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Dist. 31 referendum drives turnout at some polling places

West Northfield School District 31 residents Debbie Oberman and Marisa Boffa discuss the tax increase referendum Tuesday outside Field School. (Jeff Danna, Tribune reporter)

West Northfield School District 31 residents Debbie Oberman and Marisa Boffa discuss the tax increase referendum Tuesday outside Field School. (Jeff Danna, Tribune reporter)

Even with a  hotly contested race for the Republican presidential candidate, a $1.8 million tax increase referendum appeared to be driving voter turnout in parts of Northbrook and Glenview Tuesday afternoon.

Voters and election judges said the referendum in West Northfield School District 31 was such a big issue that even non-District 31 residents wanted to vote on it.

District  officials say the increase is needed to  prevent about $1 million in program, teacher and other staff  cuts.

The referendum “has probably increased our turnout more than anything else,” said Elizabeth Rottman, an election judge at Willowbrook School in Glenview.

Outside Field School at Landwher and Techny roads in Northbrook, supporters of the tax increase debated the issue with a group of opponents who set up camp just a few yards away.

The supporters — parents Meg Sauser, Debbie Oberman and Marisa Boffa — asked the opponents why they didn’t support the measure and whether they came up through the local school system.

The opponents who declined to give their names but said were University of Illinois students. One said her father was once involved with the Board of Education and she didn’t see evidence that the district’s finances were in trouble.

She also said keeping taxes low — District 31’s tax rate is among the lowest in the state — would help attract new residents.

The supporters said they believed cuts the district could make if the referendum fails would hurt home values and damage the district’s reputation among potential new residents. They also tried to hand over literature that showed the district’s projected cash reserves dwindling in coming years, but the opponents did not accept and said they already voted.

District 31 officials, including Superintendent Alexandra Nicholson and Director of Business Services Cathy Lauria, have also said the district’s funds are in decline. After the district pays bills and salaries, the district can expect an approximately a $1.1 million cash reserve by 2015, according to Nicholson.

The scene was quieter outside Willowbrook School, a Glenview School District 34 facility that also was a polling place for District 31 voters.

Phil Hollenberg and Vivian Haralampopoulos were representing the pro-referendum group Save District 31 and said the amount of discussion about the referendum was a sign they and district officials had done a better job spreading the word.

Last year, a similar referendum failed by a margin of more than 2-1.

“It’s been a mix” of supporters and opponents,” Hollenberg said. “Generally, there’s a good feeling.”

Because schools like Willowbrook and Field attracted voters from multiple school districts, some voters were confused about how their votes would be counted, election judges said.

Bernard Logan and Bob Olson, election judges at Field School, said the were handing out two different ballots for each political party, plus non-partisan ballots. Logan said this was because the precinct includes two school districts.

Outside, referendum supporter Sauser yelled to a man about to enter the building.

“Are you voting for the referendum?” Sauser said.

“No,” said the man, explaining he didn’t live in District 31. “But if I could, I would.”

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