It’s official. Voters in Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 will again be asked next spring to approve a property tax increase to bolster the district’s sagging finances.

Members of the District 95 Board of Education voted unanimously last Thursday night to put a referendum question on the March 21, 2006 primary election ballot seeking a 47 cent increase in the district’s tax rate.

“This will allow us to maintain what we have today, and provide an opportunity to add things in the future,” said board President James Landahl. “It also provides an opportunity not to go back to the community for many years.”

Approving the hike would raise the district’s education fund tax rate to $2.94 per $100 of equalized assessed value of all property in the district. The district’s education fund is the fund from which it pays for day-to-day operational expenses, such as teachers’ salaries and benefits.

According to Superintendent Douglas Rudig, the board estimates that the owner of a $250,000 home will see an average property tax increase over the next five years of $37 per month, or roughly $450 per year. He added that figure was for properties without any exemptions and that the figure would be lower, for example, for seniors who have additional exemptions.

Due to constraints of tax cap legislation in Illinois, however, District 95 has only been able to collect about $1.88 per year, according to Rudig. As a result, expenditures have outpaced revenues for the district in recent years. In 2005-06 the district’s education fund expenses are expected to top revenues by nearly $800,000.

By the end of the 2006-07 school year, the board’s Finance Committee projects the education fund to be bankrupt, and has submitted a preliminary proposal for cutting staff positions and programs in order to prevent that from happening.

Among the cutbacks suggested if the March 2006 referendum fails are 11 teaching positions, increasing class sizes and eliminating the district’s main bus service. Approval of the referendum would allow the district to capture the full $2.94 for one year before being limited by tax caps in future years.

District 95 sought a 38 cent increase in its education fund tax rate in April 2005, but that question was voted down by voters in the district by a 54 to 46 percent margin. Prior to that defeat, board members warned that future referendum questions would become increasingly more expensive.

Last month, when the board’s Finance Committee proposed the 47 cent rate hike, two board members, Steven Hyzny and Jon Dunker, expressed hesitancy. Last week, they voted for the proposal, but neither spoke about the measure.

In contrast, the proposal won enthusiastic support from other board members, including Thomas Powers, who said the board had “no choice” but vote for putting the referendum question on the ballot.

“We are spending more than we have the ability to cover,” Powers said. “The rate we are asking for is in keeping with the philosophy of our district to be conservative. But it does takes us out as far as we can see.”

Powers also linked a successful referendum to the district’s current facilities master planning process.

“Until we solve the problem in the education fund, we’re not going to be able to do anything,” Powers said. “If we solve the ed fund, with our bonding capability, we don’t anticipate having to go out for a tax increase [for facilities] because it can be a phased project. We don’t want to go back consistently beating up the taxpayers for money.”

Since the board cannot actively lobby voters to approve the referendum, a district committee called Citizens for District 95 will serve as the principal means of communication for the referendum effort.

Kris Gauger, a Brookfield resident with a second-grader and Brook Park School and a 5-year-old son in the Early Childhood program at S.E. Gross School, is chair of the committee.

“We all felt last time that the committee didn’t have enough time to organize to get the community to vote for the referendum,” Gauger said. “School finance is not an easy thing to understand. We need to work together to make sure parents and the community knows about the financial challenges we face.”