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Petition circulating to take $1.8 million bond issue to referendum

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To the editor:

Chester-East Lincoln School is looking at spending $3.7 million to alter, repair and equip the school building. I believe that the voters of the district have the right to approve or disapprove this large an expenditure. The school board approved to amend health, life and safety for $1.751 million. According to state law the district is allowed to sell health, life and safety bonds without voter approval. The board also approved to sell an additional $1.8 million in alternate revenue bonds. The selling of bonds is the borrowing of money to finance a project. Both bond issues are for a 20-year period.

The alternate revenue bond petition for $1.8 million is being filed to give the voters of the Chester-East Lincoln school district the opportunity to approve or reject a portion of the work being proposed. At this point, this is the only opportunity for all registered voters in Chester-East Lincoln school district to have a voice in the project. The referendum will be placed on the April 9 ballot at the same time that six school board members will be elected.

Ten years ago Chester-East Lincoln School was in financial trouble, and I had been elected to the school board two years earlier. I was president of the board of education that had to pass an educational referendum. At that time we told the taxpayers that if the referendum would pass, we would discontinue the selling of alternate revenue bonds, which in turn would lower their property tax rates. Unfortunately, there have been needed repairs to the roof and boiler during the last six years, so the bonds have been continually renewed to finance those projects. These bonds will be paid off in 2013.

Fund balances have been replenished over the last several years due to conservative spending. The 1-cent sales tax was passed, allowing the school to have the money to make needed building repairs. The school has no major compliance issues with health, life and safety at this time. It is important to make upgrades to the building when you have the funds available. But why does the school need to borrow money for 20 years and spend $3.7 million to alter, repair and equip the school building, especially as the state of Illinois continues to cut funding for schools?

I was not alone in collecting signatures for the bond petition. In fact, people were approaching us to sign. There were people who volunteered to collect signatures without being asked. We had 286 signatures by Friday, with more wanting to sign. We only needed 200 signatures. People are concerned about this project and the school with the comments that have been heard. Unfortunately, it is not always convenient for people to attend meetings to voice their concerns.

Of the school board members who voted to approve this bond sale, only three were elected by the voters. Since the 2011 election, the remaining board members were appointed by the existing school board members. I believe there are 11 people running for six open seats on the school board in April. Does this not speak volumes? 

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The bond petition will be filed on Monday, putting it on the ballot for the April 9 election. If it were filed after Jan. 7, it would not be on the ballot until March of 2014. We did not feel that it would be fair to the voters or the school district to wait until 2014 for a vote. Again, at this point, this is the only opportunity for all registered voters in Chester-East Lincoln School district to have a voice.

Jeff Brooks

The petition that will go to the district voters reads as follows:

We the undersigned, being registered voters of Community Consolidated School District Number 61, Logan and DeWitt Counties, Illinois, do herby petition you to cause the following question to be submitted to the voters of said School District: "Shall Chester-East Lincoln Community Consolidated School District Number 61, Logan and DeWitt Counties, Illinois, be authorized to issue $1,800,000 general obligation alternate bonds of said School District to alter, repair and equip the Chester-East Lincoln Elementary School building, as provided for by the resolution adopted by the Board of Education of said School District on the 18th Day of December 2012, said bonds being payable from (i) funds lawfully available in the Operations and Maintenance Fund of said School District, and (ii) collections distributed to said School District from those taxes imposed by The County of Logan, Illinois, pursuant to the County School Facility Occupation Tax Law of the State of Illinois, as amended, unless said revenue sources are insufficient to pay said bonds, in which case ad valorem property taxes upon all taxable property in said School District without limitation as to rate or amount are authorized to be extended for such purpose?", and we do herby further request that said question be certified to the County Clerks of The Counties of Logan and DeWitt, Illinois and submitted to the electors of said School District at the next election at which said proposition lawfully may be submitted to said voters.

[Posted January 07, 2013]

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