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St. George eyes big school expansion

January 27, 2019

BOURBONNAIS — The enrollment in St. George Community Consolidated School District 258 has doubled in the last two decades.

Even when the district expanded its only school in 2004, officials knew it would not be the end of it.

“As the addition was going up, they knew it wasn’t going to be enough space. But they knew there was no more money because of bonding capacity,” Superintendent Helen Boehrnsen said in an interview last week.

In the April 2 election, voters will decide whether to let the district borrow about $7 million to pay for an expansion and other improvements.

But the kindergarten-through-eighth- grade school district said the borrowing will not mean an increase in the tax rate. It will merely replace money dedicated for past borrowing.

Boehrnsen said she is careful in her wording to make sure to say the referendum is “not a tax rate increase.” She said that’s because the district cannot control property assessments, which shift burdens among taxpayers, thus increasing or decreasing taxes, regardless of the tax rate.

In an interview, Boehrnsen looked over the map of her district, pointing to subdivisions such as Summerfield that stopped growing after the 2008 economic crash but are expected to expand in the coming years. This will further grow enrollment, she said. As it is, the district has been averaging 15 new homes annually over the last five years.

Boehrnsen said planned hiring at CSL Behring and Nucor is a major reason for the expected enrollment growth.

“Families who choose to live in our community appreciate what St. George has to offer, which is smaller classes and personalization,” Boehrnsen said. “Children will see their kindergarten teacher all the way through eighth grade.”

With the borrowed money, the district hopes to add eight to 10 classrooms. The expansion would replace eight existing mobile classrooms, which have been used for the last seven years. The superintendent and administrative staff will continue to work out of other mobile space, Boehrnsen said.

The borrowed money also would pay for more parking, security system upgrades, a renovated bandroom, a relocation of the playground, electrical and plumbing improvements and a renovated main entry for security purposes, the superintendent said. The original school was built in 1925, but saw expansions in 1957, 1971, 1995 and 2004.

Regarding property taxes, Boehrnsen said her district lacks the prime commercial development that would provide a bigger tax base. For instance, the men’s Carson’s store and some of its parking lot are the only parts of Northfield Square mall that belong in the St. George district. The rest is in the Bradley Elementary district. Walmart, although next to the St. George district, is entirely within Bradley as well.

Boehrnsen said the school district has submitted an application to a state program that would provide St. George property taxpayers a half million in relief. In return, the district would end up getting much of that money through the state’s formula for school aid, she said.

However, she said the state has rated the St. George district as having little chance of getting the tax relief. Still, she said it’s important for the district to seek opportunities to help taxpayers.

St. George, along with the Bradley and Bourbonnais elementary districts, feed into Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School. According to state records, 28 percent of students in St. George come from low-income families. That compares to 53 percent in Bradley Elementary and 45 percent in Bourbonnais Elementary.

Over the years, discussions have taken place about consolidating St. George with the three other school districts in Bradley and Bourbonnais. But Boehrnsen said studies have shown that consolidation wouldn’t save money. And she pointed to numbers showing the district’s spending per student is less than the three others.

“We have had a balanced budget every year for the last 10 years. We operate very lean,” the superintendent said. “We’re financially healthy.”

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