Wilmette, News

After a failed referendum, what’s next for Avoca District 37?

Avoca School District 37 is hoping to get on the same page with the community in the wake of a referendum failure in March.

More than 75 percent of Avoca voters — or 1,559 of 2,105 votes — opposed the district taking on $89.8 million in debt to fund a new grammar school, according to results from the Cook County Clerk’s Office.

The district now plans to take a step back and collect more and more-detailed feedback from its residents, said Superintendent Dr. Kaine Osburn.

“The most important next move is to figure out how to re-engage with the community about the needs of the school,” he said. ” … We have a vote for a reason and the community indicated it couldn’t support the proposal the board put forth in the referendum. The board and administration will develop a plan to re-engage and make sure people understand about what the options are before seeking another referendum in the future.”

Osburn said “everyone agrees” that improvements are vital in the district’s two schools: Avoca West elementary and Marie Murphy junior high. Avoca West is 65 years old and has seen six additions in those years, making the building disruptive to modern learning, officials have said. The district also says both schools need security upgrades.

The district announced its intentions to move forward with significant facility improvements in May 2023, and following conversations with the community, officials recommended a referendum for a new elementary school — one of three options under consideration. Another option was to make $55 million worth of security and other substantial upgrades at Avoca West and Marie Murphy, while the most expensive option was to construct a new districtwide school (preK-8) at a cost of well over $100 million.

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

In the election, Avoca participation (41.86%) far outpaced county participation (12.81%), results show, signaling an elevated interest in the issue.

The new-school referendum drew opposition from a group of Avoca parents organized as Concerned Residents of Avoca 37 and Vote No Save Avoca. The group campaigned at board meetings and garnered media attention with their criticisms of the need for a new school and the potential closure of Avoca West in Glenview.

To find a proposal that satisfies the community, Osburn said the district must connect with all potential voters, but especially those who voted against the referendum.

“Voting on March 19 was clarifying,” he said. “Now we know what people are not for and it’s about getting down to brass tacks to find (a plan) that people will support.”

Osburn did not confirm another referendum is coming; however, he said Avoca 37 does not have a fund for capital projects and any significant investment in the schools would have to be put to district voters.

Osburn said the modest size of the district amplifies the importance of its general reserve funds, which would be needed in emergency situations or to cover gaps in revenue realization.

The Avoca School Board will discuss its next steps in pursuing districtwide upgrades during its April 4 and 18 board meetings.

“Everyone agrees something needs to be done, but we really need to go through community engagement process to find a referendum that can not only be supported but for how much and what items,” Osburn said. “We wouldn’t want to get ahead of that.”

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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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