Referendum Facts and Information
We face unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, our Pennoyer School District 79 students, staff, parents, and community members have come together to face these challenges head on. We’ve collaborated as a family to find the best ways to continue to empower our students and prepare them for success while also keeping everyone healthy and safe.
While navigating the pandemic continues to be our district’s top priority, we must also look to the future.
It’s no secret that our crumbling school building holds our teachers and students back. Built in 1954, our aging school building has had few infrastructure updates over the past thirty years. We’ve maintained our mechanical systems so well they’ve lasted way beyond their life expectancy, but now replacements are needed as they’re so old we can’t even get parts for some of them anymore, leading to hot, stale air in some classrooms while others are very cold. We have lead in some of our water sources and asbestos still in the building. Our science lab is so old we’ve had to shut down all the sinks and gas burners, and our library is two former classrooms with the middle wall removed and some bookshelves thrown in. Our building isn’t ADA accessible, forcing special needs students to crawl or be carried up the stairs. And our 70-year-old bathrooms are so run down we have students who won’t use the bathroom at school, they hold it until they get home.
Our community collaborated on a plan to solve these urgent infrastructure challenges. Working together, we developed a fiscally responsible long-term plan to improve educational environments, better maintain our building, and empower our teachers to fully implement 21st century learning for our students.
However, with an uncertain economy due to the pandemic and rising property taxes, District 79 residents narrowly voted down our previous referendum and asked us to find a more fiscally responsible path forward.
We listened. Using district reserves and through restructuring current bonds, we found a way to pay for new HVAC in our classrooms without any additional cost to taxpayers. The remaining $8.6 million of the plan will appear on our April 6, 2021 ballots as a referendum, a win for taxpayers as this new referendum accomplishes everything our 2020 referendum aimed to accomplish at a 21% lower cost. This reduces the tax impact for the average district household to $197 per year—the price of 1 postage stamp per day.
If the referendum is successful, we will be able to:
- Fix Our Aging Infrastructure and Keep Our Children Safe
- Reduce Long-Term Maintenance Costs
- Provide 21st Century Learning Environments for Our Students
We will be able to address urgent life safety, infrastructure, and mechanical needs, leading to a safer, better-maintained school. This includes investments in roofs, floors, electrical, energy efficiency, asbestos abatement, and safer locker rooms. We will also be able to address plumbing needs including bathrooms and drinking fountains, which is especially important after lead was found in our water. This will provide healthier water for students, safer and more accessible bathrooms, and access to drinking fountains and bottle filling stations. And we will be able to improve classrooms and create new 21st century learning spaces including a STEM lab, library media center and maker space. This will allow our staff to fully implement our modern curriculum and will lead to increased student achievement.
This will allow us to better provide our students a 21st century education, building on our collaborative and innovative approach to learning by focusing on each student’s needs and tailoring their educational experience to how they learn best. Because of the diligent work of our teachers, staff, and parents, our students perform significantly higher than the state average on academic tests, often over 10% higher than the state average. Imagine the success we could achieve if our facilities were improved to support rather than hinder our modern curriculum!
This also aligns with our dedication to fiscal responsibility. Because of our small district size and the limited financial support we receive from the state and federal governments, we must be especially frugal. We spend the lowest amount per pupil of any of our partner districts and 27% less than the state average. We haven’t had a tax rate increase since 1992, giving us the 2nd lowest tax rate of any of our partner districts. We reduced administrative costs, and in response to COVID-19 our administrative and support staff took pay freezes. Our fiscal responsibility has earned the district Financial Recognition status by the Illinois State Board of Education the past five years with a nearly perfect score.
Right now, our community has #PennoyerPride in our students, our curriculum, and our staff—but not our building. CNN even featured our school in a national report on crumbling infrastructure. Providing our students and community a school building they can be proud of would benefit us all, expanding opportunities for our children while increasing our property values.