District 86 referendum still sparking debate


The facade of Hinsdale Central High School. The school, along with the other school in the Hinsdale high school district—Hinsdale South—may have to make cuts to athletic and extracurricular programs if a referendum isn’t passed in April. (Voytovich/LION)

Tessa Voytovich, Reporter

Residents of District 86 have been on edge since the referendum in November 2018 failed to pass. The district is waiting for another vote on April 2 to pass a new referendum to renovate and repair both the Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South high school campuses. Because of the high stakes in place, both sides of the debate are continuously campaigning for their outcomes.

“Anyone who has school-aged children or children who recently graduated from the district can definitely see the urgency and need for [the referendum],” the Chair of the Say Yes Campaign Kari Galassi said.

The “SOS Say Yes Campaign” is working to convince people to vote yes to the referendum, considering it has failed twice before. Changes have been made to increase support for it; on the November 2018 ballot, the $166.4 million proposition was voted down. The ballot that will be voted on in April was reduced to the amount of $139 million, cutting costs for the construction of new pools and facilities, according to the District 86 website.

“I don’t think it’s going to pass, since it failed twice,” District 86 resident and Hinsdale South alum Zach Mottl said. “The momentum is clearly against it and the threats they made to cut the programs were terrifying. They turned more people off than they motivated.”


If the referendum does not pass for the third time, cuts will be made to various athletic and extracurricular activities at the schools. One notable cut is the football program at both Hinsdale South and Hinsdale Central. Mottl, who serves on the Burr Ridge Village Board, offered to donate $35,000 of his own money and has said he acquired another $100,000 in pledges to preserve the sport in the district.

“I offered to fund the program and I was disappointed that the board didn’t get back to me with questions or anything,” Mottl said. “If they really wanted those kids to have football, they would’ve found the money.”

Private donations cannot be accepted, due to Title IX violations, District 86 President Bill Carpenter said. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits the use of federal money that supports sex discrimination in schools. Since football is predominantly a boys sport in high school, preserving that program alone would be a violation of the law.

“I would’ve said we would fund all the programs if they [the board] had gotten back to me,” Mottl said.

Mottl is the chairman of “District 86 Vote No on Tax Increase to Do Better,” an anti-referendum campaign. He has actively encouraged voters to vote no, due to what he says is unequal spending on the different schools. The proposed referendum has $79.9 million directed towards Central, and $58.9 million for South, according to the District 86 website.

“I think that highlights the unfairness that has been going on for over a decade. Hinsdale Central has always been favored,” Mottl said. “If they want a referendum to pass they need to go back and make it fair and equitable. I don’t want to say yes to something that locks in unequal spending.”

The debate over the Hinsdale school district referendum also surrounds perceived inequities between Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South. (Voytovich/LION)

Others say the disparity in funding is due to the difference in student population and ages of the buildings. HC was built in 1950 and HS was built in 1965, according to the D86 website.

“HC has a larger footprint and has a lot more wear and tear on the building because of the larger number of students,” the chair of the “SOS Say Yes Campaign” Galassi said. “Central is also a much older building and has more dire needs. It makes perfect sense when you consider the fact that Central has 65 percent of the students and only 57 percent of the referendum. It’s more than fair.”

In the fall of 2018, a civil rights lawsuit against District 86 was filed, arguing that Hinsdale South students are discriminated against on the basis of unlawful attendance boundaries and a curricular disparity, according to the Darien Patch. Zach Mottl stood behind the civil rights case. The case was dismissed.

“Our concern was that both schools were having their needs met,” Carpenter said concerning the latest inequality complaints.

He declined to comment on whether or not he believed the referendum would have a better chance of getting passed if the spending was equally divided between the schools.

“I never felt like we were denied resources from an equity perspective,” Former Hinsdale South principal Dr. Brian Waterman said.

Waterman was the principal of Hinsdale South from 2008 to 2014 and is currently the principal of Lyons Township High School. As an administrator in D86, he felt the district did a good job of accommodating both of the schools, he said.

“They made decisions around facilities with equitableness in mind,” Waterman said. “If someone from the outside looked at it with an equality perspective, yes they would find it unequal, just like any other district  where there are schools of different sizes.”

However, some residents still feel as though the district is undeserving the students at Hinsdale South.

“I serve on the Burr Ridge village board and a lot of residents were coming and literally begging me to do something about the school situation,” Mottl said. “They said they’ve met with the [school] board and they feel they’re being ignored and we feel that our Burr Ridge children who go to South are not getting the same opportunities, though we are in the same district.”

The last referendum that passed in the district was in 1962, for the construction of Hinsdale South. For comparison, Lyons Township High School’s last referendum was in 1967.

“I would hope that people truly understand all the facts before making the decision to vote no,” Galassi said. “It’s going to be a huge detriment to student populations and property values if we don’t get this passed.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the most recent referendum to pass at LT was in 2016. That is not correct. The most recent referendum at LT was in 1967. The LION regrets the error.