To see the answer to each question, please click on the question. For more information, visit the "Ask the COO" webpage.
Timing of the Referendum and Building History
- How old is Lake Forest High School?
- Why is Lake Forest High School District 115 placing a bond referendum on the April 2023 ballot?
- Why has the District waited to place a referendum on the ballot?
- How has the District done its due diligence identifying and prioritizing its capital facility needs?
- How old are some of the systems, classrooms, and windows in LFHS?
- Has the District properly maintained the high school?
- Once improved, will the District be able to properly maintain the high school to prevent the need for another bond referendum in the near future?
- Did the previous referendum fund secure entry vestibules? If not, what were the safety upgrades?
- Did the previous referendum fund new HVAC units and/or windows for the building?
- What other Lake County school districts have done capital project referendums in the recent past?
Anticipated Projects and Benefits of the Referendum
- What specific capital facility improvements would be addressed by the proposed bond measure?
- What are the benefits of the projects and upgrades being planned?
- What sustainable solutions are part of the proposal?
- Will any of the theater spaces be included in the referendum proposed improvements?
- Work at the LFHS West campus accounts for 10% of the referendum package. What does that include? What is West Campus currently used for?
- What is the difference between ADA compliance and ADA accessibility improvements?
- What is the total cost of the proposed improvements and how would the funds be allocated?
- Why do the proposed improvements cost so much?
- Did the District consider other proposals?
- Why not build a brand new building instead of renovating the existing one?
- Why not use existing tax revenues to address the proposed improvements?
- Why not simply use existing savings?
- Under PTELL, how many years did the District not take the full CPI tax levy? Would the referendum amount be smaller if the District had levied full CPI during those years?
- At what interest rate is the District anticipating borrowing?
- Should the District wait until all existing long-term debt expires?
- Would any of the funding from the 2023 Referendum go toward operations?
- Would any of the bond proceeds be used for improving administrative spaces?
- Can the District spread the debt over 25 years instead of 20 or can the bonds be issued in smaller increments? If so, what would the payment and interest be? Would that potentially impact the District’s bond rating?
- If the District were not Aaa rated, what would be the difference in the projected interest rate?
- Why is the District’s per-pupil funding higher than many of its peer districts if the District’s tax rate is lower than these other districts?
- Is it true that District 115 administrative expenses were up by 80% from FY20 to FY21, as reported in the Illinois State Report Card?
- Why is the District not pursuing all of its capital facility needs as part of the April referendum?
- What if the referendum fails?
- How quickly will the District return to the ballot for additional funding if the 2023 Referendum is successful?
- When was the last time voters approved funding for building improvements?
- What was the cost of the 2006 (the most recent) referendum and what does it amount to today with inflation?
- Will District 67 also be going for a referendum soon?
- Why does District 67 have a financial model that avoids these larger taxpayer requests?
- Does this mean D115 will have another referendum in 15-20 years?
- How did District 115 earn and retain its S&P Aaa bond rating? Is this common?
Tax Impact Information
- What is the estimated tax impact of the proposed referendum?
- How does District 115’s tax rate stack up to other high school districts?
- Would District 115’s tax rate remain the lowest among its peer districts if the referendum were approved by voters this spring?
- Does District 115 also have the lowest equalized assessed valuation compared to its nine peer districts?
- When will the existing bond issue be paid off and how much will the tax rate go down when they are paid off?
Academic and Instructional Information
- Will any of the proposed facility upgrades improve educational outcomes?
- Which of the proposed facility improvements are likely to have the greatest academic impact?
- Why not focus on programming enhancements before facility upgrades?
- How do you explain the Illinois State Report card data showing LFHS ELA SAT scores average at 61%?
- Is the District setting clear, measurable goals for student achievement moving forward?
- Some taxpayers argue that the District is top heavy. Is the number of administrators in the District growing?
Construction and Timing of Work
- When will the bond issue from the District 115 2023 referendum appear on a resident’s tax bill?
- What is the proposed construction timeline?
- Will many of the improvements be addressed during the summer months to minimize the impact on day-to-day operations of the high school?
- How will students and staff be kept safe during construction?
Community Involvement and Engagement
- To what extent has the community played a role in developing this referendum request?
