It certainly seems as if every time we turn around, there is some public entity asking for a tax increase. In the Landmark coverage area, there were three school tax referenda just a year ago. The Brookfield Library asked for a tax increase last fall.
On April 5, voters in Brookfield and LaGrange Park will be asked to support another tax referendum, this time for Elementary School District 95. Our opinion is that the district deserves a “Yes” vote.
Despite an effort to paint the district’s board and administration as spendthrifts, the reality is that the cost of education–from paying teachers salaries and benefits to maintaining aging buildings to providing quality programs both inside and outside the classroom–has been rising faster than revenue streams available to the district.
When a district is able to extend a tax levy between 2 and 3 percent when staff raises are 6 percent and healthcare premiums are in double digits, it’s nearly impossible to balance a budget without cutting programs and services that students deserve and parents demand.
We believe that District 95 is working to provide more in the way of extracurricular opportunities for children and has worked to improve the educational product at both Brook-Park and S.E. Gross schools in the past several years. Its recent facilities survey, meanwhile, was done in order to plan comprehensively for the future. And, over the past two years, the district has also worked to provide itself with long-term financial information.
One of the results of that planning has been to identify that the district will need an infusion of cash soon. In recent years, instead of asking voters for more money directly, the district has used bonds to cover the imbalance between its revenues and expenditures.
That amounts to a back door tax, and the board has recognized that is a hopeless long-term financial formula. We wish they would have come to that conclusion sooner, but it is the right conclusion nonetheless.
With tax caps in place, periodic tax referenda are the only way for school districts to obtain more cash for operations. It’s simply up to voters to decide whether they want the product the district is delivering now or not.
Can the district do more to make sure the numbers balance? Sure they can. For one, they can negotiate a new teacher contract that reflects the financial strains that everyone else, including the district itself, has to face. That will take a team effort, however.
A failed referendum in April will not result in immediate cuts, but voters can be sure that cuts will be coming if it does not pass soon. Voting “yes” is one way to guarantee that the district can not only maintain, but improve education in Brookfield and LaGrange Park.