Spot Check: The Rest of the Story

The Big Ask. The Big Answer. Or, how D36 became its own cautionary tale.

What started as a way to make full-day kindergarten work in Winnetka, mission-crept to the biggest ask in Winnetka’s history. On Tuesday, April 2nd, the Big Ask got an even bigger answer: No thank you. Times 2. 

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Didn’t Exactly Run Out of “I Voted” Stickers, But…

Good news. The turnout was a not-to-be-scoffed-at 37%, give or take a tenth of a percent. Better than the Village’s 2014 ref on the stormwater tunnel, and enough to earn a decent place in the you’ve-got-my-attention-now hall of fame. Yea us!

On the other hand...

Cringe-worthy Moment Post-Mortem

Super Kocanda says it’s "far too premature to say what went wrong." We get that. But nothing says "red flags" like a two-to-one shellacking. Winnetkans are quarterbacking, Monday morning-style:

  • The real costs. Having to confirm them after they become public? Not a good strategy when your pitch is public trust.

  • Early identification and buy-in among the 75% of the community that didn’t have kids in District 36 might have helped the District reality check before reality hit.

  • The Kaegi Effect: The new assessor released property assessments the weekend before the election. And in an on-line minute, aspiration met a whole new level of tax aversion.

  • Smart insiders pushed facts that resonated. Note to self: Refs that win usually have little or no opposition. Oh that pesky stealth v. transparency ethical conundrum.

  • Lots of towns think it's OK to spend more on their schools than on any other part of their communities. (Looking at you, parks, libraries, and stormwater solutions.) Maybe the waterlogged mancave crowd wasn't feeling it so much this time around.

  • And finally – underscore – they were warned. The District’s last survey delivered a boatload of potentially ouch-worthy data – like 57-68% of respondents were OK with essential repairs, but only 37% with upgrades. A lot like the ref's final numbers.

Is What They Said What They Heard?

What went wrong may have been lapped by ‘what did they think they were voting on.’ The jury's still out. Super Kocanda says "this was a referendum on our neighborhood schools." Was it? Or was it the extent of the ask, or just plain tax exhaustion?

If, as Super Kocanda says, this is “not likely to be the only referendum,” answering this question will be Job 1.

Speaking of which…

What Now?

While the architects are on hold:

  • Business as usual for the 5 schools. Same with you, Crow Island trailers.

  • Until the next ref – if – you’ll see a reduction in the debt service portion of your taxes as it continues its march to zero, ending in 2022.

  • "Urgent facilities projects," approved by the Board in February will get done this summer, using existing funds.

  • Health and Life Safety issues in the schools will be “addressed,” again using cash on hand – what and when, TBD.

  • That infamous lead in the pipes will be fixed. Signs taken down.

  • We’ll learn what deferred maintenance means, since they promised to do it if the ref failed.

  • And of course, although not a part of the ref, redistricting is on, as it always was. Who goes where, still TBD, but scheduled to be announced next fall. PS, the District says if you don’t like your plan, you might not have to keep it.

What We're Watching...

  • The Process – is the one that got us here, the one that’s going to get us there? New consultants? New budget – taxpayer funded – for getting it right this time?

  • The People – new core team? Would the district be brave – or smart – enough to build our very own team of rivals? Passion meet data. Think tank dream team. Ref 2.0, giddy-up.

Bottom Line

In this town, there’s no such thing as an average IQ. Surely, we can come up with something. And it’ll probably be closer to the right something. Hopefully, going forward, the voices of dissent will not be shamed into silence. Be brave. Stay engaged. Stay in touch.

BTW – the soonest you'll see ref-redux – if – is next February. We've got 10 months. Class is back in session.