Election Day is Tuesday, April 4th. The issue Lake Forest High School District 115 voters will face is much more significant than simply whether to award the administration of District 115 another $106 million in funding. In making their choice, they will help point the way forward for LFHS and future generations.
Considering this choice and the District's current path, we urge a "NO" vote on issuing another $106,000,000.00 in debt.
To be sure, certain repairs and upgrades should be made to the LFHS building. Maintenance is part of owning any physical structure, whether a home, commercial property, industrial facility, etc.
Needs like a new roof, new HVAC equipment, and new windows don't sneak up on a property owner and suddenly appear without warning. These needs can be foreseen many years in advance, and it is the building owner's responsibility to anticipate them and to plan and budget accordingly.
The District should have been more responsible and set aside funds yearly to address these eventualities as they come.
Sadly, the District's stated policy has been to let the building deteriorate and pay for a new roof, HVAC, and windows with almost 1⁄2 of the proceeds from a speculative bond referendum.
What a reckless and fiscally irresponsible way to manage a budget!
Nonetheless, we've only recently recommended a 'No' vote. The District's bond campaign has made a strong case that the building they manage is in a sorry state. We want our kids to have a clean and safe schoolhouse.
We would have withheld formal opinion on this bond had the District shown any appetite to do the hard work of finding efficiencies in the current bloated budget so that they could fund maintenance reserves for future years. Sadly, the Administration's and Board's message to taxpayers is clear.
"Give us the money to fix the building we've neglected --- and plan to neglect again."
We can't, in good faith, remain quiet in the face of such a cavalier and fiscally irresponsible attitude.
We shouldn't be in this financial pickle. District 115 is one of the most generously funded school districts in Illinois. We are spending, spending, and spending, despite a steady decline in LFHS student enrollment:
- The District's budget has grown by more than +24% over the last four years, and now
- Student headcount has decreased every year for at least eight years. -11% over the last five years.
- District staffing (staff headcount) has increased by +6%.
- And what kind of student achievement have our District produced among the state's school districts?
- According to the Illinois State Board of Education, we have the worst achievement scores in school history.
- Only ~62% of LFHS students are reading, writing, and doing math at grade level.
- Despite significantly outspending per student, we can no longer be on par with our traditional peers like Stevenson and New Trier.
It's high time we demand accountability of the District 115 Administration and Board of Education. These troubling trends must be reversed immediately, as doubling down on the current strategy would be reckless.
Closing the student achievement gap must be the subject of an all-out effort. We urge the administration and the board to put our students first; prioritize their education in core skills, like reading, writing, math, and science; "right size" the massively grown overhead we now support; and then address needed physical building improvements in a financially responsible manner (the community hasn't even finished paying off the last bond for District 115 and just took out a $15 Million loan on behalf of taxpayers in 2022 to pay for HVAC equipment).
In light of the proposed five-year plan for 115 and the continuously deteriorating results at LFHS, this institution has found itself in a significant hole. In voting "No," we are telling the District and our elected school board to stop digging and return to the voters in 2024 after implementing common-sense reforms.
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