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.

Related documents

Draft report of New School Committee

Letter from school attorney Paul Millichap

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. That tells it all !

    Obviously they know it would not be approved so they are trying to find a way of getting around the voters.

    The schools have disappointed so many people in so many ways [test scores, obvious knowledge of students, Board/Admin. 'sweetheart deals' ,etc. and so voters want to respond and votes for new schools, bonds is about only way left since they won't respond to residents otherwise.

  2. D65 is making all of us look like fools


    The fix is in, folks.

    The New-School Referendum Committee is stacked with pro-Fifth Ward school activists. They are desperately seeking ways to take the choice AWAY from Evanston taxpayers on building a new school that will cost US about $25 million.

    Now, taxpayers have to sit still while D65 will PAY a consultant to search ways to build the new school WITHOUT taxpayer approval. You can squarely blame this political chicanery squarely on the shoulders of D65 board members Katie Bailey and Jerome Summers who have made this a NO. 1 priority.

    Isn't it interesting that Richard Murray of the Murray Company went to a New School Referendum Committee meeting yesterday and told the audience "it might be possible to employ “alternative funding options” for new classroom space that would not require a [voter] referendum."

    Yes sir. Richard Murray is plugging for business – there's your consultant D65 will hire. I'd like to know how much us taxpayers are on the line to pay Murray to tell the D65 School Board how it can get $25 million without voter approval. What an OUTRAGE!!!!

    An unnamed black minister said at the meeting "If there’s no school, the community will perish." Ah, there hasn't been a school in the Fifth Ward since 1967. Has the community perished?

    Folks, we saw what Hardy Murphy does to any D65 school board member who questions him or his pet projects. WE ALL HAVE TO CALL OUR SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS and DEMAND they put a STOP to this PROCESS NOW!!!!!.

    We pay enough taxes already. We should have the RIGHT to VOTE whether or not we want to pay $25 million for a new school.

    Our property taxes keep going up, property values keep going down, school services decline, classrooms are getting bigger and good teachers are getting laid off all the while D65 enrollment is less than it was 10 years ago. And D65 School Board members want to borrow and spend $25 million we don't have to build a school we don't need and do it without voter consent?

    This is such an outrage that it might require more than a petition to stop it but a lawsuit because it is against taxpayers' interest to pay a consultant to find a way to TAKE away our RIGHT to VOTE on an item that will cost $25 MILLION!!!!

    Maybe a recall of Summers, Bailey or Murphy might be in order.

    What in the world is going on in Evanston? Is there something in the water that sucks away common sense?

    1. D65 and a new school

      Anonymous Al,

      Do not imply malice where sheer incompetence can explain behavior.

  3. the city, county, state &

    the city, county, state & nation are mired in debt and recession—and there's talk of adding a new school to a district already floundering in a fiscal nightmare???

    to even suggest such a plan without voter approval by referendum is absurd and an insult to the already over taxed residents of Evanston. 

  4. Charter / Redistrict

    I attended the 5th ward meeting and there is a strong and compelling case that the community would be well served by having a neighborhood school.   It's easy to understand why it should be a priority.

    I want to see this happen and I want to see it bring excitement, energy and higher achievement.   

    I believe it should be done with current resources and bringing in a Charter School with a record for success.

    Let me explain why:

    1) Referendum or not:   This community is taxed out.   Our population has barely changed in the past decade, and our schools – which recently added 3 or 4 new additions, currently support less students than they have in the past.   Certainly some schools have overcrowding.   Others have space.   

    I'm afraid that if we go to a referendum, it won't pass and the rift in this community will grow.   If we build a new school without a referendum – adding a tax burden (even if it's only ongoing staff and operation) without community sponsorship.   The rift in this community will grow,    Our taxes are already high, both relatively and literally.

    2) Charter! Charter!  Charter!   Find an strong Charter that has proven success.   Charters have flexibility to lengthen the school day and the school year (ours is among the shortest in the nation) giving kids more time on task.  They have much more latitude to meet the needs of the specific community.   And, we'd infuse the entire community with new ideas and inspiration.

    3) Redistrict.   We need to do it anyway.   We'll have to do it if we build new.  Redistrict.  Use current resources we have and get an exciting Charter option in the community.   Both King Lab and Kingsley could serve as local schools for the 5th ward.   Build a walking bridge over McCormick to Kingsley and increase the safety of all pedestrians – students included.

    I want to see the community in the 5th ward get their own neighborhood school.   It needs to happen and it needs to happen now.   Let's come up with a plan that actually can fly in an environment of slow to no growth during hard economics times.   

    The City is cutting right and left,   Let's figure out a way to make this work.   Let's give this plan a chance of success.  

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