Hearld News On-Line – August 27, 2010
HOMER GLEN — Many Homer Glen trustees and residents say they need to explore any available options — including detaching from Lockport Township High School District — to get a new high school in the village.
After the district board voted last week not to hold a referendum in November, asking whether a new high school should be built in Homer Glen, some trustees and residents at Tuesday’s village board meeting said they don’t think the district’s remaining options to address overcrowding are viable to the village.
District officials have been studying whether to build an addition to the East Campus, ask voters for a sixth time to support a tax increase to build a new school or opt for a plan put forth by Homer Glen. Under that plan, the village would use its home-rule authority and federal Build America bonds to build a high school on land the district owns on Cedar Road. The district would lease the school with the opportunity to buy it in the future.
A key to that plan was asking via referendum if a school should be built in order to keep about $35 million in state construction grant money the district applied for years ago and is expected to receive in the near future. The school board voted 4-3 against conducting the referendum.
“It goes beyond disappointment,” Homer Glen Trustee Mary Niemiec said. “It wasn’t a vote on dollars. It was a vote on direction.”
Niemiec said Homer Glen needs to study other options available, including detaching from the district or forming a new unit district, so that a high school will be built.
“We fought so hard to incorporate this community 10 years ago,” she said. “A strong school system is at the heart of a community. This is frustrating. It’s infuriating. I’m tired. I won’t stay silent anymore.”
Some district residents have been through this before. In the 1970s, Lockport West High School left the district and later became Romeoville High School. State law has significantly changed since then, and district spokeswoman Kim Brehm has said it would be all but impossible for a new high school to detach from the district.
Village Trustee Laurel Ward, a member of a school committee to research overcrowding, said she thinks building an addition to the East Campus is “an expensive Band-Aid” and asking for a high school through a referendum will take too long. District officials have said a referendum proposal could be placed on the ballot in November 2012, with construction of a new school expected to be completed by fall 2017 if it were approved.
“I don’t believe waiting seven years or longer is a viable option for Homer Glen,” Ward said.
Trustee Russell Knaack said the village wants good schools to attract and keep residents and businesses.
“We need to take the next step to take over the reins and do whatever we need to do to get a school in Homer Glen,” he said. “Right now, our biggest asset is our potential.”
Trustees said they may consider putting their own referendum proposal on February’s primary ballot to gauge residents’ wishes. Some residents in attendance Tuesday said they were disappointed in the school board’s vote.
“If we have to break away, that is what we need to do,” resident Laura Bugos said.
Resident Kim Manson said she feared Homer Glen does not have enough seats on the district board to favor issues important to the village.
District board member Cindy Polke, a Homer Glen resident who has supported the Homer Glen financing plan, said the village board has bent over backward to try to find a solution to overcrowding.
“You put our children first,” she said.
In the often emotional meeting, Trustee Margaret Sabo said she will continue to be objective on the potential school/village partnership. She said she has heard from residents who believe the village should not be in the education business but also thinks that a referendum would have been helpful.