The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Debated U-46 tax levy approved by split vote
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 voted 5-2 for a proposed 3 percent hike in the 2018 property tax levy at its meeting on Monday, Nov. 5.
The votes were on the determination of the levy as well as a resolution regarding the levy, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voting no on both. John Devereux, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland, Melissa Owens and Donna Smith all voted for the proposed tax hike.
The 2018 proposal totals $279.8 million, an $8.2 million increase from the 2017 actual levy of $271.6 million. That is a defensive levy as U-46 expects a $6.8 million increase, or 2.5 percent, for a $278.4 million total.
Additionally, a $42.2 million levy for debt service and public building commission leases brings the 2018 total proposal to $322 million, a 2.2 percent increase from 2017’s total extension of $315 million.
“To determine the amount of the 2018 tax levy, we need to estimate our 2018 equalized assessed valuation (EAV) which includes the amount of new construction and the change in the equalized assessed valuations for properties in the district,” said Dale Burnidge, director of financial operations. “The levy amount is then increased by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is 2.1 percent.”
The proposal states a $5.1 million increase in the 2018 EAV, but the district expects a $4.9 million increase in EAV.
In November, the district plans on an abatement of about $9.6 million which officials say effectively keep property tax bills flat.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said: “We’re trying our best to maintain a flat levy so that taxpayers feel some relief from U-46.”
Ward replied: “And as I explained on previous occasions, that preserves the ability to keep the increases into the future. It preserves increases for the future. That’s the reason for the levy and abate.”
Burnidge stated Ward’s assessment of that process was “correct” previously.
Ward opposed the Fiscal Year 2019 budget expressing concerns with the district adding 54 new positions and increasing spending by $40.2 million despite continued enrollment declines and Costello, who voted against the budget, also was concerned and he reiterated.
“I think that it’s just a matter of just systemically we’re spending more and we have a lower census,” Costello said. “We have a lot of taxpayers that are leaving the district and I just get concerned. So I don’t know if we’ve considered the options here.”
The budget projects spending to continue to rise with enrollment still declining for the foreseeable future. By the 2021-22 school year, enrollment could drop 13.1 percent and spending could increase 36.3 percent since 2012 using state data.
Owens said the levy needs to be increased to protect the district because theoretically the enrollment could increase, and the district may have to purchase more land in South Elgin to build new schools despite district officials stating in recent years some schools may need to be closed down because of underutilization.
“What we’re really doing is we’re preserving and protecting ourselves against future inflation, and there can be serious consequences if we don’t do that,” said Owens and added: “We’re going to seriously have to consider our options as far as do we have the building capacity to be able to serve the new students that might come into the district.”
Owens said she recognized enrollment was declining but said some schools saw an increase and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning wants to “increase urban density.”
“We’re just saddling future boards… with not having the funds they need to keep up with changes based on future demographics,” Owens said.
Ward said that it’s “well documented” that population is not only declining in U-46 but also across the state.
U.S. Census Bureau data showed that Illinois dropped from the fifth to the sixth most populated state after 2017. The decline in population could continue according to a 2018 poll by the University of Illinois-Springfield and NPR Illinois showing 53 percent of residents are considering moving from the state, 63 percent of ages 18 to 34, with the top “primary reason” being high taxes.
“We are set to lose two legislative seats (in the U.S. House of Representatives) in the 2020 census because the population of Illinois is dropping so dramatically, and that’s not projected to get fixed,” Ward said.
“Are we losing two seats here?” Owens asked. Ward responded: “Two seats in the state of Illinois.”
Owens said “we’re only concerned with here,” which Ward replied: “The population is dropping. Overall, it’s dropping. You can’t argue with that.”
“I’m not arguing with that, but I’m only concerned about the population here and what our taxes support here,” Owens said.
Ward said: “The population here is dropping. Our enrollment is dropping. Our numbers show that.”
“Sure, but it’s not dropping across the entire district,” Owens said. “Enrollment is increasing in some of our schools, and we’re going to have to address that. We’re also going to have to address the fact that we have schools that were built in the 1890s.”
The back-and-forth continued for a few more minutes, Ward eventually saying “well, we’ll redraw boundary lines” if needed but Owens saying capital projects need addressing now on current buildings.
The vote came on the same night the administration presented the 2018 enrollment numbers which showed a drop of 633 students to 38,572 from 39,205. From 40,487 students in 2014, enrollment dropped 350 students in 2015, 426 in 2016 and 506 in 2017.
U-46 saw enrollment increase in early childhood and private placement programs but a drop of 626 students in elementary schools (no building increasing by more than 40 but six losing over 40) and 147 students in middle schools (one school with more than 40 students, four losing over 40). High school enrollment increased by one student, no school with an increase or decrease of over 40 students.
Jeff King, chief operations officer, said “preferably you’d like to have a school somewhere around the 85 percent utilization range,” and the district’s numbers showed the vast majority, 87 percent, of schools are below that standard.
The numbers showed that 47 percent of schools are 66 to 81 percent utilized, 35 percent are 50 to 65 percent utilized and 5 percent are under 50 percent utilized while 13 percent are 82 to 97 percent utilized.
Ward noted those numbers, but King excused the fact that 87 percent, by the district’s own calculation standards, were below that 85 percent range because art, music and special education classrooms weren’t taken into account. Owens claimed dual language and English language learner classrooms could affect those numbers as well.