Belvidere Schools Referendum

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Overcrowding has been a growing problem in Belvidere schools, and school district leaders are asking the community to help solve it by passing a referendum on April 5, but some say they just can't afford it.

From the hallways to the classrooms, Belvidere students have clearly outgrown their schools, and after a series of community meetings, a solution has been proposed: build a new high school.

"There's no other option. We need to do this for our kids," says Renita Roden, co-chair of the referendum committee.

The district now needs the support of voters. The price tag of the new school is $62.5 million, so come April 5, community members will be asked to approve a bond issue as well as an education fund tax increase of 35 cents.

"That’s about three dollars a week for a $100,000 home, and that's about as affordable as it's going to get to build a new school in this economy," says Belvidere Mayor Fred Brereton.

But the only affordable option for residents like Gordan Richards is a “no” vote. He lives on a fixed income and his budget doesn't allow for a tax hike, no matter how small.

"They say it only costs so much, but gas is going up and electric is going up. It's not so much just that, but a combination of things and it just gets to a point," says Richards.

"We understand that; we sympathize, but this is a real need," replies Roden.

A failed referendum means a complete split schedule for high schoolers; juniors and seniors in class from 6 a.m. to noon, freshmen and sophomores in school from 12:30 till 6 at night, plus an influx of portable classrooms to handle the crowding at other area schools.

"The need is not going to go away. The cost is only going to increase," says Brereton.

"A community is hurt when they don't have a great education system. The kids don't get the best possible education, and that's not right," adds Roden.

Richards says raising taxes is not right, and come April 5, we'll see if other voters agree.

If the referendum passes, the School Board will also use money in its reserves and from impact fees to build a new elementary school. If the referendum fails, that money will be used for several temporary portable classrooms.