Referendum FAQs

Avoca 37 Referendum Frequently Asked Questions (Updated 2/22/2024)

On Tuesday, March 19, Avoca 37 community members will be asked to vote on a bond referendum. Below is a list of frequently asked questions and answers relating to District 37's bond proposal. Please note that this list will likely be updated as the process continues. The questions are categorized as follows:

COMMUNITY-CREATED PLAN

How was the community involved in developing this proposal?
The Avoca community participated in developing this proposal through the All in for Avoca 37 Community Engagement Process. The process was spearheaded by a facilitating team of more than 30 parents, staff, community leaders, and district leaders. This facilitating team was responsible for developing and implementing an engagement process that informed the community about the options for addressing facility challenges and gathered input about them from as many community members as possible. Input was gathered from community engagement activities, getting an inside look at our schools, and participating in our online surveys.

How did the Board choose this specific option to place on the ballot?
Feedback from the All In For Avoca 37 program, along with the results related to price, efficiency, and effectiveness, led the Board to conclude that a proposal to update Marie Murphy School and build a new elementary school on the Marie Murphy campus was the best long term solution capable of garnering community support. Details about the process and the options that were considered can be found in the report from the All in For Avoca Community Engagement program.

In looking holistically at all that the Facilitating Team report encompassed and the details of the community survey of more than 700 community members, along with the costs and impact of each option, the Board concluded it is in the best long-term interest of the students, community, and staff to submit this plan for community consideration through a bond referendum to raise $89,800,000.

Why build a new school instead of just renovating the existing Avoca West?
Since it was built more than 60 years ago, Avoca West has been added on to six times, like adding pieces to a jigsaw puzzle. As you walk from corridor to corridor in the building you can take a walk through time seeing different eras of construction. This piecemeal approach to updates through the decades has made renovation even more challenging, and in some cases, updating spaces to meet best practices in education is simply not possible.

Beyond these challenges, the costs to operate and maintain the aging building continue to rise. The cost of updating safety and security systems, building infrastructure and adding air conditioning at Avoca West are estimated to be $14.4 million, which is essentially only a 15-year fix. The building would need at least an additional $10 million of life safety and infrastructure improvements starting in 15-20 years from now. A new building would not need to be updated for 25 to 30 years. In addition, energy efficiencies in new construction such as geothermal and solar energy, are expected to save approximately $3 million over the next 30 years.

In the end, a new building will better meet the long-term educational, financial, and operational needs of the district and its students and teachers.

Can we just build a new school on the Avoca West campus?
Unfortunately, because of the existing lot, constructing a new school on the same site would be more expensive and less safe for students, teachers, and the community. Building a new school at the Avoca West site, while the school is still operating in the old building, would be at least $2.5 million more than constructing a new building on the Marie Murphy campus.

That number would likely be larger with even deeper site study. That additional cost includes demolition of the old building, related retention for that, clearing out the existing playground, tearing up trees, and grading the site for the new building. That price does not include other items like clearing an additional access road to the site, if one could even be developed. Likewise, if construction were to take place on the current Avoca West site while school was in session, which would have to occur, doing so would also mean:

• Construction would take longer compared to building new on the Marie Murphy site,
• There would be no outdoor space for students for a year or more,
• Major equipment and construction operations would occur only feet from an operating school,
• A new access road that would have to be cleared and permitted,
• There would likely not be enough onsite parking for construction workers and school employees together during the length of construction, which could cause parking to spill over into the neighborhood.

Looking beyond the construction phase there will be additional advantages to having the elementary school on the Marie Murphy campus. These are listed below.

How would having both schools on the same campus benefit students and teachers?

Construction can occur with a greater degree of safety while students still attend Avoca West Elementary without any disruption;
Security - Securing one campus property instead of two will be simpler and easier to support over time;
Safety support for both schools will be enhanced because more maintenance and administrative staff will be proximate to both schools than is now the case. For instance, if there were a fire or environmental emergency, there would be more operational and safety support immediately available for both schools;
Coordination for safety support from first responders would be more efficient and effective because the administration would coordinate with two first responder departments instead of four;
Custodial and maintenance operations would be more efficient with the two buildings being next to one another, from cleaning to maintenance and engineering to plowing and shoveling, less staff power would be required;
Food service operations will be more efficient and effective with the two schools being only hundreds of yards from each other;
Staff and administration collaboration and support, from traveling teachers to meetings, will be more efficient, effective, and less time-consuming than is currently the case - especially vertical collaboration between teachers in the elementary and middle schools;
Student mentoring - older students reading to younger students, supporting learning in other subject areas, modeling for younger students - will be possible now that the schools are proximate.

What will be done to address potential traffic congestion if both schools are on the same campus?
The design process for the new site will also include a traffic study to ensure that vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the site is configured to operate safely and efficiently. The referendum budget also includes widening Illinois Road to create at least one additional lane for entry to the Marie Murphy property so traffic can continue to pass on Illinois Road and working with the Village to appropriately address traffic. Furthermore, the bell schedules of both schools are already staggered (Marie Murphy starts at 7:55 a.m. and Avoca West starts at 8:25 a.m.) which will also help alleviate congestion.

