If you live in School District 95, you’re being pressured to approve a big tax increase to straighten out the district’s ailing education fund. But before you cast your important vote, I urge you to take a close look at a few statistics the school board isn’t particularly interested in telling you.
According to the board’s own study completed last fall, the proposed 47-cent tax hike is nearly double what the board actually needs to pull the education fund out of debt and place it solidly into surplus.
In fact, a 30-cent increase studied and ignored by board members would have been the best choice, generating a $1.8 million surplus in the education fund by 2010. That’s $1.8 million even after additional spending is factored in for an across-the-board teacher salary increase and general academic improvements.
These numbers, and those to follow, come from the board, not me. I’ll gladly hand-deliver copies of the board’s revenue projections to anyone interested in learning more about the district’s true financial situation.
If the 47-cent referendum passes, it will generate an education fund surplus of $4 million by 2010, even with an average increase of 4.6 percent in curriculum-related spending every year. This surplus is above and beyond a projected working cash reserve of $3.2 million in 2010.
Even if you toss in the board’s ideas for all-day kindergarten and other expensive “program enhancements” that exist only on paper, the board will be sitting on $6.3 million in 2010, just in the education and working cash funds.
A huge surplus in the education fund is inappropriate because the board’s separate working cash fund is intended to be the district’s fall-back fund. The district doesn’t need two multi-million dollar piggy banks, and the board doesn’t need the temptation to spend those excess tax dollars.
A 30-cent increase, on the other hand, is enough to keep the education fund from ever dipping into the red, and it builds a substantial surplus of $1.8 million by 2010, according to the board’s projections. When you toss in the availability of $3.2 million in the district’s separate working cash fund, that’s $5 million in cash, well beyond the cash cushion recommended by the state of Illinois, all on a 30-cent hike.
As a parent and voter, I think it’s important to know about projected cash surpluses and lower tax alternatives available to our district. The board simply doesn’t need as much money as a 47-cent tax hike would produce.
So where do we go from here? Personally, I have to vote no, even though I fully support the board’s determination to balance the district’s finances. I know the education fund is a mess, and so is the tax system that funds our schools. But I believe we should take the time to get the numbers right. The board failed to do so.
Some parents I have spoken with feel they have no choice but to go along with the school board because their kids keep bringing home memos promising drastic cuts if the board doesn’t get its way. But in reality not a single teacher or program needs to be cut, today or in the fall, according to the board’s financial statements.
Parents and neighbors, we’re being squeezed on purpose. The board discussed how to leverage their position, and the strategy emerged to target hot-button issues such as cutting staff at every grade level, slashing the art, band and sports programs in their entirety and reducing bus service to the bare minimum required by law. It’s a scare-the-voters agenda calculated to touch every child in the district, including mine.
To the referendum cheerleaders wrapping blue ribbons around their trees, I encourage you to ask yourself whether it’s your intention to fund the district properly or to fund it excessively. It seems to me a number of parents and teachers are marching in lockstep with the board’s position and either don’t know or don’t care that the proposed tax hike far exceeds the district’s projected expenses.
I urge the District 95 school board to withdraw its 47-cent tax increase from the March ballot, because it exceeds what is prudent and necessary to fund the district’s education fund. And I call upon the board to return to the voters eigh months from now with a 30-cent referendum which more closely matches the financial needs of our schools.
To cover any shortfall in the education fund between now and passage of a 30-cent tax increase, the board should carefully tap into its $2.8 million cash reserve, just as it has funded budget shortfalls in the past.
That’s what the money is there for, and the cash fund is large enough to carry the district past fiscal year 2008, well beyond the first infusion of tax revenue from a successful 30-cent referendum in November.
Voters need to know the entire story. I encourage every D-95 parent and homeowner to vote no in March. The board will get my vote when they return with a 30-cent proposal.