Most Evanstonians have probably assumed that if the District 65 School Board wants a new school, it has to hold a referendum to let voters decide the issue.
And that is the general rule under state law.
But a legal opinion from the district's attorney suggests several ways the board could escape the referendum requirement.
A letter from attorney Paul Millichap of the Franczek Radelet law firm says the district could avoid the referendum if it leased a building for a new school. And it could impose a separate tax to make the lease payments.
The attorney also says the district could avoid holding a referendum if it funded construction of the new school through the sale of other district-owned property or from grants, gifts or donations. But in that case it could not use any funds for the construction that came from property taxes or from revenue bonds.
The district can also finance additions to schools without seeking voter approval, as long as the addition is smaller than the existing structure — and it's financed several additions to existing schools in that manner in recent years.
And the attorney says the district could issue what are called "alternate bonds" to finance a new school — which would only be subject to a referendum if a sufficient number of voters petitioned to demand one.
Or — if it had sufficient headroom under the property tax cap — it could issue working cash fund bonds and use that money to build the new school.
However the district's finance director, Mary Brown, has concluded that because of the tax caps the district will eventually have to hold a referendum if it is to fund both the a new school and planned expansion projects at existing schools.
The district is currently considering hiring a consultant to explore alternate funding solutions that could avoid the referendum requirement.