- If the referendum is approved, what oversight would be put in place?
- How can District residents learn more about the referendum and provide additional thoughts and recommendations?
- How will the District engage the community in the design and construction phases of the work if the referendum is approved?
Timing of the Referendum and Building History
Lake Forest High School, established in 1935, is 88 years old. An addition was constructed in 2008.
District 115 seeks to protect and improve its historic, landmark community high school by addressing the building’s most pressing capital facility needs. The proposed improvements would help create a healthier, safer, and more secure school while extending the building’s useful life, reducing costly and disruptive emergency repairs, enhancing ADA accessibility, improving energy efficiency, and strengthening the District’s ability to provide continued excellence in education.
The District was hoping to complete its planning efforts and be on the November 2022 ballot, but COVID interrupted that plan. Given construction inflation and the desire to protect the scope of improvements to be addressed, the Board of Education decided to place the referendum on the April 2023 ballot.
District 115 began developing a Facilities Master Plan proposal in November 2018 by conducting facility, educational, and financial assessments to determine its most pressing building needs. A Facilities Oversight Committee composed of community members, parents, and staff, was established to help determine next steps and begin crafting a funding proposal.
All Boilers - 1992
Portions of HVAC Anticipated to be Replaced - 1992
The Cooling Tower - 1992
Many Electrical Panels/Switch Gears - 1960s
Many Remodeled Area Electrical Panels/Switch Gears - 1988-1992
Portions of Roof Anticipated to be Replaced - -1990s-early 2000s
Science Labs - 1980s
Yes. The District continues to invest each year in the maintenance of our community’s historic high school. However, there are major infrastructure upgrades and instructional space improvements that cannot be addressed without additional local funding.
As in the past, the Facilities department will continue with a comprehensive preventative maintenance program. Much of the mechanical equipment that would be replaced in the referendum, is well past its life expectancy. These units would have failed long ago if we did not maintain them properly. What we currently cannot avoid is the age of the equipment. When these units reach their end of life, they need to be replaced. We cannot wait for catastrophic failure. This will push students and staff out of the building and interrupt learning.
No. The 2006 $54M referendum did not include security vestibules or the welcome center/offices. The 2006 referendum was not a large-scale security project. The main items addressed then were the elimination of “hallways to nowhere” and dead corridors to improve line of sight and egress. The original security camera system was also installed at that time.
In 2016-2017, a separate redesign of the East Campus front offices with a locked vestibule at the Main Entrance was completed. The security office was relocated from a lower level to the front entrance as well. The area is used as a "Welcome Center'' for visitors coming to the school. Since the completion of that project, we have also added a Raptor Kiosk in the secure vestibule to screen and register guests at East Campus.
Yes, however, new HVAC units were installed to cover only the new additions to the building (the Commons, the cafeteria, and the music wing) that were not connected to an existing HVAC unit. The classrooms that were renovated as part of the 2006 referendum did not receive updated HVAC.
No existing windows were replaced following the 2006 referendum. The scope of the 2006 referendum work included only the addition of new windows to the newly constructed Commons, cafeteria, and music wing spaces.
Anticipated Projects and Benefits of the Referendum
The proposed improvements fall into five main categories:
- Maintenance & Infrastructure Updates
- Historical Windows
- Exterior Enclosure
- Safety & Security Upgrades
- Fire protection system
- Rapid lockdown system
- Door sensors at all exterior doors
- Interior partition systems for after-hours security
- ADA Accessibility
- Drinking fountains
- Ramp slopes
- Handrails at stairs and ramps
- Pull clearances at doors
- Student Support Spaces
- Relocate, reconfigure and/or expand spaces for counselors, student psychologists, and other student support professionals and faculty
- Better integrate instructional spaces for special education
- Labs, Classrooms & Technology
- Improve outdated labs, including accessibility issues
- Update classrooms that were not updated in 2006, addressing issues of acoustics, lighting, climate control, furniture, and related upgrades
- Enhance student collaboration through the addition of classroom projection systems
There are many anticipated benefits of the proposed capital facility improvements, including:
Creating a healthier, safer, and more secure high school
Providing students with the tools and spaces needed to excel
Further preparing students for college and careers
Extending the useful life of existing facilities
Reducing costly and disruptive emergency repairs
Enhancing ADA accessibility
Improving access to student support services
Attracting and retaining quality teachers
Improving energy efficiency
Protecting property values
Window replacement to improve exterior envelope performance and reduce energy loss
Replacement of fluorescent lighting with LED lighting throughout LFHS
Replacement of major HVAC equipment throughout the school to be more energy efficient
High-Efficiency plumbing fixtures to reduce water usage
Explore energy grants and possible photovoltaic solar roof panels
Yes. Approximately $1,095,000 will address the lighting infrastructure and provide a refresh in the Little Theater (based on the square footage of the theater and a cost per square foot). Approximately $1,886,000 will address the lighting infrastructure, painting, and the installation of new carpet in the Raymond Moore Auditorium.
