North Shore to vote on $174M school referendum

February 1, 2010 4:39:06 PM PST
New Trier Township wants voters to pass a referendum to repair buildings on the Winnetka campus- but the price tag is turning neighbor against neighbor.Hundreds of people are turning out for tours of New Trier Township High School's Winnetka campus to see if a $174 million renovation referendum on Tuesday's ballot is worth their vote. The last stop on the tour is the nearly 100-year-old cafeteria, where, administrators say many students eat lunch in the hallway because it's too small.

"It's absolutely worth every penny," said Diane Becker, parent. "If we're going to compete locally and globally then we need to have these facilities up to par."

"It's over the top, I think right now given to the economy, given our taxes, it's too much right now," said Jasmine Hauser, parent.

"It's a big project for a big school," said Dr. Linda Yonke, New Trier superintendent. She said the renovation would demolish and replace cracked, old buildings with leaky roofs. The project would create bigger classrooms with room for 300 more students.

"We're facing investing millions of dollars in the next few years just to keep the rain from coming in," said Dr. Yonke. "And asking ourselves whether that's a wise investment of taxpayer dollars

"I'd like my tax dollars to be spent once, and spent the right way? as opposed to continuing to patchwork," said Onnie Scheyer, who helps run a community group that is urging voters to vote yes on the referendum.

"The next generation who will buy homes here," said Scheyer, co-chair, Our New Trier. "They want to know that they're moving into a district where people support their schools, and where education will always be the top priority."

Vote No volunteers- like retired New Trier principal Wes Baumann- want voters to turn down the referendum because they believe it's too much money.

"This particular renovation is not going to significantly improve the quality of education," said Baumann, who is worried that a large-dollar-amount referendum now will make voters less likely to pass future referenda for things like teacher pay.

"It is not that we are against any kind of renovation at the school, we just feel the scope and scale is too large, it's the wrong plan at the wrong time," said Baumann.

if it passes -- the district said homeowners could see about a $300 increase on a $10,000 tax bill. Administrators say if the referendum doesn't pass their problems aren't going away -- and they'll introduce a new plan as soon as possible.