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Got an opinion on whether School District 2 should build a new high school, remodel existing schools or do both?

If so, tonight's your night. District trustees hope to see a good turnout of people who want to talk about whether to make more room for high school students.

On Monday night board members discussed how information should be presented and debated the timing of a possible vote on bond election.

Board Chairwoman Katharin Kelker previewed a Power Point presentation that will be used tonight to explain why the district would like to expand its high school capacity. Superintendent Rod Svee gave some tentative figures on the costs associated with different building and remodeling options.

In her presentation, Kelker said the district has built high schools "almost on a 20-year cycle." Skyview High, the district's newest high school, was built in 1987.

Kelker reviewed the educational changes that have affected high school capacity, areas of town where the high school populations are increasing and studies that have already been completed by the district on expanding capacity.

As in the past, Kelker said, "folks begin to notice the high schools are getting crowded, but it takes a while before the issues gel."

Of the studies since 1997 that have looked at high school overcrowding, Kelker said all of them came to the conclusion that additional capacity is needed. West High has 2,116 students, Senior High has 1,834 students and Skyview High has 1,503 students, about 700 students above capacity for the three schools, Kelker said.

In April trustees passed a resolution, based on recommendations from a community committee, that included building a new 1,500-student high school on the West End, remodel Senior and West and buy land for a fifth high school in Lockwood.

Since then, Kelker said, the board has gotten additional information from school district staff and the community. They hope to do more of the same tonight before firming up a proposal to submit to voters.

Trustee Karen Moses agreed that it will be important for board members to weigh the committee's recommendations with all the input they get from the public as a final plan is developed.

"I need to be open to public comments," Moses said.

Svee reviewed some potential costs of building a new school and remodeling existing facilities, ranging from $23 million to $61 million. With Skyview only a year away from being paid off, Svee told trustees, that will reduce the cost to taxpayers.

He promised more precise information for tonight's meeting. Trustee Gene Jarussi said it will be imperative for the district to more clearly define costs of a new school and the exact changes that would be made to the present buildings.

Jarussi also asked whether projections on the district's future student population are accurate. Dan Martin, chief operations officer for the district, said even if the population doesn't grow, "what we know is we have too many students for the capacity we have now."

Jarussi asked where the money would come from to operate a new high school. What if voters aren't willing to vote for a levy to run the school, he asked, pointing out that schools in a Chicago school district sat empty for lack of operating funds.

Moses said she had no problem asking voters for an increased mill levy for what might be the cost of a pizza per year.

"We have for at least 10 years neglected our high school problems," Moses said, to the point where Senior and West ninth-graders are being shipped off campus to handle the overcrowding problem.

Trustee Debbie Richert, who has worked with a community group to pass previous mill levies, said she worried that going to voters in March is too soon, and suggested waiting on the vote.

"I think we're rushing, and everything will come crashing down," Richert said. "To do this quickly is doing this community a disservice."

Kelker, who has been in touch with city and county officials, said the March timing allows the district to put forth the issue by itself, before other issues come before voters. With interest rates still low, Kelker said, a March vote would be good timing.

Svee said the board would probably have to wait a full year, to the following March, if trustees decided to wait.

Trustee Peter Gesuale suggested the main reason the issue should be decided as soon as possible is "because we have two chronically crowded high schools that we haven't done anything about."

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