Lincolnwood District 74 referendum loses in landslide
Updated: March 29, 2012 3:41PM
For five months, dozens of Lincolnwood residents attended School District 74 board meetings demanding board officials and administrators listen to their concerns about flagrant spending.
On Tuesday, they were heard.
A controversial referendum for approval to tear down and rebuild the district’s middle school to the tune $25 million was resoundingly defeated.
With all 11 precincts counted, the Lincolnwood School District 74 referendum has lost by a 9-1 margin, 2,153-211.
“It’s a very exciting thing to see a whole community come together and speak in one voice,” said Mark Collens, one of several residents who questioned the proposal for months.
Collens was hosting an Election Day dinner party with friends when he learned of the results. To him, they were nothing short of expected.
“You don’t get these kind of lopsided statements unless something is wrong,” he said.
Superintendent Mark Klaisner expects the school board will have a “very difficult discussion” at its April meeting about the district’s next steps, which may include going back to a referendum in November or doing safety repairs on the school.
He said he would support the board’s future decisions to give students the best learning environment possible.
“The community has spoken and now it will be our turn to do what’s next,” he said. “As it always is in Lincolnwood, the kids will come first.”
Klaisner said he was not as disappointed by the results of the referendum as he was the events leading up to the vote.
He said rebuilding the school became more about politics and adverse agendas instead of future teaching and learning.
“I am saddened that we didn’t even focus on what we think, and what even the naysayers think, is best for children,” Klaisner said.
Public discontent erupted last fall when officials approved plans for the multi-million dollar renovation of the 70-year-old school without first gaining taxpayer support.
The school board subsequently decided to put the project to a community vote after Collens and seven other residents filed a lawsuit alleging the district broke the law.
Kathy O’Brien, who has two children in District 74 schools and another who will enroll in the fall, said she couldn’t support the referendum without knowing all the facts.
“Ultimately why this failed is because (the district) did not present real data,” O’Brien said. “They never presented a case for why they couldn’t educate their children with what they have.”
District administrators hosted two “town hall” meetings two weeks before the ballot to present information about its rebuilding plans and to give tours of Lincoln Hall.
For some, it was too little, too late. Red signs reading “vote no” for the school referendum had sprung up across the village in early February.
Christine Psyhogios, who has lived on Crawford Avenue across from Lincoln Hall for 32 years, has one on her front lawn.
Her now-adult children attended Lincoln Hall and she worked a few years in its cafeteria.
“The building is not in bad condition,” Psyhogios said. “I’d understand if it was a building ready to fall down.”
She would like to see taxpayer money used towards services the village really needs, like road repairs.
She added: “(This district) spends money like it comes from the trees.”
The village’s largest polling station at Todd Hall is located around the corner from the school whose fate had been a stake.
Yiannis Talaganis, the son of former Village Clerk Georgia Talaganis, had spent four hours before and after work outside the elementary school asking people to punch “no” to the referendum.
“This is an easy sell,” he said.
Talaganis, who is 30, graduated from the District 74 school system in 1996.
“We are a very smart and a very hardworking community,” he said. “This was the least I can do to help the little guys.” Those who said they worked tirelessly to ensure the referendum didn’t pass aren’t done yet.
“This is just the beginning,” said Collens. “We will keep after it and keep investigating bad behavior and what brought voters out to vote to get to the bottom of it.”
Some voters said their next challenge is to overturn the board and administration to restore community trust in their education system.
They are demanding the immediate resignation of officials who voted “yes” to the Lincoln Hall project before giving voters a say-so.
“Until we really have a board whose judgment we can trust, the community is going to have to continue standing up,” O’Brien.