When Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95 failed in its bid for an education fund tax hike in April, the board vowed they’d be back for another try. Last Thursday night, the Board of Education made that more or less official after voting to direct the district’s superintendent to have an attorney draw up a resolution seeking a tax referendum next spring.
The district will ask voters to approve a tax hike for the education fund to the tune of 47 cents per $100 of Equalized Assessed Value, or 9 cents more than the district asked for back in April, when voters voted against the measure by a 54 to 46 percent margin. The board will consider the resolution at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 15.
Information on how much of a tax increase that would mean for district property owners was not immediately available, but at the previous 38-cent mark, taxes would have gone up by an average of approximately $350 per household.
“At the 47-cent level, it will allow us to maintain our current programs,” said board member Lynn Waterloo, who serves as the chair of the board’s Finance Committee. “We also tried to build in several enhancements for programs.
“Ultimately our goal is to provide good financial stewardship and provide a top-notch education for our children.”
Unlike the previous decision to seek a referendum, however, board members did not present a united front during last week’s vote. Five members of the board, including President James Landahl, Vice President John LaBarbera, Secretary Charles Snyder, Waterloo and Thomas Powers voted to authorize drafting the resolution.
Meanwhile, Steven Hyzny voted “present” and Jon Dunker, who served as the chairman of the referendum committee in the run up to the April election, voted against the measure. Both Hyzny and Dunker were elected to their first terms on the board in April.
Hyzny said that before setting a number for the referendum, “we need to specify what we plan on adding?”delineate exactly what we need. I’m worried that voters may think, if we give them the money, they’ll find a way to spend it.”
That point of view drew a sharp rebuttal from LaBarbera, who said the board had been laying out its plan for months, if not years and that the district’s planned program enhancements were not “some generic laundry list.”
“We’re talking about implementing a full-time Spanish teacher in grades four through eight,” LaBarbera said. “We’re talking about implementing a real science lab at S.E. Gross. To characterize the work we’ve done as some sort of pie-in-the-sky list … that we’ll use in some frenzied spending spree is disingenuous.”
Dunker, on the other hand, questioned the need to raise the tax increase from 38 to 47 cents, saying that he didn’t “see a whole lot of difference” between the two.
LaBarbera responded that the failure to pass the referendum in the spring will have made the district’s financial position worse by the time any increased tax revenue hit their coffers.
“We’re talking about a very extreme situation here,” LaBarbera said. “It’s not just a linear progression, but a geometric progression.”
Dunker added, in a separate interview, that his vote last Thursday did not mean he wouldn’t support a 47-cent increase in the future, but that he felt he didn’t have enough information to make that decision last week.
“I think at this point, I’m looking for more information and for justification of that amount,” Dunker said. “I can’t say I won’t come around to it in the future.
To help answer any questions regarding the tax rate that will appear on the ballot, the District 95 board has called a special meeting for Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Brook Park School learning center. Brook Park School is located at 30th Street and Raymond Avenue in LaGrange Park.
The meeting is open to the public.
Financial projections provided by the Finance Committee showed that, if things remain status quo, by 2007 the district’s education fund would be running a deficit of just over $1.1 million. By 2010, the district’s education fund deficit was projected to be $2.2 million.
“It’s abundantly clear from the numbers and projections that we’re a year away from not being able to borrow enough money to allow our school to run as it does,” LaBarbera said.
Should a tax referendum fail to pass next spring, the Finance Committee also laid out areas where cuts could be made to address the projected shortfalls. Among the cuts suggested were the elimination of the district’s main bus service, laying off eleven teachers and increasing class sizes, among other things.
The annual cost savings by making those cuts is projected at $600,000.
If voters pass a 47-cent increase for the education fund, district projections show that by 2008, the education fund will be running a $577,000 surplus. By 2010, with the tax increase, projections show revenues exceeding expenditures by just over $900,000. That would allow the district to enhance programs instead of cutting them.
In addition, any funds left over from the district’s $3.6 million bond issue in 2004 could be used to fund capital improvements, said Powers. Currently, the bond funds are being used to balance the deficit in the education fund, which pays for the district’s day-to-day operational expenses.