District 121 Referendum Information
Referendum Planning Efforts Continue (Updated as of August 30, 2021)
For almost two years, District 121 has been actively working to engage our community in the ongoing reduction in programming and services due to cuts related to low funding. The District has been communicating the status as our lowest local and overall revenue status compared to Lake County high school districts, and the efforts the district has made over the last several years to cut costs. The District had placed a 35-cent operating rate increase question on the April 6, 2021 ballot, which failed with 3,753 yes votes, and 4,700 no votes.
As a result of the failed referendum, the district is anticipating needing to cut an approximate 13 more permanent positions in March of 2022, which is in addition to the 66 positions that have been eliminated over the last several years. In addition to these staff reductions, the district is also planning the elimination of the entry-level athletic team for all sports beginning the fall of 2022. Sports with four levels of participation will be reduced to three, sports with three levels of participation will be reduced to two, and sports with two levels of participation will be reduced to one, with the entry-level team being eliminated in each case. These reductions will most likely reduce student participation opportunities for all sports and across all grade levels as programs will need to make cuts based on ability.
Increased funding will be necessary for the District to offer the same level of academics, activities and athletics that the District has been proud to provide to our community over the years.
At the June 22, 2021 Board of Education meeting, the Board approved the placing of a referendum question on the next available election ballot, which will be at the June 28, 2022 election.
On August 17, 2021, the Board of Education approved to place a 60-cent operating rate increase question on the June 28, 2022 election ballot. A 60-cent increase would provide approximately $13.25 million in additional revenue annually, with an estimated annual tax impact of $200 ($16.67 per month) per $100,000 of a home's fair market value. Increased funding will allow the District to preserve the 8-period school day, improve academic supports and mental health services, restore and protect activities and club, and restore and protect athletics. The 60-cent operating rate increase would allow student fees to be lowered to rates comparable with other Lake County high school districts.
The Board is allowing the district to restore the entry level athletic teams, as well as preserve current band staffing (which is a tentative staffing reduction for March), and programming, if a successful referendum occurs. This allowance would be to the extent possible based on the time available prior to the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
Focused on Listening to Our Taxpayers
Over the past year, Warren Township High School (WTHS) Board of Education and staff have carefully listened to its taxpayers to develop a funding proposal that addresses the District’s operating needs. The District has also worked hard to find ways to reduce operating expenses while continuing to provide a quality education. WTHS is grateful to the thousands of residents who shared their thoughts and provided recommendations on how best to address the District’s funding needs.
WTHS is at the Bottom of Per-Pupil Funding Rankings
WTHS District 121’s per-pupil revenue is lower than all other Lake County high school districts. In fact, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Adequacy Target Calculation estimates that WTHS is only 70% adequately funded for 2021.
Last Voter-Approved Limiting Rate Increase Was in February 2001
It has been 20 years since voters approved a limiting rate increase for WTHS.
Many Steps Have Been Taken to Lower Operating Costs
WTHS has already taken many steps to balance its budget, including eliminating 66 teacher and staff positions over the past six years, refinancing outstanding debt, reducing the cost of employee benefits through a new healthcare cooperative, and renegotiating vendor contracts. The District has also continued to draw down its fund balance, which has reached the lowest level recommended by the ISBE.
Community Leaders Were Part of the District’s Planning Efforts
A community task force, comprised of business, civic and education leaders as well as parents and alumni, was convened to evaluate the District’s funding challenges and potential solutions. They unanimously agreed that this information needed to be shared with taxpayers. The District sent two districtwide informational mailings, held several informational webinars, and conducted two surveys to gather community feedback for the original April 6, 2021 referendum question.
Thousands of WTHS Residents Have Weighed in on Funding Proposal
The findings of two community opinion surveys for the original April 6, 2021 referendum question revealed that district residents understand the importance of maintaining academics, activities and athletics. However, a large percentage of voters were concerned about the tax impact of the funding proposal being considered.
Proposed Use of Limiting Rate Funds
If approved by voters, proceeds of a limiting rate increase will be used, to the fullest extent possible, to address the following needs:
- Maintaining the 8-period day needed to continue offering many Advanced Placement (AP) courses, ensure full participation in career and technical education classes at the Technology Campus and preserve current curricular and co-curricular programs;
- Improving academic support and mental health services;
- Continuing to offer band, drama, choir and other student activities and clubs;
- Continuing to offer athletic programming across all grade levels; and
- Reducing student fees to levels comparable with other Lake County high school district.
Likely Consequences Without Additional Funding
If the next referendum opportunity is not approved, it is estimated that over the next two years WTHS will need to eliminate up to 33 additional teacher and staff positions. The District will also need to shorten the school day from 8- to 7-periods. These actions could lead to a ripple-effect of cuts, including the elimination of many academic and elective courses; a reduction in Technology Campus participation; the elimination or reduction of many activities/clubs, such as band, drama and choir; and the removal of many athletic programs and/or program levels.