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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

U-46 tax levy amount approved via split vote

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 officially ratified an $8 million increase in the tax levy by a 5-2 vote, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voting no, at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 4.
  The board voted in November by the same 5-2 votes on two measures on the determination of the levy, and the December votes were on the Certificate of Tax Levy and a corresponding resolution.
  “In light of forecasted enrollment declines of 2 percent a year over the next three years, I disagree with increasing total spending upon which this levy relies,” Ward said. “We are also set to receive close to $13 million additional dollars of funding from the state of Illinois, and we should be reducing the property tax burden correspondingly. Instead, we are increasing the total spending by $6.5 million from last year and correspondingly again the tax levy.”
  In the current budget, the district forecasts enrollment declines each year for the foreseeable future eventually dropping to 36,360 by the 2020-21 school year while at the same time the district plans to spend more and tax more each year. Using Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) data, if the projections come true that will represent a 10.6 percent decline from a 2012 high in enrollment while expenditures will increase by 22.6 percent over that period.
  Costello said: “I’m concerned with the overall state of the budget. I guess I would have liked to have seen a little bit more cost containment and looking at various avenues to bring down some of the costs, and I still think that our overall structure over the next several years is going to drive up costs significantly, and as Mrs. Ward said, without student attendance coming up as well. So we need to find ways to balance that out, and I don’t think this levy will address that point.”
  Board member Traci Ellis said she was “perplexed” and felt that somehow no concerns have been raised in the past regarding the budget.
  “I’m perplexed because it’s this board’s job to give direction to administration,” Ellis said and “there have been umpteen finance committee meetings, this budget and this conversation happened across several financial committee meetings, across several board meetings and it feels disingenuous, I don’t know if that’s your intent, but it feels disingenuous to wait until it’s the vote to say you didn’t have cost containment measures.”
  “I thought I did throw out a couple things that I thought merited some conversation and I don’t recall getting responses to that,” Costello responded.
  Board member Melisa Owens agreed with Ellis that “we shouldn’t be having this conversation now,” but in September it appeared both Costello and Ward were the board members trying to have a conversation on concerns with the budget.
  In September, the budget was approved by a 5-1 vote, Ward voting no and Costello not in attendance for the vote. Costello did make a social media post addressing his concerns and explicitly stating he didn’t support the budget, and Ellis was aware of those concerns as she along with the board’s majority did not allow Ward to read a statement from Costello before the vote.
  Ellis, Owens, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith all voted for the budget without providing any commentary for why they supported it.
  Costello told The Examiner at the time: “Each one of those points was raised with members of the finance team and with Mr. Sanders. And they have denied, basically worked around, any type of constructive thought process and have basically said that my comments had no bearing on that issue.”
  Kerr said “I’d love taxes to go down as well” and Owens added “I do not like paying high property taxes,” but both claimed the district made budget cuts in 2010 but hasn’t recovered.
  From 2007-08 through today, spending per student has increased from $10,504 to $13,152, a 25.2 percent increase, according to the ISBE report card which is $1,302 per student over the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator.
  Owens said: “We have to understand that this levy means that we are raising still less than $7,000 per student. It’s a high levy, but we are still only raising less than $7,000 per student. It costs money to educate our kids, it costs money to give them services, it costs money to do the things that we want to do with special education with (Career and Technical Education). We have to have these conversations.”
  The $7,000 figure appears inaccurate when compared to the ISBE report card which has U-46 spending at $500 million, $315.5 million coming from local taxes with an enrollment of 39,377 making it $8,012 per student raised by local taxpayers.
  Owens also said “we’re competing with other districts” to which Ward responded: “I don’t think that we can really compare ourselves to the districts surrounding us when the state of Illinois has the highest or second to highest property taxes in the nation. To say that we’re not at the same level as surrounding districts, that doesn’t help people fleeing from the state of Illinois because of our high property taxes.”
  Owens claimed that people are coming to Illinois, not fleeing, saying: “There may be people leaving, but people are still moving in here and they are looking for places to live and one of the things that they are looking at is the quality of the school district and what the school district is able to offer their students.”
  Ward responded: “But the fact remains that there is a net exodus.”
  Owens said: “So we shouldn’t fight for the people that are actually moving in? Regardless if it’s a net exodus, we’re still competing with people looking to move into this state. And there are people who are moving into the state. Houses are selling.”
  Ward replied: “Well, I’d like to make it so it’s favorable so that they can stay. We have the same goal, we have a different approach to get there.”
  Ward’s contention of “people fleeing from the state” is accurate according to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data which showed 2016 was the third straight year in which Illinois saw the largest decrease in population in the nation. Recent IRS data has shown a net loss of 21,800 residents to neighboring states and 86,161 to the entire country while $720 million in adjusted gross income has gone to neighboring states, $4.8 billion to the nation.
  By a 7-0 vote, the board approved an intent to abate $9.7 million from the working cash fund which has a stated goal of effectively keeping tax rates flat for current property owners.



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