You can look at similar schools to see that it’s a very workable solution. For example, Wilmette Junior High School on Locust Rd. has more students (750) than Marie Murphy and Avoca West combined (625). Across the street from Wilmette Junior High is Regina Dominican High School with 258 more students. These two schools are able to operate safely and efficiently within close proximity to each other.

Is doing nothing to address our facility needs an option?
No. Doing nothing is not an option. When the Board of Education reviewed the options presented by the Facilities and Finances Committee in June of 2023, the committee recommended, and the Board agreed, that taking no action was not an option. Operating surpluses, which are low and projected to decline over future years, will not be enough to address the estimated $30 million in life, safety, and maintenance upgrades needed to ensure buildings remain operational, and this would not address other basic needs of learning spaces, especially at Avoca West.

How was the community survey used in the decision-making process to place this proposal on the ballot?
The online community survey was conducted as part of the All In For Avoca community engagement process. It was conducted to gather a broad range of opinions on three possible options to address our school facility needs.

In the survey, respondents were asked what option they preferred and what option(s) they could support. When the data was analyzed it showed that many respondents could support some, but not all of the options.

While some preferred and would only support the most basic option which would have addressed necessary maintenance for standard operations, security enhancements, interior space renovations, and minor additions for an improved learning environment, others preferred and would only support the option that would have built a new Pre-K through 8th grade school on the Marie Murphy property to replace Avoca West Elementary and Marie Murphy school.

More than half of the respondents said they could support two of the options, but not the one that would have closed both existing buildings and built one new campus. This data, along with feedback gathered at the All In For Avoca open houses, previous community engagement efforts, and data and information from financial and architectural experts, helped inform the board of education’s decision-making process.

AVOCA WEST PROPERTY

What happens to the Avoca West property if we build a new elementary school on the Marie Murphy Campus?
The District owns the property where Avoca West is located and the Board wants to see the property continue to support the neighborhood’s health and vitality. Of course, the Board also has a fiduciary duty and cannot allow the ownership of that property to result in expenditures that would burden taxpayers or impede investing in important District programming.

The Board of Education wants to balance these priorities and has agreed the following principles should drive its decision-making regarding the use of the Avoca West property:

• Public use of the property should continue if at all possible;
• Natural, open space should be available on the property;
• The property should enhance or maintain the value of the surrounding homes;
• Dialogue with the community and neighborhood should be part of the decision-making process;
• The District should receive payment for the property that sustains fiscal health.

Before making any decision, the District will convene public meetings, specifically inviting residents of the Avoca West neighborhood, to develop feedback on the best ways for the District to ensure use of the property adheres to the above principles. The District held two open houses at Avoca West in February and two more are scheduled for March where there will be an opportunity to ask questions and share feedback about the Avoca West property.

Why is the District pursuing an agreement for the Avoca West property with the Park District without community input?
The District did receive community input about this topic and is working to create opportunities for more input. (There are open houses scheduled at Avoca West on March 5 and March 6.) Feedback gathered during the All In for Avoca 37 engagement process as well as from the community survey indicated community members had a strong interest in what would happen to the property. Should the referendum pass, it would be too costly for the District to hold onto the property. One of the principles the Board adopted relating to the future of the property calls for public use of the land to be maintained if at all possible. By law, the Park District also has the right of first offer on the property. Therefore, starting by pursuing an agreement with the Park District makes the most sense for all parties involved. The Board of Education approved a Letter of Intent with the Park District on DATE. However, out of care for people's concerns, the Park District has been asked to defer consideration of the Letter of Intent and it has agreed to do so. If the School District and the Park District do collaborate, there will be additional community engagement sessions before the Park District takes possession.

If the Glenview Park District buys the property from the District, what keeps them from selling it to a developer?
By law, the Park District can only sell a property bigger than 3 acres via voter referendum. The Avoca West property is more than 7 acres. In other words, if the Glenview Park District owns the Avoca West property and wants to sell it, they would need voter approval to do so. However, the Glenview Park District is seeking to have more parks in areas of the village where it believes there are too few, and purchasing the Avoca West property helps meet this goal.

IMPROVING AVOCA’S SCHOOLS

What improvements will be made?
The proposal, which was developed with extensive community input and careful review of data about the state of our schools, educational needs, facilities needs, and District finances, will:

• Address all safety and security needs and facility challenges at Avoca West by replacing it with a new school on the Marie Murphy campus. Building a new elementary school, as opposed to renovating an existing more-than-60-year-old school made up of five different additions, will save money in the long run and provide an elementary school building that is equal to the quality of education we provide our students.
• Create space to address some learning needs, such as updated science labs and flexible learning spaces, at Marie Murphy by relocating preschool programs to the new elementary school.
• Complete all necessary life, safety, and maintenance upgrades at Marie Murphy to keep it in good working condition.

