District 39’s April 5 Referendum Tied to ‘Health of the District,’ Supporters Say

The future of Township High School District 39 will soon rest in voters’ hands. How will you vote?

Larger class sizes. Mass teacher layoffs. Slashed foreign language, instrumental music and gifted programs.

These draconian cuts could take place over the next two years in Wilmette’s District 39 unless voters approve a $6.375 million operating referendum—which would cost taxpayers an estimated $58.50 per $1,000 of property taxes paid—at the ballot on April 5.

The district, which faces a $5 million budget gap, is facing its first referendum battle since 1998. School officials have said its current budget woes are the result of a near-perfect fiscal storm, including state financial trouble and an enrollment increase among students of almost 10 percent since 1998.

If the referendum fails, the district says that over the next two years it will be forced to increase class sizes from an average of 24 to up to 33 students, and cut 80 of 328 certified teachers from its faculty. All foreign language classes for kindergarten to eighth-grade students would be on the chopping block. And students in fifth through eighth grade would see instrumental music classes come to an end.

“It is tied to the survival of the health of the district,” says Gail Thomason, chair of Citizens for Wilmette Schools, which supports the referendum’s passage.

Thomason, who has children in the fourth and seventh-grade, says the referendum is important to pass because it’s not about enhancements or new buildings, but the quality of education students receive. “I think it’s important for our community to understand the facts,” she says. “I think it’s a very compelling story.”

Thomason says the volunteer-based group is talking to every voter they can to sway public opinion ahead of the April 5 vote. They’ve already managed to get endorsements from the League of Women Voters and the Wilmette Life.

Still, some voters remain undecided and unconvinced that such drastic cuts need to be made if the referendum fails.

Jasmine Hauser, a parent in the district who has a fifth and sixth-grader at Highcrest Middle School, is among them.

“I’m hopeful that this isn’t a fait accompli,” Hauser says of the district’s planned cuts if the referendum fails. “I’m hopeful they can find other tools in their toolbox” to bridge the operating shortfall. However, at March 21 Board of Education meeting the district released the names of the teachers who have been notified that they will not be rehired next year if the referendum fails.

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