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Why the Referendum Failed

From: Mac McIntyre
Category: General Discussion
Date: 14 Nov 2002
Time: 14:19:10 -0500
Remote Name:


The obvious reason the Dist 428 referendum failed is the fact that 55% of participating voters marked 'no' on their ballots. It is generally accepted that those voters chose to reject another tax increase. One point of debate is whether the victim of taxes being too high is Education or the Voter.

I was an undecided-leaning-towards-yes voter until a DeKalb Plan Commission member publicly called for the School District to issue proclamations against the proposed Savannah Green project and against growth in DeKalb in general. When the School District issued that proclamation in the next day's newspaper my vote quickly swayed to the skeptical side of the referendum request.

I had read the information put forward by the Ad Hoc Committee and had conversations with several of the volunteer citizens who served on the committee.

The Plan was designed around improvements and expansion to existing schools, reconfiguration of where 6th grade students attended schools and construction of new gymnasiums. The Plan addressed overcrowding of gyms and cafeterias, badly needed improvements in infrastructure and accomodated up to 2% per year increase in the demand for classrooms for the next 10 years.

The Ad Hoc Committee and School Board explained that the 2% increase was derived through conservative projections based on the fact that DeKalb had grown a little over 1% during the last decade. The methodolgy for accounting for growth did not examine actual data publicly available on the number of already approved but not yet built homes in DeKalb and Cortland nor did it address the probability of new subdivisions coming in. It also did not take into consideration the revenue from annual taxes and impact fees generated by the planned and probable new homes.

I had exchanged emails with School Board President Don Robinson regarding the school's finances and challenges. I learned that all Illinois school districts are struggling with the Tax Cap laws, whether they are experiencing growth or not. And I learned that DeKalb, in particular, faces an additional challenge with the large amount of property in the city that does not pay real estate taxes (government owned)

Another challenged, not widely discussed, is the impact that the mandated Title IX act has on schools. Under Title IX boys and girls must be offered equal opportunity to participate in athletics. The merits of IX are good but the costs have not been fully considered. Thus the need for new gyms and facilities.

The school district should have presented the voting public with a complete picture of the challenges the school district faces and a plan for addressing those needs. Instead it chose to attempt to capitalize on the political spin disseminated by one side of the current debate over growth in DeKalb.

By allowing The Plan to be used as a tool by those opposed to growth an uneasiness for the referendum, if not an alienation, of a large segment of the voting public was created. If growth is stopped or the opportunity for growth is severely limited, how many laborers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, concrete workers, pavers, brick layers, landscapers, carpet layers, drywallers and painters would lose their jobs? How many bankers, realtors, lawyers, title insurers, insurance agents, appraisers and building suppliers would experience a decline in their standard of living?

A referendum needs broad community support to be successful. It must be as inclusive as possible. It cannot exclude or alienate large groups of people like those mentioned above -- or teachers and coaches upset by a poorly thought out firing of a football coach during the season.

If the school district needs a bond issue to help them adjust to the Tax Cap laws, tell us. If they need help addressing the impact of Title IX, tell us. If the tax base is challenged by the large amount of non-taxpaying properties in town, tell us. Paint the whole picture for us and this community will break its neck to support education.

Jump to one side or the other of a debate that is continuing and not yet complete and a whole lot of mistrust is created. And trust, or lack thereof, is what determines the fate of a referendum.

Last changed: 11/14/02

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