Repairs on the to-do list at Proviso high schools since the first Bush Administration will finally be addressed after the Proviso Township High School District 209 school board voted Tuesday to move forward with issuing $10 million in non-referendum bonds.

The funds are also slated for technology upgrades.

Securing the financing for the repairs is part of a path for the district to end its six-year supervision under the state-assigned Financial Oversight Panel.

The vote to issue bonds for the district’s working cash fund is the first stage in a total bond issue of $30 million to be borrowed over three years. The repairs will be checked off of the district’s list of “life safety” construction projects from 1988, 1996 and 2010.

Also known as a “backdoor referendum,” the move would pass automatically unless challenged by petitions submitted within 30 days by a number of residents that equaled 10 percent of the voters in the last school board election.

Repairs are slated for tuck-pointing, doors, hallways, bathrooms, flooring and windows. The money will also be used to update the electrical systems in all three high schools, a district-wide technology upgrade, and installation of new high-efficiency light bulbs. New tennis courts at Proviso East and a new track for Proviso West round out the upgrades.

The board’s relationship with the FOP has improved from a rocky period during then-president Chris Welch’s tenure. This year, the FOP tentatively agreed to an exit timeline. The panel will give up its oversight authority by the summer of 2016, providing the district meets agreed benchmarks. Along with finding the money for maintenance and repairs, other areas include maintaining a financial recognition status with the state, and administrative and board leadership, as well as teaching and learning.

Board member Theresa Kelly abstained from the vote Tuesday, saying she thought the “back-door bonds” should have gone to referendum.

“I don’t like it; this should have gone to the public,” she said.

Board Vice President Brian Cross amended the vote to require a special board meeting for any contract over $25,000, and to require a percentage of the work to be performed by minority contractors. The district’s architects will recommend a percentage before the bids go out.

In 2004, the district issued $40 million in bonds to create Proviso Math and ScienceAcademy. In 2008, the district issued an emergency $15 million in non-referendum bonds to pay bills, such as payroll. The dire financial situation spurred the district to request help from the state in the form of the oversight panel. Last year, the district issued $1.4 million in Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB) financing — federal bonds that are backed by tax credits to the buyers.

After the issue of all $30 million, payable over 20 years, the total amount of bond debt owed by the district will be $73.7 million. The third year, financial planners Mesirow Financial recommended consolidating the entire district’s debt in 2017 in a new bond that would expire in 2036.

The district chose Chicago law firm Chapman and Cutler as bond counsel. 

Technology updates for D209

Most computers, servers and fiber connections in District 209 are more than five years old, according to a report submitted at the Dec. 9, Proviso Township District 209 Board meeting. The district has been working since April on a tech overhaul to get all three high schools up to the level needed to begin computerized testing next year.

“Without technology funding and the alignment of staff functions with their roles, it will be impossible to keep pace with the needs of the district,” the report stated.

The board Tuesday approved a five-year technology plan to update the schools and meet the computer bandwidth needs of the new PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Collect and Careers) tests, which must be administered simultaneously online.

Next year, $750,000 is earmarked for technology upgrades as part of the $10 million bond issue approved by the board Tuesday.

According to the report, there are 1,715 desktop computers and 475 laptops, plus 101 tablets in the district, serving 4,730 teachers, students and administrators. The district has a ratio of two students to every computer. Ninety-percent of the district’s 53 servers are more than five years old. Also, the 20MB dedicated fiber connection at each high school will be overwhelmed by digital traffic in the coming years. The district’s 15 tech staffers got almost 40 percent more calls for tech support last year than the year before, which the report attributes to outdated technology.

The plan sets up a life cycle system to replace a third of the tech equipment every three years. The plan will also outfit a third of classrooms per year with “smart-room technology,” which will include an overhead projector, electronic whiteboard and student interactive tools. The plan will also replace the security video systems in each school.

The plan also aims to improve connectivity by obtaining 1GB of bandwidth for each campus, as well as upgrading networking and wireless devices. A maintenance plan for copper and fiber wiring, and infrastructure, is proposed. The PBX telephone systems in the schools will be maintained until all phones can be upgraded to VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

The district’s plan was submitted to and approved by the Illinois State Board of Education in April.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...