Plaintiffs drop Lincolnwood District 74 lawsuit
Updated: August 6, 2012 11:42AM
Lincolnwood residents concerned with the financial doings of School District 74 reached another milestone last week when, by agreement, a lawsuit opposing a $25-million construction project for a new school was dropped.
“We obtained all the relief we wanted, every single bit,” said Joann Angarola, one of eight residents who leveled a complaint last November against the controversy-laden district for seemingly breaking the law by approving an issuance of bonds without first obtaining taxpayer approval.
According to a dismissal order entered on June 25, the district’s compliance in putting to public vote the matter of issuing bonds to rebuild Lincoln Hall Middle School, the overwhelming defeat of that referendum proposal in March, and the board’s subsequent decision to abandon bonding authority was enough cause for dropping the complaint.
“Now therefore, be it and it is hereby ordered that this lawsuit is moot and dismissed with prejudice with each party to bear its own costs,” the order states.
Angarola, who is an attorney, said the manner in which the lawsuit played out was “highly unusual” given that the district neither contested anything in the complaint nor filed an answer.
“Quite obviously, the board recognized the merits of the lawsuit,” she said. “They relented very, very quickly.”
The last piece of the convoluted puzzle fell into place the past month when the School Board voted not to use additional levied, taxpayer funds to repay 2009 debt certificates totaling $7 million, which had been tucked into the Lincoln Hall project.
Payments now must come from existing operating funds and/or reserves if the debt is restructured.
Angarola said by not covering past debt with new bonds, residents would be spared from paying more in taxes in future.
“It is a victory,” she said.
Immediately after board’s decision to suspend bonding authority, Mark Collens, co-founder of Lincolnwood Residents for Responsible Spending and an initiator of the lawsuit, sent an email to fellow plaintiffs to seek their approval to withdraw the complaint.
He applauded his colleagues’ collaborative efforts and said the positive changes they helped create would impact the school district for years to come.
“Although at this time the bonding authority is being voluntarily rescinded by the (District 74) board, we cannot and never have been seeking a restriction in the future on bonding authority of the district. Having said that, it is my belief given the new composition of this board, and as a direct result of our group’s tremendous effort, we have succeeded in all aspects of the lawsuit, but to a greater extent we have set in motion a tremendous change of direction in the school district all for the betterment of education of our children and for the betterment of our community at large,” Collens wrote.
He encouraged residents to stay involved with school district in this period of rebuilding.
“This by no means is the end of our mission. The new board will be seeking community assistance via the establishment of commissions to help in its decision-making and I hope you will make yourselves available to participate.”
He signed off with: “Congratulations, and thank you for your hard work.”
Angarola hopes public employees will view their work and responsibility to constituencies differently in light of the residents’ actions.
“This lawsuit should serve as a reminder to all elected officials that there are committed citizens watching how their tax dollars are being spent and who are willing to take action to stop illegal behavior,” she said.