The future of a second potential Valley Central public bond referendum vote later this year remains uncertain after the Board of Education completed a special work session on the proposal on Wednesday without coming to a resolution on the bond. At the end of the Sept. 23 session, which was held prior to the board’s regular meeting, the council decided to hold another special meeting on the bond proposal on Oct. 3. However, at the end of the week the district announced that the Oct. 3 work session had been canceled, with no replacement date yet scheduled in its place.
During Wednesday’s special meeting, the board listened to a presentation from Thomas Ritzenthaler of the CSArch architectural firm about the latest proposals for the potential referendum vote that could be held in December. After the public voted down the district’s initial $22.7 million bond proposal by a 30-vote margin in August, the administration decided to focus on a second proposal that would include multiple propositions.
The first prop would include the refurbishment of the High School-Middle School complex parking lot in advance of the state Department of Transportation’s installation of a traffic light outside of the lot on Route 17K next year. The first prop would also include additional safety measures for schools throughout the district. The price tag for the first prop was approximately $10 million, as presented last week.
Under the theoretical second proposition, which could only pass if voters approved prop one first, an additional $16 million in funding would be on the ballot for additional construction items in the district, such as an addition to the high school that would house STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) classrooms, a greenhouse and restroom facilities for the football field. Renovations to the Montgomery Elementary parking lot could be included in either the first safety prop or the second prop.
A new item in the presentation for the second prop was an additional $3 million in funding to construct a student pick-up area for Walden Elementary. The district weighed new safety proposals for the school after Walden Trustee John Ramos requested that the district not overlook the village’s school in its bond discussions during a school board meeting this summer. Walden officials, including Walden Police Chief Jeff Holmes, were consulted in the formulation of the proposed Walden Elementary construction work.
A third proposed prop would set aside $350,000 in funding to purchase property adjacent to the High School-Middle School complex for additional parking, but the idea had little support among the board during last week’s work session.
Towards the end of Wednesday’s meeting, Trustee Melvin Wesenberg got down to brass tacks on the possibility of another bond vote this year. “We’re putting the cart before the horse, are we willing to offer a bond at all?” Wesenberg asked the rest of the board. Trustee Sonia Lewis said she would consider the right bond package. “I am open to going out with a bond as long as we’re having these discussions and we’re all involved and it’s a bond I can support,” she said. “If it’s at the end of the day something I can’t support, then I can’t support it.”
Board of Education President Sarah Messing added that the council should be unanimously behind a bond proposal before sending it to the public. “If it’s a bond that all seven board members can agree on, I think we should go out with a bond,” she said. “We can’t be divided and go out for a vote.”
As discussion continued on the bond, Wesenberg announced that he was opposing it. “To be honest, I’m a strong no,” he said. “The voters voted against it. We shouldn’t be doing this. They voted. They said no. Let the DOT do their work and it’s a mess that I guess we’ll pay for later, but they voted.”
Several minutes later, Wesenberg said he wouldn’t stand against the bond vote if the rest of the board disagreed with him. “I’ll follow the will of the board, I’m just one person,” he said. “I’m not sure. It’s not like an austerity budget. If the board thinks it’s necessary, I’ll go along with the will of the board.”
Trustee Arthur Fitzgerald said that he could not support the proposal in its current condition, but would consider the bond if it was reworked into a form he found reasonable. Trustee Joe Bond said that the discussion on the bond should continue. “What I’m hearing is that enough people are interested in working this document to get something that we agree on and if we can agree on it, then we’ll go out in December for a vote,” he noted. “If that’s the case, we should keep moving forward. If that’s not the case, to Mel’s point, let’s just stop right now.” The meeting ended with an agreement to hold more talks on Oct. 3, but that meeting was subsequently canceled.
Valley Central Superintendent John Xanthis has warned against a scenario that would see the DOT complete its roadwork on 17K before the district begins its renovations on the parking lot. “The new entrance into the high school where they’re going to put the light wouldn’t line up with where our road is right now,” he said. “So there would be a light stopping the traffic not where the intersection is, which would be across from the Dollar General. So that would be problematic. There would be no alignment. You would have these new improvements and a new light and it doesn’t align.”
After last week’s meeting, and before the second work session was taken off the schedule, the superintendent said that he hopes the public will get a second chance to vote on a bond referendum to fund district upgrades. “It sounds like they’re willing to look at it in different propositions, which I really hope they will,” Xanthis said of the board. “I’m from the school of thought that we let the public decide. They said it was voted down, and I agree with that, but I don’t think 30 votes is a mandate that people didn’t want to do that. There were certainly some mistakes made, but I hope we get a chance to bring something to the public and give them a choice.”