Education, Local News

Thanks to referendum support, District 153 avoids major cuts to programs, staff

Homewood voters overwhelmingly approved a tax increase so District 153 schools could continue to provide all the educational and extracurriculars currently available to students.

The district has $2 million in red ink and was prepared to eliminate its arts and music programs, sports programs, after-school programs and eliminate staff and teaching positions if the referendum failed.

“It’s an overwhelming victory,” said Superintendent Scott McAlister of the 71% approval. The vote was 3,450 to 1,406. “I think that’s a testament to the relationship we have with the community. It shows that we do what we say, and people obviously have bought in to that and believe us, and I think it’s a relationship that works for us.”

Voters gave approval to the District 153 School Board’s request to raise the foundation rate from $4.40 per $100 assessed value of property to $5.60. The new rate will appear on the 2023 tax bills. 

This will be the long-term solution to the district’s rotating borrowing plans – in 2011 and 2016 – that have been used to balance the budget. 

“We met all three of the goals we communicated to our community members: take care of the deficit, have the ability to replenish our reserves and now we’ll have the ability to address  facilities,” said Alex Bosch, chair of the District 153 finance committee. He said the board will look at making repairs to the aging school buildings and address some of the space needs.

At the district’s celebratory party Tuesday, Terese Thrall, a past president of the Parents Music Association, said when she learned what cuts were possible, she had to work to support the Citizens for Homewood Schools committee. Although her children are older, Thrall said those cuts “would bankrupt the experiences, especially for the lower grades” at Churchill School where students are first introduced to orchestra and band.

Her husband, Wade Thrall, said, “We were just very appreciative that kids had all those programs.”

Parent Emily McEowen, who went through District 153 schools, was living out of state, but when she was returning to Illinois she knew she wanted to be back in Homewood “because of everything Homewood has to offer. It’s very clear to me how important this (referendum) is.”  

Becky Popelka has a daughter at James Hart School and a daughter at Willow School. 

“We moved her from the city (Chicago) when my oldest daughter was two. When the family was finding a place to live “Homewood seemed perfect,” she said. The family is multi-racial and she wanted a community and schools that recognized diversity so “our kids would fit in.”  District 153 has offered her daughters great opportunities, she said. Her older daughter is in band and preparing for the school musical “and the younger one is looking forward to all that.”

Popelka was recognized for her efforts with the Citizens for Homewood Schools Committee, along with Carol Humm, Sarah Young, Hope Zawaski, Christine Scully, Anne Colton and co-chairs Mike Dickover and Annie Lawrence.

School Board President Shelly Marks said the win gave her “a tremendous sense of relief, and I am so grateful to this community that time after time gets that kids matter and the kids are our future and if we don’t take care of them now, then we have no future.”

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