I am sure you are all aware that we, the Board of Education of Morris Elementary School District 54, made the very difficult decision to close Shabbona Middle School this fall and move all students Pre-K through eighth grade into White Oak Elementary School.
I am also sure you are aware that the district is intending to issue $700,000 in alternate revenue bonds to do a roof repair and expand the parking lot at White Oak Elementary School. There is some misinformation circulating in the community and we would like everyone to know the facts.
The decision to close SMS was made in an effort to lower our costs without harming the teaching and learning that goes on in our classrooms.
The move to White Oak was made with our students in mind. We are forced to lower costs due to our financial situation, but we lowered costs without losing one teacher. The closing of Shabbona Middle School will reduce the district’s large deficit by an estimated $400,000 annually. None of our board members or staff wanted to house all of our students Pre-K through eighth-grade into one building, but we all know that there are many academically successful schools that house Pre-K through eighth grade in one building (in fact, there are three located right here in Morris).
Our board views its primary obligation to the community is to provide a quality academic experience for our students (and parents), but we also have an obligation to all of our taxpayers. Ultimately our goal is to provide high-quality, affordable education for every child in our school community.
It is no secret that our district has experienced significant financial problems. In fact, some of these problems date back to the 1980s, but since the district’s largest taxpayer (Collins Station) left the area, roughly 10 years ago, our financial problems have multiplied. The Collins Station move made it impossible for the board to pay off its existing bond debt (associated with building White Oak Elementary School) without raising the district property tax rate to unreasonable levels ($4 tax rates and higher). To complicate matters, the district is running unsustainable operating deficits. My colleagues on the board and I volunteered to serve on the board to help solve the financial problems without hurting our students and their academic program; these decisions are steps in the right direction.
At its regular meeting on May 16, the Board of Education approved a resolution to issue up to $700,000 of Alternate Revenue Bonds. The district intends to pay for the bonds by using the Morris TIF revenues and as a result this bond issuance will not increase the district’s property tax rate.
As stated initially the $700,000 is needed to complete necessary work at White Oak Elementary School. The roof work we intend to complete is recommended by our architect and will actually save the district’s taxpayers an estimated $1.4 million over the next few years. According to our architects, if we do not do this work in the next year or so, the existing roof at White Oak Elementary School will need to be torn off and replaced within the next five years. The cost for an entire roof replacement is estimated to be approximately $1.8 million. The plan we are following will be to add another layer of rubberized coating directly on the existing roof, while it is still under warranty; this will extend the roof warranty another 15 years.
The second project will involve a parking lot expansion at White Oak Elementary School. The parking lot expansion is estimated to cost an estimated $400,000. This expansion is necessary to provide additional parking for parents that visit the school and attend school functions. Please remember that this $700,000 will not increase the district’s property tax rate. Again, the district will use existing revenues that we receive from the Morris TIF to pay off these bonds.
I wanted to write this article to be sure the community had the facts. Many rumors can be started with misinformation and we as a board wanted to avoid the spread of misinformation. As always, we appreciate the support of our Morris 54 school community!
• Jerry White is the board president for Morris Elementary School District 54