Security upgrades featured in suburban Chicago district's capital plans

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CHICAGO – Security upgrades are part of a proposed $240 million capital plan proposed by a suburban Chicago high school district.

Triple-A rated Maine Township High School District 207, which covers an area spanning several northwest suburbs, may ask voters as soon as November for $195 million in bonding authority to fund the program. The district is considering an alternative plan that seeks just $135 million in bonding. The alternative plan eliminates some projects.

Reserves would be tapped to cover the remaining costs. A property tax would be required to repay the 20-year bonds that would finance improvements at the district’s three high schools. The capital plan is still being developed with public being sought and the district’s board of education would need to approve it and decide on the timing of a voter referendum.

“District 207 seeks to address building improvements that will make your local high schools safer and more secure, improve accessibility for students and staff with disabilities, extend the useful life of existing facilities, and create updated classrooms and labs,” Superintendent Ken Wallace writes in a letter published Friday.

The district last went to voters in 1967 to fund building improvements and available resources fall short of funding the “scope” of proposed upgrades, according to the letter. The district has long funded capital projects with cash reserves.

The projects include the construction of new front entrances with secure vestibules at each of the high schools to prevent visitors from entering the buildings before being cleared by school personnel. Enhanced security at schools has received heightened attention in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre and other shootings at elementary and high schools.

The district hopes to sway residents in part by highlighting its “fiscally responsible and frugal management.” The district carries a Aaa rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

Moody’s last affirmed the district’s $15.4 million of general obligation debt in 2016. The rating “reflects the district’s very healthy reserve position supported by strong operating trends and extremely low debt burden relative to the tax base, operations and cash,” Moody’s said.

Efforts by the state to shift pension costs to local district could pose an operating pressure, the report warned. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed fiscal 2019 budget seeks to begin shifting to local districts some pension costs for teachers that are currently paid for by the state.

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