The ongoing conflict between a group of Lincolnwood residents and School District 74 led to a bizarre spectacle on Thursday evening.
There was a brief — and silent — presentation honoring former school board president David Koder, who recently stepped down from his position after reimbursing the district for limousine rides, first-class airfare upgrades and $600 dinners that were paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Ultimately, the school board awarded Koder with a small clock in front of a silent audience prior to addressing the board's agenda.
The hot-button issue, however, was the upcoming $25-million referendum set for March 20. If passed, the current Lincoln Hall would be torn down and a new school would be built in its place. A group of residents became outraged when the district tried building the school by constructing a hallway, connecting nearby Rutledge Hall to a newly built Lincoln Hall. This method would have been technically considered an extension of the building — even though a new school would have been built — and wouldn't have required a referendum.
More than half a dozen residents spoke before the school board regarding the upcoming referendum, and all stated they'd be voting against the $25-million measure. Several also stated that they would like to see Superintendent Mark Klaisner resign.
"On March 20 this referendum will be resoundly defeated," said Lincolnwood resident Joann Angarola in front of the school board on Thursday. "I simply want you to know that. ... The results of the referendum will speak for itself."
Another speaker was Lincolnwood Mayor Jerry Turry, who stated his concerns about several issues.
"I think this is hurting our village," Turry said. "A school in flux like this hurts our real estate values. ... It makes us look weak."
Outside the meeting, a drive down some of Lincolnwood's residential streets reveals a variety of homes showcasing signs urging people to vote against the upcoming referendum. Mark Collens has been working with his neighbors in handing out 100-plus red, rectangular signposts against the measure.
So far, he's out of stock, Collens said.
If the referendum passes, Lincolnwood homeowners won't see their taxes go up, the school board said. However, if the measure is defeated, residents could see their taxes go down $45 for every $1,000 of taxes paid starting in 2014, a consultant for the district said. That means someone who pays $10,000 a year in taxes can expect to see a reduction of about $450.
On the flip side, if the measure is passed, homeowners can expect to pay the same rate they're paying now for the next 12 years, the school district said.
Mayor Turry said he's further concerned because the village is trying to pass its own measure — separate from the schools' — that will be on the same March 20 ballot. Lincolnwood is seeking to appoint a village clerk instead of electing one to manage its records. Turry added that an elected resident isn't as accurate or efficient as an expert with experience appointed by the village.
"I fear that residents are so angry that they are going to lump your issues with ours," he said.
The cost of freedom
In a two-month span, more than 20 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have been filed by Lincolnwood residents, a school district official said. Those FOIA requests have cost the taxpayers more than $31,000, according to the school district.
Some of those requests, however, have led to more than $6,000 in reimbursements from school district employees.
Not all residents are against the upcoming referendum. One resident, who asked to have her name withheld told Skokie Patch that she is voting for the measure, but did not want to speak publicly at Thursday's school board meeting because she is afraid of what others might say.
"We're not alone. There are people who think we need a new school," the source said. "But we're not going to get [in front of the school board] and everyone else and say how we feel. Uh-oh. Forget it. ... Sometimes I think people forget that this isn't about them — but the kids."