth rate we have seen in the previous three years. If the growth rate exceeds 5%, the tax rate would decrease. If the growth rate is less than 4%, then the tax rate would indeed go up by about $0.01, or $6 per year on a $200,000 home. Our District can only control the structure of the bonds, not the property growth, and we are attempting to implement a structure that mitigates the tax impact as much as possible.
22. What cost is estimated to staff the new building and will that be in addition to the cost of the building? The cost of operating Minooka Intermediate School is approximately $750,000, inclusive of office, custodial, library and cafeteria staff as well as utility payments. Instructional staff will largely follow the students, so as we pull population from our existing facilities the instructional staff at those buildings would decrease.
23. Where did the numbers for the enrollment projections come from? Enrollment projections have been done internally using the cohort retention method, the most commonly used method for projecting enrollments in schools. Outside demographers generally use the same method with slight variations, so we have decided to save the cost of hiring an outside agency at this time.
24. Can we send 5th grade back to elementary schools and build additions to house them? Adding onto our existing elementary schools is estimated at $5M for six classrooms, or 150 seats. Only Aux Sable, Jones and Walnut Trails Elementary are options for additions. Those three additions would total $15M and would add 450 seats at the elementary level, which is less than the current 5th grade class of 539. The overcrowding of our elementary schools would be accelerated.
25. What accountability is there to the taxpayers about how the referendum money will be spent? All funds raised from the referendum and expended on the projects will be approved in open public meetings. Monthly construction reports will be generated to track referendum expenditures separate from the regular operating expenses.
26. Will we need another referendum to staff the building? Instructional staffing will not need to increase much as the staff from the schools losing enrollment will transfer to the new schools. There are operating expenses involved with opening a new school, currently projected to be between $750,000 to $800,000 per year for office staff, custodial, cafeteria and utilities as examples. If available funding is not enough to cover the operating expenses, we would go through a budget reduction process to keep our budget balanced while impacting our instructional programs as minimally as possible. A referendum to cover operating expenses is not planned at this time.
27. How was the structure of the bonds chosen and isn’t it more expensive? The existing debt portfolio of the District is scheduled to elevate each year over the next 10 years, so structuring the new proposed debt includes restructuring portions of the existing debt. The two main choices the Board has evaluated are to target a level annual debt service payment, which would cause the tax rate to increase by about $0.40 in the first year, or to target a level annual tax rate, which would keep the tax rate stable and increase the amount of payments each year as property values and new construction increase the tax base.
A structure that used a level debt service payment would have an initial increase to the tax rate, projected at $0.40 in the summer of 2018. That would have been an increase of approximately $250 per year on a $200,000 home. However the level debt service structure is less expensive overall since you are repaying more principal in the earlier years. The level tax rate structure has little or no immediate impact to the tax rate, but it does backload some of the principal payments which results in a higher interest cost.
After evaluating both options the Board choose the structure that kept our tax rate lower, acknowledging that the structure would result in higher overall debt costs.