Spot Check: District 36's $100.6 MM Big Ask. What's it Cost? What's it Deliver? It's Your Vote.

It’s about numbers. It’s also about shared vision. And as always, "The Future of Winnetka." Tangibles, intangibles, and tax tolerance. In a town with ROI in its DNA, this is a tough one. Emotions are sure to run high. Get the facts. Then get to the polls.

Run That by Me, Again?

Winnetka’s School District 36 has a long-term wish list. Name: Educational Master Facilities Plan (AKA EMFP) – part facilities improvements, part educational upgrades. Multiple phases. Total Price tag: $148 MM – give or take a couple thousand.

On the table: Phase 1. Asking price: $100.6 MM. $90.6 MM from referendum, $10 MM from reserve
Coming to a ballot box near you.

Total Cost: $150.6 MM. Your Share: $1,352. For Phase 1.

Bond Interest w and wo Ref.jpg

Reality check. That $100.6 MM ask morphs into a $140.6 MM payout when you run it out for 22 years. Plus there's that $10 MM they would take from reserves. For a grand total of $150.6 MM.

For which you'd be writing a check for $1,352 per $1 MM fair market value every year for the next 22 years.

What You'd Get

Current Project Scope.jpg

What it Would Look Like

What it would look like

How it Would be Spent


And if the Ref Fails?

It's all or nothing. The District is playing for all the marbles. Without your approval, it's status quo. Plus $2.9 MM it says it needs per year to get the 5 schools back up to speed – think deferred maintenance – and keep the doors open. You'll get a reduction in your taxes as the current debt is retired, while the Board and Admin head back to the drawing board for a plan they think you could live with.

Tangibles. Intangibles. Bricks. Mortar. Mortar Boards.

Research shows that school district spending can do things like increase teacher morale, provide healthier learning environments, and enhance neighborhood property values. But improve academic achievement? Not so much. If teacher morale, property values, etc. are your metrics, this could be your ref. Just don't expect your 6th grader to split the atom any time soon.

On the other hand, how did our Washburne students do at New Trier, again...

Known Knowns and Unknowns

The District feels good about the numbers it knows. Between the bonds, the annual tax levy, and reserves, it thinks it can handle things. But what about…?

  • Contracts. With the teachers and custodians. Through 2021 and 2023 respectively. Super Kocanda’s contract was just extended to 2023. Renegotiate or rehire? Either way, cha-ching.

  • 25% of the District's teachers will be eligible for retirement by 2025. Future Ready could be an attractive acquisition carrot, but so’s cash money.

  • No help from the State. Its new darling, "Evidenced Based Funding," doesn’t intend to pay to make Winnetka’s good thing better anytime soon. 

  • The ever-threatening tax freeze, and side-eyeing local school districts to kick in to the Illinois Teacher Retirement System. For an amount-to-be-named-later.

  • Staffing costs and facilities modifications due to the adoption of the non-fee- based extended-day Kindergarten Program.

  • Reserves. The cash-money-you've-already-forked-over reserves. The EMFP would tap $10 MM of it for the downpayment. How much would need to be replaced to maintain our current bond rating? And could that money have been put to better use elsewhere, like say, pensions?

  • Other taxing bodies. Permitting, quid pro quos, and tax grabs the Parks, Library, Village, and New Trier Township may have in mind.

And then there's this. The jury’s still out on the potential impact of these 49 Winnetka United families with their $1.1 MM in property taxes, but it represents the fragility of the demographics. What happens when demographers are more lucky than right?

Finally, the winner of the who-couldn't-see-this-coming sweepstakes. Leading Chicago business group proposes raising income taxes and taxing retirement income to fix Illinois' finances.

Pass Fail Cautionary Tale

Deja vu all over again? Twelve years ago, the line items were the same, but the ask a few decimals short. Lack of foresight then? Overreaching now?

And of course, everybody's favorite teachable moment: New Trier Township High School's ref reboot. Egg meet face.

$100.6 MM of our money – 15 minutes of your time – 3 ways to get your vote done.

Whatever it's worth to you in vision, deliverables, and cost, it's got to be worth 15 minutes of your time. For one of the toughest calls ever, at least one thing's easy:

Moved? Registered at your new address? Not sure if you’re registered? Check here.

Referendum or not, this is an off-year. Only 5% of Winnetka goes to the polls in off-years. The biggest ask in Winnetka's history decided by 5% of the voters? That's quite an ROI – for somebody.

Still Got Questions?


"Shall the Board of Education of Winnetka School District Number 36, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing safety and security improvements, increasing accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing, mechanical and HVAC systems, complying with the Health/Life Safety Code, renovating classrooms and Resource Centers/Libraries and adding multi-purpose/lunchroom space and gym space, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $90,600,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?"