Why do our buildings need to be updated?
District 37's buildings no longer meet the needs of students and staff and do not support the district's goal of providing schools that are safe and foster the physical, mental, and intellectual growth of students.
What is the construction timeline for the updates?

Why should we do this work now and not wait until later?
Despite consistent maintenance, our buildings are aging and no longer meet the needs of our students. Our buildings face basic maintenance and infrastructure challenges such as failing plumbing, aging electrical systems and roofs, along with cracking concrete and drywall in classrooms that were designed in the 1950s. There have not been significant updates to Avoca West in nearly 20 years, and it has been more than 30 years at Marie Murphy. Many of the original classrooms from the 1950s and 1960s are still actively used.

Beyond improving our schools, how will the referendum help the community?
Schools are a primary factor many people consider when deciding in which community to live. Quality schools have a positive effect on property values. D37 is committed to protecting our community’s investment in our schools by keeping them in good working condition.

What happens if this proposal is not approved by voters on March 19?
If voters do not approve the March 19 referendum, the needs in our buildings would still remain. The Board of Education would then need to discuss next steps and communicate those to the community.

FINANCES

How much are these improvements expected to cost?
The total construction cost for the plan proposed in the referendum is $89.8 million.

What is the cost to property owners if the referendum passes?
If the proposal is approved by voters, the additional investment for the owner of a $350,000 home will be approximately $19 per week.

How do school districts fund facility projects?
Capital improvements (facility projects) can be funded in one of three ways in Illinois:

• Operating Budget - This approach uses operating funds to fund capital projects at the cost of redirecting that money from funding instruction. Projects can be funded directly from operating funds or through issuing operating debt or Alternate Revenue Source Bonds.
Prior Year Surplus - Using money left over from a previous year is another way to fund facility projects. However, this is not a reliable source of funding or one that allows for long-term planning.
Referendum Debt - This is the primary method for K-12 public schools in Illinois to fund facility projects. It requires a simple majority approval by voters in a school district.

Can D37 use its current budget or operating reserves to address facility needs?
Current financial projections indicate that any anticipated budget surplus will not be enough to cover any of the District’s financial or facility needs. Furthermore, school districts like Avoca, which are funded primarily by local property taxes, receive most of their tax revenue twice a year, when it’s collected by Cook County. As a result, District 37 must keep enough of its budget – a minimum of 50% of its operating expenses – in reserve to ensure it will have adequate cash flow to fund operations without borrowing money throughout the year. Using operating reserves to fund facility improvements erodes those operating reserves, creating cash flow problems that would keep the District from being able to meet payroll, cover health benefit expenditures, and pay vendors in a timely manner.

What is the District’s current bond rating?
Avoca has an AAA bond rating for Standard & Poor's. This strong rating enables District 37 to receive favorable borrowing rates.

When was the last time Avoca District 37 asked voters to approve a bond referendum?
The last time voters were asked to vote on a bond referendum was in the 1990s, more than 30 years ago. Other New Trier districts have invested more than $300 million since 2011 alone.

Will any of the bond referendum funds go toward areas other than building needs?
District 37 is required to use funds as specified in the proposal listed on the ballot. Funds from a successful referendum will only be used to make improvements at Marie Murphy and to build a new school to replace Avoca West.

How can the District improve its operating budget?
The Facilities and Finance Committee that convened over 2022-2023 concluded that action needed to be taken to make sure the District’s operating budget remains stable over time. Lower operating costs from a new building, operational efficiencies from being on one campus, and the sale of the Avoca West property can support operating budget balances and reduce strain on taxpayers over the long term.

ELECTION DAY AND VOTING INFORMATION

When is the election?
Election Day is Tuesday, March 19, 2024. The Avoca School District 37’s bond proposal requires a simple majority (50.0% + 1 to pass). It is important for every voter to become informed and understand the proposal on the ballot, and then exercise their right to vote. Every vote is important. That’s why it is crucial that you remember to vote on that day and remind your friends and family to do the same.

How does an individual register to vote?
Information on how to register to vote can be found online via the Cook County Clerk’s website. Individuals can register to vote online, via mail and in person. Please check the website for specific details or call (312) 603-0906.

Who can vote?
All registered voters in the Avoca District 37 are eligible to vote in this election. Local residents may also request absentee ballots and find a complete list of election dates by visiting the Cook County Clerk’s website.

When does early voting begin?
Early voting will be available at some locations starting February 21, 2024. Hours and locations are available on the Cook County Clerk’s website. Regular early voting hours start March 4 and end March 18.

How can an individual vote by mail?
Any eligible Cook County registered voter may vote by mail. Details are available on the Cook County Clerk’s Vote By Mail Page or by calling (312) 603-0946

What is a bond referendum?
A bond is much like a personal home loan, and is a way for government entities, such as school districts, to borrow money for large projects and repay them with future tax proceeds. An individual generally approaches a financial institution for a mortgage because they don’t have the means to pay for their home with one large initial payment.

Why is the community required to vote to improve our schools?
In Illinois, whenever a school district wants to issue bonds to build new or improve existing facilities, it must first seek the approval of voters in the district.