In terms of the scope summary categories, the lighting infrastructure is included in the electrical infrastructure, carpet and painting were in the finishes category.
The 10% for capital improvements at West Campus are related to infrastructure, specifically HVAC, plumbing, and electrical. There are no dollars from the referendum slated for improvement of the athletic fields.
Our West campus building is a multi-use facility which generates revenue for District 115. It serves student programs including our LFHS graduate 18-22-year-old Transition students (including tuition-based students from Deerfield and Highland Park) and our tuition-based Little Scouts preschool program. Another portion of the building houses a group of district administrators.
The building also houses several long-term District paid tenants, including:
- Connections Day School, a private therapeutic day school for children and adolescents, ages 8-21
- Citadel community theater
- A local group of artisans
Since 2010, the District has accrued more than $3M in revenue from these tenants.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all places that are open to the general public. The District is compliant with ADA code. When certain proposed building improvements like renovating labs, classrooms, and restrooms are addressed through the referendum, ADA compliance will be enhanced and offer increased accessibility. For example, when considering new lab tables, the District would take into consideration the height of the table and sinks. When considering restroom improvements, the number of doors and space/navigability between walls and stalls would be considered.
The District anticipates borrowing $105.7 million through a bond issue, with approximately half of the funds going towards infrastructure upgrades and the other half allocated to renovating science labs, classrooms, and other instructional spaces, technology upgrades, and enhanced student support services. The classrooms that would be updated were not addressed by the 2006 Referendum.
- The proposed improvements within the 88-year-old high school include the renovation of 130,000 square feet of the school, including approximately 54 learning spaces throughout the building (approximately 50% of the total amount of learning spaces). The scope of the proposed improvements includes:
- Strengthening safety and security, including adding a rapid-lockdown system, exterior door sensors, and partition systems to prevent full access to the high school after hours.
- Replacing major mechanical systems that are more than 30 years old, including HVAC, plumbing, and electrical.
- More than 90 pieces of HVAC equipment need to be replaced, including unit ventilators, rooftop air handling units, boilers, cooling towers, sump pumps, exhaust fans, and chillers
- Approximately 50 electrical panels have reached the end of their useful life\
- Fire suppression sprinklers through the high school need to be extended
- Aging windows and doors would be replaced
- Updating almost every restroom in the high school
- Addressing ADA upgrades throughout the historic building
- Reconfiguring student support service spaces
- Improving acoustics and replacing outdated lighting, technology, and furniture in more than half of the instructional spaces, including all labs as well as classrooms not addressed by the previous referendum
The cost to update the high school is significantly less expensive than replacing all or parts of the building.
Yes. A larger proposal, totaling approximately $160 million, was considered. However, public opinion research indicated limited support for this size referendum. The Board of Education was able to reduce the request to $105.7 million by eliminating athletic-related upgrades, expansion of the cafeteria, additional improvements to the auditorium, and the addition of classrooms on the third floor.
It is far more cost-effective to maintain the existing building. Lake Forest High School’s East Campus is about 500,00 square feet in size. In order to build just the school building alone, without any furnishing or amenities, it would cost roughly $250M to build a brand new building.
The District has worked hard to maintain Lake Forest High School within its current operating budget. However, there are major capital facility investments and building updates that fall outside the scope of standard yearly maintenance projects, such as replacing outdated plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems.
