Schools within North Shore District 112 have needed repairs and improvements for years, according to district officials, who believe a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot will go a long way to making them finally happen.
District voters are being asked this election to support a ballot question that would allow the district to issue $114.4 million in obligation bonds to fund renovations across all 10 district schools that include security upgrades, new air-quality systems, accessibility fixes and general modernization (five schools).
“We’ve done our absolute best to reduce the wants to really have this completely full of needs,” Superintendent Dr. Michael Lubelfield said. “So the needs that are top of mind include accessibility, meaning fully meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act 33 years late; No. 2 would be air quality, heating and cooling. … And I think the elephant in the room, so to speak, is safety and security.”
The district’s initial referendum ask was for $108 million; however, following the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, the D112 School Board approved the addition of $6 million in further security enhancements for inclusion in the plan.
According to district estimates, if passed, homeowners in the district can expect to see an additional $569 for a $500,000 home lasting for the next 20 years.
Similar to Winnetka District 36, North Shore 112 has softened its ask from a recent failed referendum.
In 2016, district voters convincingly denied a $198 million referendum that was highlighted by the addition of a state-of-the-art middle school. The referendum lost by a more than 2:1 margin (9,781, or 67.8%, to 4,643, or 32.2%).
Opposition to and supporters of the 2016 referendum organized and clashed prior to the polls. Citizens Actively Renewing Education, or CARE, opposed the district’s plans for a 2,000-student middle school, according to its Facebook page.
In the aftermath of the referendum loss, the district shuttered two schools (Elm Place Middle and Lincoln Elementary) and, according to Lubelfeld, reduced the workforce by 11 percent. From 2017 to 2022, according to budget documents, the district dropped its salary spending 23.8 percent, or about $10 million.
Lubelfeld replaced Michael Bregy as superintendent in 2018, and with a district team and citizen task force, developed a three-phase long-range facility plan to over time tackle improvements across the 10 schools — the newest of which (Oak Terrace Elementary) was 25 years old. The task force, Lubelfeld said, included both residents who supported the ’16 referendum and those who supported it.
For Phase 1 of the new plan, the district used its assets, including reserve funds and new bonds, to overhaul Northwood Middle School (reopened in 2021), rebuild Edgewood Middle School (set to reopen in March of 2023) and modernize Oak Terrace.
The referendum defines the second phase, which the district hopes will update five more schools, including the district’s oldest and maybe most cherished, Ravinia Elementary School. Improvements during Phase 2 will last from 2023 through 2027 and also include security upgrades at all 10 schools.
The final phase (2026-’27) focuses on Red Oak and Green Bay Early Childhood Center, as well as renovations of the district offices and board of education chambers. Officials say district funds and property sales will fund the third phase.
Lubelfeld said the district is proud of the plan and notes that there does not appear to be organized opposition to the referendum.
A supportive cohort has emerged, however. Calling itself a “group of community members encouraging you to vote yes,” Yes to Invest in D112 is rallying support for the referendum on social media and beyond.
The group has an endorsement list that includes Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, Highwood Mayor Charlie Pecaro, five Highland Park City Council members, local park district leaders and the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce.
“Now is the time to invest in our community’s greatest assets — our children and our public schools,” Rotering wrote to the group. “Together we can endure that our children have safe and accessible classrooms designed for today’s and tomorrow’s learners.”
NORTH SHORE DISTRICT 112 REFERENDUM BASICS
Referendum Amount: $114.4 million
Cost to Taxpayer (estimated): $569 for $500,000 home; $1,160 for $1 million home (Tax Impact Calculator)
Past Successful Referenda: 1997 ($40 million)
Last Failed Referendum: 2016 ($198 million)
Project Highlights: security enhancements all schools, ADA compliance all schools, HVAC replacement five schools, gymnasium addition Sherwood, roofing, window, electrical and other building upgrades; technology and other classroom modernizations five schools.
What District 112 voters will see near the end of their ballots
“Shall the Board of Education of North Shore School District Number 112, Lake County, Illinois, alter, repair and equip, build and equip additions to, and improve the sites of existing school buildings, including constructing security improvements and installing secure entrances, cameras, door locking and communications systems, updating fire protection systems, increasing accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, updating technology infrastructure, installing heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, renovating classrooms and other learning spaces and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $114,400,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?”
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