History of Naperville Community
Unit School District 203
Reorganization into a Unit District
During the early 1970s, the Illinois legislature modified wording in a new Illinois constitution that affected school districts’ bonding powers. It provided unit districts with higher bonding power limits, an important factor in Naperville and other growing communities that always seemed to need more schools. Almost immediately, several area districts filed petitions seeking to reform as unit districts.
In Naperville, a citizens advisory council recommended the reorganization into a unit district because it would mean a substantial increase in state aid and better coordination and articulation of K-12 instruction. A unit district would be more efficient to operate and probably would need fewer administrators than separate elementary and secondary districts. It would also provide opportunities for better control and development of curriculum and instruction from kindergarten through grade 12. High School District 107 was enrolling students from seven elementary systems, and levels of preparation were not always consistent. In addition, formation of a unit system would simplify salary negotiations and enable the board to establish one salary schedule and more uniform teaching hours for elementary and secondary faculty.
The Naperville boards agreed with the citizens advisory council recommendations. They also were concerned that a unit district the size of District 107 would be unwieldy. The high school district encompassed approximately 75 square miles – much of it undeveloped farmland to the west and south. It was felt that a unit district should be not much larger than the existing Elementary District 78, if efficient management was desired.
Andrew (Mike) Wehrli was the District 107 Board of Education member who was asked to contact board members in the outlying elementary districts to obtain their input concerning the new legislation, their preferences concerning assimilation within a Naperville unit district to be numbered 203, and their recommendations concerning the formation of a separate Unit District 204 in the western portion of what was then District 107. A newly formed District 204 would receive start-up capital when the assets of District 107 were divided. The assets would include a transfer of ownership of school sites and a percentage of cash on hand an receivables.
Residents within some areas to the east of Naperville chose to be included within District 203, rather than Lisle District 202. Similar decisions were made by residents within the northern part of Will County as much discussion gradually established the division of District 107 into Unit Districts 203 and 204. Boundary questions delayed a formal referendum for the formation of the two unit districts until the middle of 1972, when state and county authorities allowed the questions to be placed before taxpayers.
A Referendum Creates District 203
A June 1972 referendum caused the dissolution of Elementary District 78 and High School District 107 and the formation of a 32-square-mile Community Unit School District 203. The District 107 Board served as a caretaker board until the first District 203 Board of Education was elected on August 12, 1972. A total of 1,914 District 203 residents selected as their representatives Daniel Butler, Mary Lou Cowlishaw, John Dahlberg, Dean Davis, Marjorie Osborne, Wilma Reschke and Andrew Wehrli.
A resolution dividing the assets of District 107 between Unit Districts 203 and 204 was signed on October 13, 1972 by Merrill Gates, a former superintendent of the DuPage County Educational Service Region and ex-officio secretary of the County Board of School Trustees. The resolution ordered that 7.705% of the net worth of District 107, then valued at $14,541,371.83, would be allocated to Unit District 204. This included the Hartman Farm (estimated value $400,000) and funds and receivables amounting to $720,412.70.
On opening day of the first school year in the newly formed District 203, there were 5,865 students in grades kindergarten through eight, 3,204 students in grades nine through 12, and 87 students receiving special education services.
After the transformation into Unit District 203, the public school system in Naperville received increases of approximately $1,540,000 in state aid for 1972-73, permitting the reduction of the combined tax levy for all six funds from $4.461 to $3.831. Because there was, as yet, no high school in the newly formed District 204, Naperville Central High School in District 203 continued to receive students from that area and tuition reimbursement from the state. Naperville North High School had been opened under phased construction in 1970 at a cost of $4,177,778. At that time, the new high school’s first phase contained core facilities for a recommended capacity of 2,300 students, but only enough classrooms for up to 1,000 freshmen.
Superintendent Dr. John Fields stated at the time of the establishment of the new Naperville Community Unit School District 203 that he foresaw future developments that would “require that (we) reexamine…the role of public education in our society. It will be critical that we, as Americans, work together to continue to improve upon the greatest system of education on Earth in order that we may survive the stresses of our times.”
-taken from the District 203 History book, written by PIO Phoebe Bickhaus in 1977