Six of the nine candidates running for four seats on the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board support a $139.8 million referendum that is also on the ballot April 2.
Marty Turek and Nagla Fetouh, who are running against each other for a two-year term, both back the referendum.
But for the three, four-year terms, only Yvonne Mayer, Cynthia Hanson, Erik Held and Kathleen Hirsman support the referendum. It is opposed by candidates Urszula Tanouye, Matt Marron and Fotini Bakopoulos.
Tanouye and Bakopoulos said they do not believe the referendum reflects the will of the majority of voters.
Bakopoulos said the buildings’ needs were not assessed with both schools at full capacity.
Tanouye said she would work to create a package of improvements that addresses the district’s most urgent needs and those that have consensus support, and then continue a community dialogue to develop a long-term plan.
Marron said the school board should wait until it negotiates a new teachers contract before asking voters to approve a referendum. The current contract with the Hinsdale High School Teachers Association expires at the end of June 2020.
After voters rejected the district’s $166 million referendum in November 2018, the school board reduced staff for next school year to reflect a 25:1 student-to-teacher ratio and cut some sports, clubs and activities — include football, swimming and marching band — to afford what it considers the most critical projects related to safety, security and accessibility.
The four board members who win election in April would constitute a majority of the seven-member board and could overturn the decisions. Hirsman, the only incumbent running, voted against the cuts in December, saying she favored smaller cuts across a wider range of programs.
Even if the referendum does not pass, none of the candidates is willing to move forward with the cuts without at least re-examining them.
Bakopoulos said she would vote to reinstate all the sports and clubs the board authorized eliminating next year.
“A district with our tax base should never be in the position of cutting co-curricular activities or endangering the academic integrity of either school,” Bakopoulos said.
Held said he would love to reverse all the cuts, but cannot promise to do so if he is elected, without knowing where the money would come from to pay for them.
Held believes the current board looked at the problem from all angles, but thinks the new board after the election should make one final review of the numbers with the administration, “to be absolutely certain there is no wiggle room.”
Turek said the district will have to make cuts if the referendum fails, but the new board should decide exactly what those cuts would be.
If the referendum fails, Hirsman said the board should re-evaluate the 2019-2024 timeline the district prepared to complete the most pressing projects, in terms of priorities and how they can be scheduled or funded to minimize impact on students.
Hanson said the projects related to safety need to be completed, but is open to finding a way to fund them that affects students less.
Mayer and Fetouh fear cutting extra-curriculars could cause some students to lose scholarships or be less competitive with other college applicants.
Instead, Mayer said, the board should look for alternative funding sources, “but only if funding to fix the pools at both high schools can also be raised.”
Marron said the board should consider streamlining sports by offering fewer football teams, for example, and coordinating with private sports clubs. He also backs imposing activity fees. The district already charges $55 each for the first two activities a student is involved in. For sports, the fee is $115 each for the first two sports.
If some activities have to be cut, students can gain extra-curricular experiences through volunteer organizations such as Scouts, or working as summer camp counselors, tutoring or other part-time jobs, Marron said.
Many of the projects in the April referendum involve basic infrastructure, such as $11.7 million combined for replacing roofs at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high schools, $3.9 million to replace ventilation systems at the two schools, $1.4 million for new boilers and hot water system at Hinsdale South and $5.4 million so all areas inside and outside the school would meet the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act.
South’s boilers are the same ones that were installed when the school was built in 1965.
Other projects address the need for greater security in schools, such as the $5.6 million for safety and security upgrades, which would cover integrated cameras and door locking systems, new electrical distribution panels, backup generators, and a new two-way intercom system throughout the school.
Some improvements are needed to keep District 86 competitive with other high-performing school districts in the Chicago area, school officials say. These include renovating and expanding engineering, technology and media production classrooms, for an estimated $6.6 million at South and $2.1 million at Central.
The district would use referendum money to replace the artificial turf at the stadiums and practice fields, estimated to cost $2.3 million for both schools, would spend about $1.3 million to redo the tennis courts at both schools; and replace the press box and grandstand including foundations at Central for an estimated cost of $1,260,000.
The most expensive items would be replacing the pools at both schools, with new ones same size as the existing pools, six-lanes of 25-yards each. Central’s pool was built in 1958 and South’s pool was built in 1965.
The new pools would be deep enough for competitive diving, a shortcoming of the existing pools.
Swimmers and coaches have complained about the poor air quality around Central’s pool, which a pool audit done by Counsilman Hunsaker Aquatics said was probably due to an insufficient ventilation system and the aging Dectron dehumidification unit. Central also has only one locker room, which means sometimes one group has to change in the washrooms across the hall from the pool, while swimmers of the opposite sex use the locker room.
The estimate for the new pool at Central is $17 million, which is almost $10 million more than the $7.3 million estimate for the new pool at South. The difference is South’s pool would be rebuilt in the same spot. Central’s pool would be moved to an area that would allow room for future expansion, if funds become available, perhaps through private fundraising.
Workers will have to excavate for Central’s pool, new locker rooms for swimmers and corridors to connect the natatorium to the school. The new pool would be built where a detention area is now, so additional detention would have to be built. The estimated cost includes about 29 percent in contingencies.
A complete list of projects included in the referendum can be viewed at d86.hinsdale86.org/Page/1521.
The district also has an online calculator at d86.hinsdale86.org/Page/1518 for residents to figure, using the value of their home and the exemptions they claim, how much their property taxes would rise.
The owner of a house with a market value of $500,000 would pay about $283 more in taxes annually for the 20 years of the bonds’ term, based on the bonds having an average interest rate of 3.96 percent, chief financial officer Josh Stephenson said.