The District 115 school board had an extraordinary final meeting of the year on Tuesday, capstoned by the approval of a $104.6 million bond referendum for your vote on the April 4th ballot.
A community volunteer offered to attend the meeting and report back to us. Here is his report.
Big New Taxes and Increased Facility Spending On The Way
- The School Board approved the legally maximum allowed tax levy increase of 5.02%, accepting District Director of Operations Jennifer Hermes’ recommendation to levy more than the 4.88% she projects is needed basing off of current property valuations. (watch this discussion at minute 23:15 of the video recording of the meeting at this link)
- (2:24:57) The School Board approved putting a $104.9 million dollar bond referendum on our April 4th ballot. The proceeds of that project would fund ~$50 million in deferred facility maintenance and ~$50 million for classroom modifications. Learn more about the proposed project here.
- (1:58:00) The School Board approved Jennifer Hermes’ request for a $3.0 million contract to replace the roof at the Admin Building campus. This spending is in addition to the $104.9M April 4th Board referendum project and will be paid from the proceeds of the $15 million Bond the district executed in February 2022.
- (2:04:53) The School Board approved Jennifer Hermes’ requests for additional facilities maintenance for $5.0 million, including new air conditioner and parking lot improvements at both campuses. This spending is in addition to the $104.9M April 4th Board referendum project and will be paid from the proceeds of the $15 million Bond the district executed in February 2022.
- (2:16:03) The School Board approved Chief Communications Officer Melissa Oakley’s request to renew a communications consultant contract for $60,000 per year, with costs to be split evenly with District 67.
- (1:50:36) The School Board approved Jennifer Hermes’ recommendation for a no-bid Construction Management Agreement with Pepper Construction for 2.5% of the cost of all projects that school administrators determine require construction management consulting.
The District addressed the Illinois State Board Report Card results that has been the focus of ParentsCare emails in recent weeks. High School Principal Erin Lenart and Assistant Principal Alan Wahlert presented. Here are the four key takeaways:
- (40:52) ACT scores have constantly remained high over the last few years, and the district student body remains committed to the ACT. 65% of the students took the ACT (it generally comprises a pool of college-motivated students), and they scored in the 81% National percentile. (also, listen to an interesting discussion about AP and dual credit starting at minute 43:32 of the meeting)
- (55:57) The Admin seeks community help to address rising absenteeism (“Attendance matters!”)
- (56:51) There was an attempt to provide context for the significant decline in academic proficiency scores reported by the Illinois Board of Education Report Card, particularly for the Class of 2023, who suffered an “a-typical” learning experience during their critical freshman year. Most Illinois schools have seen proficiency score drops in recent years.
- (58:41) An express acknowledgment that current Illinois proficiency scores are inadequate (20% drop in English and 11% drop in Math since 2019). Principal Leinart offered assurances that the issue is being taken seriously, and she presented strategies the district is using to identify and address specific learning gaps. (I highly recommend parents listen to this part of Principal Leinart’s presentation). The Admin and Board did not set the specific metric goals that ParentsCare requested in its recent community emails. Below are her slides.
- (1:12:33) I asked if it is official school district policy to short-change facility reserve payments and, if so, whether that policy will continue if this new referendum passes. I drew a comparison to a prudent condo board association that puts away roof repair funds each month, so money is available when the roof predictably needs replacement.
- (1:15:06) Laura Adams addressed her concerns about what she deems are loopholes in how LFHS provides mental health services to students. She claims that there is a lack of transparency for parents and that current processes violate the law and spirit of state regulations. She asked the Board to ensure that the social services department is held to the highest ethical standards.
- (1:18:49) Patrick Patt asked the Board to advocate for a semi-automatic weapons ban.
- (1:23:07) Ed Malloy requested that the Master Facilities Plan get the high school campus to full ADA Compliance, not just "come closer to ADA compliance."
My Personal Observations
I appreciated the professionalism and candor of our school board members and administrators who presented.
- In particular, I found many of Board Member Marcus Schabacker’s questions insightful.
- While I do not personally agree with some of the approaches to budgeting articulated by Board Member Jon Noble, I did appreciate his candor on the subject (I highly recommend listening to the enlightening discussion between Shabacker, Hermes, Noble, and Montgomery at 1:41:50 - 1:50:09 of the video).
- Superintendent Matt Montgomery appears to be serious about his desire to incorporate thoughtful fiscal discipline into a school district that, in my opinion, is in desperate need of it. Time will tell, but I think there is some room for optimism.
- I hope community members engage and provide constructive oversight. These are our kids, and it is our money.
Lake Forest Parent