District 115 carries very little in cash reserves relative to its peers. This is intentional as it was/is the Board’s desire not stockpile taxpayer money. They instead judiciously ask taxpayers to fund capital projects when needed. We have a BOE policy on fund balance that outlines a floor AND ceiling to our fund balance. Even if we were to deplete all of our current reserves, it wouldn't even be a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed.
Draining District savings to address capital facility needs would be a mistake. These funds play an important role in the strength of our Aaa bond rating and in our ability to borrow at the lowest possible cost.
School districts rely primarily on property taxes for revenue. A tax levy, which the Board of Education approves every year, is the amount of money a governmental entity (like a public school district) certifies to be raised from property tax. The Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) limits the annual increase in property tax extensions (taxes billed) for most funds to the lesser of 5% or the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) - commonly referred to as a “tax cap.” The PTELL also restricts access to new tax rates and tax rate increases by imposing additional referendum requirements and voter approval. Public school districts vote on their tax levy amounts annually.
In 2019, the District 115 Board of Education voted to approve a tax levy amount lower than the 2019 CPI rate. Because of this, the District was limited under the tax cap for 2020, 2021, and 2022, as each year is limited by the year prior, meaning that the District could not levy more than the 2019 levy onwards.
This was and still is a permanent funding reduction in the annual property tax revenue for the District and resulted in a decrease of funds allocated to school programming, salaries, and capital improvements. As of the 2022 levy approval, we have lost $1.9M to date and have permanently lost access to $502,000 annually, plus the compounding effect of CPI since the 2019 tax levy approval.
The actual interest rate on the bonds will not be known until the bonds are sold. The anticipated rate range for a Aaa bond rated school District is approximately 4-6%.
It’s not uncommon for school districts to have more than one outstanding bond issue on the books at one time.
Waiting for all outstanding long-term debt to be paid off before pursuing another bond measure does not make economic sense. The longer the District waits to address its highest priority capital facility needs the more it will cost. The District continues to experience costly and disruptive system repairs. In addition, the District seeks to finish what it started in 2006 by updating roughly half of the instructional spaces that were not previously addressed. This would include acoustics, lighting, air quality, technology, and related improvements.
No. Proceeds of the referendum would be used specifically for capital improvements.
Can the District spread the debt over 25 years instead of 20 or can the bonds be issued in smaller increments? If so, what would the payment and interest be? Would that potentially impact the District’s bond rating?
The proposed referendum bond is structured over 20 years.
The District can only amortize the debt over 25 years if it receives a legislative exception to do so. The extra interest cost on $105.7M of an additional 5 years (25 years vs. the proposed 20 years) is over $22M. The tax rate on the bonds only decreases from .30 to .257 going out 25 years. 25 years versus 20 would not impact the bond rating given the life of the improvements.
The bonds will likely be issued in two pieces depending on the anticipated construction schedule and market conditions. For purposes of estimating the tax impact on homeowners, the District conservatively assumed that the bonds would be issued all at once in December of 2024, accessing the 2024 tax levy which would first impact taxpayers in May/June of 2025.
The strength of our bond rating keeps our interest rates lower. The difference between a Aaa rating versus a Aa rating is on average .10%. This would increase in volatile markets.
Why is the District’s per-pupil funding higher than many of its peer districts if the District’s tax rate is lower than these other districts?
As reported in the 2022 Illinois State Report Card, the D115 operating expenditure per pupil (OEPP) is $32,000. While it is true that for the prior year D115 had a higher OEPP than many peer districts, D115 does not even rank in the top 50 of the 852 school districts in the state of Illinois for OEPP. D115 provides students extensive course offerings and programming options similar to larger schools but with smaller class sizes and a more personalized experience. A smaller student body means that our expenditures are distributed among fewer students, resulting in a higher cost per pupil. We are proud of the experience we can offer our LFHS students.
Yes. The percentage reported in the 2022 Illinois State Report Card reflects a comparison between D115 fiscal years 2020 and 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The District experienced an increase ($100,000 annually to approximately $300,000) in legal expenses related to the pandemic. Like many other districts and municipalities nationwide, District 115 also experienced an increase in property/liability insurance costs.
The polling clearly indicated that if the District asks for too much, it will not be supported. The Board of Education is focused on the high school’s absolute highest priority facility needs—no more; no less.
