Springfield public schools have an ambitious 30-year master plan to renovate or rebuild facilities on all campuses, plus create new baseball, softball and soccer fields. Of course, those improvements cost money. So Springfield and surrounding districts are asking Sangamon County voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax increase in November. All proceeds would go toward facilities.
The plan has been crafted over a period of years, with input from the Chamber of Commerce and other community groups. It would be implemented over a period of three decades, and include some new construction at Lanphier and Springfield High Schools, major renovations at Southeast High School, and modernization on most middle and elementary school campuses. Owen Marsh Elementary would be torn down and replaced on-site; Laketown and Hazel Dell elementary schools would be combined into one new facility.
Springfield superintendent Jennifer Gill says such improvements matter beyond just improving safety for students. She points to a recent survey conducted by local realtors showing that many families choose where to live based largely on the physical appearance of neighborhood schools.
"And oftentimes people don't even know how to get in and look at a school report card and analyze the test scores and see what's going on inside the buildings, or how many advanced placement classes we have or dual credit opportunities,” she says. “They just drive by the schools."
If the referendum fails, the district faces almost $100 million worth of repairs to patch up existing structures. Gill frames the vote as a choice between being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
"What we've always said, in our mantra during this work, is that every dollar spent needs to be toward our preferred future. We can't spend money to put Band-Aids on things that really need to be replaced,” she says.
As an example, she points to 28 aging mobile classrooms that need new roofs. Putting on new roofs would be cheaper, she says, but renovating existing buildings to move classes inside would be safer and last longer.
The question, as it would appear on the ballot, is this: "Shall a retailer’s occupation tax and a service occupation tax (commonly referred to as a “Sales Tax”) be imposed in Sangamon County at a rate of 1% to be used exclusively for school facility purposes?" The proposed sales tax would not apply to groceries, medications, vehicles, farm equipment or services.
The last time schools got a tax increase for physical facilites was 1984.