With sports programs on the line, Hinsdale voters approve $140 million referendum, and other suburban results


Voters in Hinsdale High School District 86 appeared in early results Tuesday to be throwing their support behind a $140 million referendum aimed at extensive building upgrades at two high schools — meaning football, wrestling, swimming and other sports and activities would be saved.

While that referendum was the hottest issue in the suburbs, mayoral seats were also at stake in Naperville, Schaumburg and Palos Park, where one of the candidates was an 18-year-old high school student.

But that candidate, Nicholas Baker, was far behind incumbent John Mahoney at press time, with most precincts reporting.

The vote in DuPage County came in slowly Tuesday night, but in early results, District 86 voters seemed to have responded to a monthslong campaign designed to pass the first facilities referendum since the 1960s.

The “yes” vote was leading by a large margin with nearly all precincts reporting.

“While I think the cuts had an impact on this, I really believe it was more the community realizing the importance of updating our buildings … and really bringing us to state of the art facilities so we can compete with neighboring communities,” said Kari Galassi, chair of the D86 Vote Yes Campaign.

But Zach Mottl, chairman of the Do Better D86 campaign, which opposed the referendum, said the cuts were pivotal to its success.

They threatened the children. They threatened their sports … I think it was unethical and wrong, but I think that was the key factor in turning the vote,” Mottl said.

After a similar measure failed to pass in November, the school board turned the issue into an ultimatum, voting to cut cheerleading, marching band and numerous sports and activities for the 2019-20 school year, and warning they would stay cut unless voters approved the referendum.

That sparked a vigorous campaign on both sides of the issue. Pro-referendum activists focused on security upgrades and classroom improvements at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South, while anti-referendum forces called the threatened elimination of popular programs a manufactured crisis intended to scare money out of tax-weary residents.

Uncertainty over the measure’s fate helped prompt Hinsdale Central head football coach Dan Hartman to announce that he would decamp for the same job at Lyons Township High School, the Red Devils’ archrival.

Dozens of students at both schools walked out of class Monday to show support for the referendum, even though administrators warned they could face discipline for the protest.

Though the cost of the targeted sports and activities added up only to $1.2 million, school officials said they had to find money wherever they could to help pay for $42 million in critical building fixes related to health and safety over the next five years.

Another $1 million in savings, they said, would come from increasing class sizes to roughly 25 students each.

The district has scheduled a special school board meeting Wednesday to reverse the program cuts.

Quieter school referendums were held in Winnetka School District 36 and Barrington Community Unit School District 220.

Barrington aimed to raise $185 million to make building improvements at schools throughout the district. Tuesday’s unofficial vote totals showed the initiative was trailing by less than 200 votes with four precincts yet to report. Should the proposal pass, the owner of a $500,000 home will pay about $100 more a year in property taxes.

Winnetka District 36 sought a $90.6 million bond sale to keep neighborhood schools open by fixing several historic buildings. District officials said a resident with a home valued at $1 million would pay an extra $276 in taxes toward the district’s portion of their property tax bill if the referendum is approved.

That measure was headed to defeat with the “no” vote up by about a nearly 2-1 margin.

With 10 of 11 precincts reporting Tuesday night, 64 percent of voters were opposed to the borrowing plan, with just 36 percent of voters signaling their support for the measure.

District resident Katie Scullion, who opposed the plan, said given the expense to local taxpayers, she suspected the referendum proposal could fail to attract enough supporters.

“Even though Winnetka has a super strong tradition of generously supporting its schools, I’m not surprised that there is opposition to this plan,” Scullion said. “District 36 is taking the largest piece of the property tax pie, and people are starting to notice.”

Scullion said the backdrop of “unreasonable tax hikes in Illinois” also likely hurt the proposal to borrow $90 million.

“We all have a limit at some point, and we need to start prioritizing where our dollars are going, especially as the enrollment is declining,” Scullion said.

Voters in Lisle, conversely, were apparently skeptical about a measure designed to trim their property taxes by cutting funding at School District 202 by about $2 million. School officials had warned that passage of the measure would lead to larger class sizes and the likely discontinuation of classes such as language, art and music.

The “no” vote was winning handily with all precincts reporting, in unofficial totals.

Elsewhere, mayoral races dominated suburban ballots. The most unusual race came in Palos Park, where Mahoney, a 12-year incumbent, was challenged by Baker, a St. Ignatius Prep student. The 18-year-old said he was inspired to run when he saw three vape shops open in the small southwest suburban town, calling the development “incompatible with the community’s character.”

Mahoney said before the election that he was impressed with his opponent’s campaign.

“His entire website and his social media presence — I give the young man a lot of credit for the effort he’s put into this,” he said.

In Naperville, incumbent Steve Chirico, the successor of longtime Mayor George Pradel, was hanging onto a lead over challenger Richard “Rocky” Caylor.

Another eminent suburban figure, Schaumburg Village President Al Larson, stepped down after eight terms. Village Trustee Tom Dailly was leading a pack of three candidates to be named as Larson’s replacement.

In Harvey, longtime incumbent Mayor Eric Kellogg cannot run for re-election because of term limits. Ald. Christopher Clark had a sizable lead over Park District President Anthony McCaskill in early results.

Highland Park incumbent Mayor Nancy Rotering had a comfortable lead over former store owner Bob Crimo.

In the far south suburb of University Park, incumbent Mayor Vivian Covington was trailing by a mere six votes against former trustee Joseph Roudez, a bitter rival, in unofficial totals.

He had called on her to resign before an earlier election, blaming her for the village’s financial state and years of alleged TIF fund misappropriations that became the focus of an ongoing federal investigation.

Covington, though, has said Roudez and some former trustees he led had tied her hands and prevented her from executing her agenda.

Pioneer Press’ Karen Ann Cullotta contributed.

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