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Williamson County (Illinois) Schools Seek Sales Tax Increase to Build Schools

Williamson County

Voters in Williamson County will get to decide in February if they are willing to pay an additional penny per dollar in sales tax to help fund local school construction.

Last month, the Illinois General Assembly voted to override Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of the legislation which puts the responsibility for funding school construction solely on the shoulders of the local voters.

The new law allows a county to place a referendum on the ballot if all the local school districts agree that the one percent sales tax is necessary. All five Williamson County school boards met in joint session on Tuesday night to announce their intended support for the referendum and to officially request that it be placed on the ballot. Now, by law, the county board must take action to place it on the February primary ballot.

Superintendent Tim Bleyer of Carterville Unit 5 school district said that the five boards were unanimous in their decision o let the voters decide, even though some of the districts do not have an immediate need for the funding, which can only be used for school construction.

Herrin and Crab Orchard school districts are not currently in need of construction funds, but Carterville voters passed a referendum five years ago to pay for their portion of the construction costs of a new high school. Unfortunately, the remainder of the cost of construction was promised from a state school construction bill that never was implemented by the state of Illinois.

After five years of waiting, Carterville’s need for a new high school has simply increased.

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Likewise, in the county’s largest school district, Marion Unit #2, a new kindergarten through eighth grade school is needed to replace the existing school at Creal Springs and a new high school is also needed due to overcrowding.

The new Creal Springs school is already in the planning stages and will be funded totally by a local bond issue made in conjunction between the city of Marion and the school district, but Marion had been hoping for state assistance for the construction of the new high school. The existing school at Creal Springs is 95 years old and inadequate for needs of students in that community. It also does not have the same amenities as the other four elementary schools in the district, like lockers and a cafeteria.

Marion plans to close its next oldest building, the current junior high school on West Main Street, once a new high school is built. Sixth, seventh and eighth grades would then be moved to the current high school facility.

If the referendum passes, Bleyer said initial projections are that it will make about $10 million in the first year. As the largest district, based on population, Marion would receive the biggest share of that money, then Herrin, Carterville, Johnston City and Crab Orchard respectively. Carterville and Marion would the money to fund new high school and Johnston City would use it fund construction at one of its auxiliary sites. Herrin and Crab Orchard do not have a current need for the funding, but were supporting the referendum as a need to improve facilities county-wide.

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The districts are discussing with legal representatives to determine if initial revenues could go the districts which need it the most first and then to the other districts in subsequent years.

The Carterville district has been forced to make repairs at the existing high school during the last five years while waiting for state school construction funding, but hopes to avoid spending much more on the building that cannot meet the district’s needs.

Both Marion and Carterville have rapidly growing enrollments and cannot house those students within the current high schools.