Lockport, Mokena voters reject school referenda

April 6, 2011 3:44:59 PM PDT
Voters in several suburban communities rejected referenda in Tuesday's elections that would have meant higher property taxes to help pay for school improvements.

ABC7 took a closer look at two referenda in southwest suburban Lockport and Mokena.

At Lockport High Wednesday, the halls were filled with students rushing to their next class. Many from the Lockport and Homer Glen areas say there's no doubt about it -- it's crowded where they get their education.

"The hallway can come to a complete stop," one senior told ABC7.

The administration is now faced with its sixth failed attempt to get voter approval to expand by tearing down the original Lockport High School 1.5 miles away and building a campus about a mile east of the main school for $80-90 million. The school is over 100 years old and faces $30 millions in renovation costs, primarily related to fire safety and asbestos, according to administrators.

"I do believe out of all the plans that our school board has presented to the taxpayers, this was the most fiscally responsible," said Kimberley Brehm, Lockport High School spokesperson.

Beyond the highway, abutting the farmer's field for the future school lie some of the expensive homes of Homer Glen and historically the area has opposed the expansion. A Homer Glen official says it is not about money but trust.

"This is a terrible economic time, and if they're going to say it costs $85 million, how do I know we really need it?" said Steve Balich, Clerk of Homer Glen Township.

The mayor of Lockport says that distrust doesn't faze him and he will try again for the expansion in a seventh referendum.

"I have always believed that education is the cornerstone of any community. I believe that this is very, very true, that we really have to solidify this area," said Mayor Dev Trivedi.

The same kind of struggle is taking place 15 minutes south in Mokena where a request for a 29 cent property tax increase was rejected. Physical therapist Drew Haverstock worked to pass it.

"We have made a lot of places a destination place for our educators and that is through kindergarten. Our extracurricular things are gone like sports," said Haverstock.

Like the proponents in Lockport, those who seek greater funding for Mokena's public schools are vowing to continue the fight, guaranteeing southwest suburban voters en masse more chances to consider their choices.