The Board will then have a choice as to whether it tries again or draws down the fund balance to attend to the pressing needs of the building. The biggest challenge is that the longer the District waits to address its highest-priority facility needs, the more it will cost. This means the total cost would increase or the scope of improvements would need to be reduced. The District does not want to impact funding at the classroom level, which could be the case if taxpayers are unwilling to provide additional local funding for capital improvements.
If the bond referendum is successful, there are no plans to return to the ballot with another request in the near future.
The last time voters approved a referendum for capital improvements was in 2006 which included construction of the Commons, the music wing, the cafeteria, and the improvement of approximately 50% of classrooms at the high school. The improvements that would be addressed by the 2023 Referendum address infrastructure needs as well as the remaining 50% of classrooms that were not part of the 2006 referendum.
The 2006 referendum was valued at $54.6 M which, adjusted for inflation, would today be $79.261M.
District 67 does not plan to pursue a referendum in the near future. They have other sources of funding for capital improvements, including an existing Debt Service Extension Base (DSEB).
D67 has the ability, by law, to access a different funding mechanism than D115 (known as a Debt Service Extension Base or DSEB) and has taken advantage of that mechanism to do smaller, but more frequent upgrades to their facilities. In addition, over the last 15 years as enrollment has declined, D67 has reallocated funds previously needed for staffing to fund one time capital improvements.
A future Board of Education will ultimately make this decision.
S&P AAA bond ratings are not common. In fact, only 89 of the nation’s nearly 17,000 public schools have this rating. Important factors in obtaining and retaining a Aaa rating include fiscal discipline, a stable revenue stream (property taxes for D115), economic vibrancy in the community, balanced budgets, and a supportive community.
Tax Impact Information
The estimated tax impact of the proposed 20-year, $105.7 million bond issue on a home with a fair market value of $500,000 is about $475.50 per year, or, roughly $40 per month.
The estimated tax impact of the proposed 20-year, $105.7 million bond issue on a home with a fair market value of $1,000,000 is about $950 per year, or, roughly $79 per month.
Visit our District 115 Referendum web page to use our tax calculator to estimate your tax impact.
Compared to its nine peer districts, District 115 has the lowest tax rate at 1.445. In fact, Niles 219 and Stevenson 125 have tax rates that are twice as large. Of the 852 school districts in the state of Illinois, we are the third-lowest school tax rate.
Yes. The District tax rate would remain the lowest among its nine peer districts.
Yes. The District’s equalized assessed valuation is the lowest among its peer districts. Equalization is the application of a uniform percentage increase or decrease to assessed values of various areas or classes of property in order to bring assessment levels, on average, to the same percentage of market value. In Lake County, on an annual basis the Chief County Assessment Officer determines the level of assessment in each township based upon the sales transactions that have occurred in the three years prior to the assessment date.
The last payment on the District’s outstanding bond issue will be paid off (or retired) at the end of 2026. In 2027, the tax rate for a $1,000,000 home will decrease by $410, and by $200 for a $500,000 home. This decrease will occur whether or not the referendum is approved.
Academic and Instructional Information
There are many proposed improvements that will positively impact the quality of District 115’s academic offerings, directly and indirectly. For example, the science labs are woefully outdated. Lab upgrades will go a long way in enhancing instruction and preparing students for college.
Nearly every improvement will have a direct or indirect academic impact. The greatest academic impact would be as a result of the renovation of the classroom environments, including the regulation of classroom temperatures, acoustics, lighting, and the addition of flexible furniture to allow for additional innovative teaching practices.
The physical environment of the classroom can impact learning. For example, a 2018 report issued by the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences notes research, (Perez, J., Montano, J., & Perez, J., 2014), indicating that “Whether it’s too hot or too cold, uncomfortable temperatures will cause a distraction to students. Temperature impacts a student's learning ability and also affects numerous other mental and physical activities. When temperatures are not ideal, the brain gets constant interruptions from the body signaling it to readjust to the temperature.
Updating the high school is an important part of the efforts being made to further strengthen our educational offerings. Quality teachers, staff, programming, and facilities all play an important role when it comes to educational outcomes.
