West Aurora looks at options to pay for air conditioning
By Linda Girardi For Sun-Times Media September 18, 2013 10:10AM
West Aurora School District dismissed students early four days in a row this week due to heat and humidity levels. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 20, 2013 7:28AM
The West Aurora School Board has begun a review of possible financial options for capital projects, a list of which includes improvements for those buildings not equipped with air conditioning.
The issue has come to a head recently after the district dismissed school early on several hot days.
Seven elementary schools, two middle schools and half the high school building in the district do not have air conditioning.
Robert Lewis of PMA Securities, the district’s financial consulting firm, presented options for the school board’s review that would restructure existing bond debt, provide funding for capital improvements and keep the tax levy consistent.
The options presented were for non-referendum general obligation bonds and different scenarios for a bond referendum for $26 million up to $64.4 million.
“There is a limit as to how much non-referendum debt a school district can have outstanding,” Lewis told the board. “Because of the 2010 issuance in working cash funds, you don’t have a lot of non-referendum capacity to support additional payments.”
Lewis said the maximum amount for a non-referendum bond, which would require a public hearing and published notice, would be $20 million, but it would be the more expensive option given the district’s current debt structure.
“This is the most expensive option to obtain your capital funding because of the need to restructure,” he said.
Lewis said there is a possibility to go to a referendum, depending on the amount of the issuance, with minimum impact to the taxpayer.
Lewis said the deadline to file with the county clerks to have a bond referendum appear on the March 2014 ballot is in December.
“When you go the route of a bond referendum, you are asking for permission (from the voters), as opposed to non-referendum debt,” School Board member Angie Smith said.
Smith, who is the assistant superintendent for business and operations in the Plainfield School District, said there is a reason the non-referendum is known as a backdoor referendum.
“I am not a fan of the non-referendum scenario. If we are going to take on more debt we should get voter approval to do that,” Smith said. “Even though debt is not our favorite thing, the reality is we have pressing needs for facilities that go beyond air conditioning that we are going to have to do one way or the other.”
The district made a decision to dismiss school early on hot days in the first few weeks of the school year. The West Aurora School District has some of the oldest buildings in Illinois, said Mike Chapin, district spokesman. He said the oldest portion of Hill Elementary was built in 1888.
“The question becomes do we borrow smart out of referendum funds and develop a schedule or do we take a more crisis approach?” Smith asked.
“We could continue to say we just won’t have air conditioning and cancel school, but the reality is we are not going to get fewer kids with asthma and health issues,” she said.
Smith acknowledged the concerns of parents about early release from school and their suggestions for the school year to begin after Labor Day as a solution, but she said there is always the risk of hot weather occurring at the end of the school year as well.
Board member Amie Thompson said either way she would want to get feedback and see further analysis that provides a clear understanding of building needs and the potential financial impact.
“I want to hear the opinions of the public before we do anything,” Thompson said.
Superintendent James Rydland suggested the School Board review the district’s facilities audit before making a decision.
“The purpose of having an audit of facilities is to keep it in front of the board,” Rydland said.
School Board President Neal Ormond said that West Aurora is in a unique position due to the age of some of its buildings.
“Because we have some of the oldest schools in the state, we have needs other districts don’t have,” Ormond said after the meeting. “We need to worry about the roofs and infrastructure, air conditioning is one of those.”