Northfield, Elections

The $90 Million Question: Details and local viewpoints on Avoca District 37’s referendum

Jump ToSupport and Opposition | Referendum Basics | Ballot Language

Avoca District 37’s mission to improve its facilities will reach a pivotal moment on Election Day.

Voters in the district — which includes portions of Wilmette, Winnetka and Northfield — will decide if Avoca 37 can borrow $89.8 million to support the construction of a new school and renovations in its other school, Marie Murphy junior high.

The district has workshopped districtwide upgrades since 2021 and announced its intentions to move forward with facility improvements in May 2023, ramping up conversations with the community on which route to traverse to address aging infrastructure and outdated security, among other things. Three options were proposed.

The Avoca School Board voted a few months later to place an $89.8 million referendum on the March ballot to support one of those options: a new grammar school. If approved, the funding would enable the district to build a new pre-K through fifth-grade school in Wilmette near its sister school, Marie Murphy. The new school would replace Avoca West in Glenview.

If the referendum passes, district residents with a $350,000 home would see an annual increase of approximately $1,100 on their property-tax bill, according to district estimates.

Support and Opposition

After the School Board decided a new school is the best option, the district dedicated a webpage, All In For Avoca 37, to more details on the referendum and what it would support.

In a message to the community, Superintendent Dr. Kaine Osborne says the decision to go to voters was a “direct result of feedback” from the community and that significant facility improvements are a long time coming.

“It will have been 25 years since we had meaningful investment in our buildings,” he says in the statement. “Sixty-five-year-old Avoca West has had six additions and like any home with such work done to it, it does not function at a level our kids and staff deserve.”

In cooperation with the district, the community group Vote Yes for Avoca, has promoted the referendum on its website and through outreach.

Peter Leckerling, chairperson for the group, told The Record that Avoca 37’s financial limitations — lower enrollment and tax base than its peers — have made it difficult to keep up with updates made within other New Trier High School feeder districts and the referendum will allow Avoca to catch up.

Another group leader, John Cox, further explained that the referendum supports Avoca staff feedback that the small and awkward Avoca West facilities are problematic, especially for students who need extra support.

Leckerling and Cox said that other options, such as building fixes and updates that would cost approximately $55 million, would not be as reliable and eventually would lead to more fixes and more costs.

Leckerling said the district has a history of stretching its finances farther than other local districts and have not come to the community for a bond referendum in decades; though, Avoca voters did approve a $1.1 million increase to the district’s annual tax limiting rate in 2009.

“I can’t think of a more important investment for my child’s education and where I live,” Cox said of supporting the referendum. “To invest in quality education and the quality of the school is an investment in the future and present of the community.”

Parents have also united on the other side of the argument with an initiative called Save Avoca West, which offers details of its arguments on its website.

Group spokesperson Jasmina de la Torre said the district and the Vote Yes group is overselling the need for a new school.

She says many parents want a scaled-back proposal and feel that the $55 million in Avoca West fixes are appropriate at this time.

“It’s the wrong time because asking for $89 million is too much,” she said. “A brand new building is not necessary. It’s a want, not a need. … We’d like to see (the district) do some upgrades and an addition and ideally keep the a campus in Glenview.”

De la Torre said the $89.8 million would not cover any potential road improvements necessary to accommodate a new school in Wilmette and that burden would also cost taxpayers, and Avoca West is already located in a safer location, in regard to traffic and congestion.

The added tax burden the referendum would bring is also too much to bear for many district families, she said.

Avoca District 37 Bond Referendum

Referendum Amount: up to $89.8 million
Additional Cost to Taxpayer (estimated, annual): $1,092 per $350,000 in home value, up to 25 years
Recent Successful Referenda: 2009 ($1.1 million expansion of annual limiting tax rate), 1977
Project Scope: Construction and equipment of a new school building in Wilmette to replace Avoca West in Glenview and renovations to Marie Murphy junior high school, including security upgrades, infrastructure fixes and HVAC improvements.

Ballot Question

“Shall the Board of Education of Avoca School District Number 37, Cook County, Illinois, build and equip a new school building to replace the Avoca West School Building, alter, repair, renovate and equip the existing Marie Murphy School Building, including constructing security improvements and installing access controls, replacing portions of roofs, flooring, plumbing and electrical systems, renovating science labs, classrooms and other instructional spaces, updating instructional technology, improving heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and increasing accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, improve school sites and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $89,800,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?”

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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