We are not satisfied with our results, but they are also misunderstood by some. The 2022 Illinois State Report card offers data on the percentage of 11th graders scoring at each of the performance levels for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. In the state of Illinois, the average percentage of ELA exam scores meeting the state standard for “college readiness” is 30%. District 115’s percentage is 61%, placing LFHS in the 99th percentile, ranking 6th among all non-selective enrollment public school districts in Illinois. For Math, LFHS is in the 99th percentile, ranking 3rd among all public school districts in Illinois.
While we are proud of our students' performance, we are actively working on academic support, curriculum adjustments, and coaching around SAT prep to drive continued growth and improvement.
Yes. We are focused on continued growth in 11th grade SAT scores. Per Illinois performance-level metrics (report card data), the District has amplified its efforts to explicitly teach the knowledge and skills needed for this single assessment. An overview of these efforts can be found in the December Assessment Report to the Board in December 2022.
The District also evaluates data for student achievement on the PSAT and SAT. Growth is calculated for each individual student based on their past achievement. LFHS then considers this data in planning for instruction and organizing students into Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (when needed).
In addition to the PSAT and SAT growth data, the District considers STAR Assessment data in its planning and AP/Dual Credit course enrollment. With a focus on increasing access to these courses, the District will continue to monitor and report enrollment data to these college level courses.
Finally, the District regularly tracks and is committed to increased and consistent student attendance. For students to gain the essential knowledge and skills to be career and college ready, attendance is crucial.
No. In fact, the District currently has the lowest amount of full-time administrators than it has had in the last five years, contributing to our balanced budget. The state of Illinois does not define how districts should classify and report on administrative positions. To be as transparent as possible, LFHS classifies Instructional Directors (department heads) as administrators, while other districts classify them as teachers.
Construction and Timing of Work
The earliest we will execute the bond issue is in early fall 2023, applying the tax to the 2023 levy and subsequently placing it on the 2024 tax rolls. The bond issue could encompass the entire amount of $105.7 million, or it may be implemented in multiple phases, covering a smaller portion of the total amount. The Board and administration are currently exploring various options.
Pending Board approval, pre-referendum design activities may be released in order to begin the first phase of construction in the summer of 2024. The overall construction timeline is planned to take place during the summer months over the course of four to five summers. Bidding for each summer scope of work is targeted for fall of the prior year.
The District, architect, and construction management team will work together to develop a phasing plan that is least disruptive to school operations but still allows the work to pace out as efficiently as possible to be cost competitive.
The intent is to perform the majority of the construction activities during the summer months. If there are opportunities to reduce the overall timeline of construction by performing construction during the school year with minimal impact to students and staff, they will be explored.
Safety is our number- one priority. Much of the work will be done during the summer months when fewer students and staff are in the building.
A project-specific safety plan will be developed for each stage of construction and will be updated as the project progresses. We will develop logistical plans that will identify hard barriers to separate/isolate construction activities from other occupants in the building.
Community Involvement and Engagement
In 2019, a committee of teachers, administrators, Board of Education members, parent organization leaders, and community members started the process of assessing our physical spaces, interviewing staff and students, touring neighboring districts that had created future-focused learning environments, strategizing on feedback collected, and then hosting our first community forum to gather input from our stakeholders in March 2020. This effort was paused during the pandemic.
In the Fall of 2021, Dr. Montgomery reconvened the Facilities Master Planning Committee, with the addition of many more staff and community members. All told, this committee met 24 times since its inception. In addition, we have hosted three in-person community forums and used public opinion
All spending from a voter-approved bond measure would be publicly disclosed on the District’s website at www.lakeforestschools.org as well as through newsletters and other community outreach. Construction schedules, updates, and other information would also be communicated regularly.
District 115 will be gathering public opinion through additional public information meetings, with times and locations to be posted at www.lakeforestschools.org.
District representatives will also bring the discourse to residents’ doorsteps with in-home coffee chats and other opportunities for community education. Those who are interested in hosting a community education coffee chat should contact Melissa Oakley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the referendum is approved, the District will create a Construction Oversight Committee. Members of the Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, and Knollwood communities will be invited to apply to participate in this group. In addition, will keep the community informed of planning and progress on a regular basis through regular District communication channels.