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By Flier Fact Check

If you haven't heard, the Forest Park Review is fact-checking every campaign flier this election season, in an effort to inform voters. This is the second flier that's been submitted to the Review since the video gaming referendum in November 2018. Keep in touch: ntepper@wjinc.com

Flier name: "WE DESERVE BETTER"

Specs: 8-by-11, glossy, two-sided

Submitted to the Forest Park Review: March 29

This misleading flier looks like a photoshopped ad for Proviso Together, an incumbent slate for the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 board that includes Nathan 'Ned' Wagner, Claudia Medina and Theresa Kelly. Instead, the mailer was issued by a committee backing Sandy Aguirre, an independent candidate from Melrose Park.

1)    The flier claims that "Nathan 'Ned' Wagner, Claudia Medina, and Theresa L. Kelly claim they 'saved' $77 million for Proviso Township High Schools. Really, they borrowed $30 million, which will result in your taxes going up, and if re-elected they will borrow another $25 million to raise your taxes even more!" FALSE

The board of education only plans on raising taxes in line with the annual consumer price index (CPI), despite issuing bonds to pay for its master facilities plan, according to Nathan 'Ned' Wagner, president of the D209 board. CPI measures the annual price change in consumer goods and services. It is 2.1 percent this year.

"We're collecting the CPI that is really necessary to keep schools running because our cost of living is going up, teachers are getting raises, and costs of stuff we purchased goes up…not collecting that would be irresponsible," Wagner said in a phone interview.

The master facilities plan is a three-part project that calls for a variety of site and infrastructure improvements at Proviso East, Proviso West and Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA). The board voted to accept the plan in January.

"A lot of the work we're doing is work that should have been done 30 years ago," Wagner said, estimating that there is probably cloth wiring at Proviso East that dates to 1910.

"God has been so kind there hasn't been a catastrophic electrical incident at Proviso East," he said. "There is a lot of necessary work needed to update the schools on a basic level."

School site and infrastructure improvements are divided into three parts. Officials have also adopted a three-part, non-referendum funding plan to pay for these updates. 

The first improvement phase could cost an estimated $77 million and includes work that could take until 2022 to complete. A majority of the funds—around $48 million, or 62 percent — will focus on bringing Proviso East up to state-mandated codes, while the rest will benefit Proviso West and PMSA. PMSA will receive just 7 percent of the new funding. Finding the dollars for this first part has been divided into three parts—and the first two phases of paying for this work have been completed.

Over the past few years, the district has paid off and refinanced roughly $25 million worth of bonds issued in 2008, which reduced interest costs by more than $5 million. These cost savings contributed to Standard & Poor increasing the district's credit rating from A to A-plus in August 2018. The board also has realized an additional $17 million coming in from years of surplus budgets.

By refinancing these bonds, the board created room in its state-mandated tax cap to issue additional bonds. In November 2018, the board issued another $28 million in working cash bonds.

Wagner said the district plans to continue only levying residents to account for changes in CPI, as well as local property values, despite the new bonds. He said the board should be able to pay the interest on these bonds, so long as the relative value of all taxable property in the district grows by a "conservative" 1 percent every year. The total property value "in Maywood went up 13 percent last year, so property values are going up in the community," Wagner said.  

If the total value of all property does not rise at least 1 percent every year, Wagner said the district has enough money saved to pay off its annual interest payments.

If Proviso Together is re-elected, he said their plan is to issue another $25 million in bonds without, again, taxing residents beyond CPI.

"As some of these older bonds come off the books in four or five years, we plan to issue about $25 million more dollars in bonds to do this really necessary work to improve our school buildings without raising taxes," he said.

2)    The flier also states that "Only 3% of students in Proviso Township high schools are from Forest Park, while 30% of the board of education lives in Forest Park?...It's time to elect a board of education that Proviso Township High School District 209 who will work for ALL of Proviso Township!" YOU DECIDE

At the beginning of this school year, students who came from Forest Park District 91 schools comprised approximately 3 percent of all students at Proviso high schools, according to enrollment data provided by D209. D91 grads made up 149 of the 4,727 students studying at the three schools this school year.

"What's good for Forest Park is what's good for Maywood, which is what's good for Melrose Park, which is what's good for Broadview. I don't see how it's a problem, really," Wagner said.

Proviso Together comprises Wagner and Medina, of Forest Park, and Kelly, of Maywood, who are up for re-election this election.

SENT BY: Melrose Park Civic Committee, a group that has donated $5,000 to Sandy Aguirre's campaign. Aguirre did not respond to an interview request.

Melrose Park Civic Committee has the same address, treasurer and phone number as Citizens to Elect Ronald M. Serpico, a separate campaign committee that aims to keep the longtime Melrose Park village president in power. Citizens to Elect Ronald M. Serpico has donated $10,000 to Aguirre's campaign.

Serpico has previously backed opponents of Proviso Together. He also supported the D209 board members responsible for engaging such politically-connected contractors as the Del Galdo Law Group and Restore Construction. These board members drove the district into so much debt that the state got involved in overseeing its finances. Proviso Together toppled these candidates in 2015 and gained a board majority in 2017.

Proviso Together supporters allege recent donations from Del Galdo and Restore Construction to Serpico are evidence that the Melrose Park mayor is aiming to be influential in the district again just as the board gears up to spend millions on facilities improvements.

The Melrose Park Civic Committee did not respond to an interview request.

--by Nona Tepper

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