District 102 waves referendum flag

School board approves notice for seeking November tax hike vote

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Voters in southwest Brookfield likely will have two property tax referendums to vote on in November.

In addition to a likely referendum to build a new public library, last week the LaGrange-Brookfield School District 102 Board of Education approved a resolution stating it plans to go to referendum in November.

"I call this kind of planting your flag in the sand," said District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher.

A referendum has been long-expected in District 102, which serves the southwestern portion of Brookfield, in addition to LaGrange and part of LaGrange Park. In fact, Schumacher was hired last year in large part because of his experience leading two successful referendum campaigns in Telluride, Colorado, when he was school superintendent. 

District 102 has been running operating deficits for years, gradually spending down its reserves. In the fiscal year ending June 30, the district expects to post an operating deficit of a little more than $2.1 million. District reserves are about $8.6 million or about 23 percent of annual expenditures.

The district is expected to ask for a $3 million total increase in property taxes. According to information presented by Schumacher at last week's school board meeting, the owner of a home worth $300,000 would see an increase of about $320 in their annual property tax bill if the referendum passes.

The board has not yet voted to formally place the referendum question on the ballot, but is expected to do so later this summer. To place the referendum on the November ballot, the board must approve the referendum question by no later than Aug. 22.

District 102 will hold public meetings on Aug. 1 at the LaGrange Public Library and on Aug. 8 at the LaGrange Park Public Library to discuss its financial situation and the referendum. This summer the district will send a letter to every resident of District 102 inviting them to attend those meetings.

School board President Matthew Scotty said the board is seeking input from the community, but left little doubt that the board intends to put a referendum question on the ballot.

"We have a couple months before we need to make the final declaration, and we're going to listen to the community and we're going to listen to the feedback that we have," Scotty said. "Are we committed as board? Yes, we've got a fiduciary responsibility to maintain services."

Other board members said raising taxes or cutting services is a choice the community will have to make.

"This is something the community is going to have to decide," said board member Martin Rodgers.

At the June 8 school board meeting, Schumacher presented a detailed look at the district's financial situation. Without a referendum Schumacher said that district would exhaust its reserves by 2019 or 2020 without spending cuts.

One such spending cut Schumacher is recommending is withdrawing from the LaGrange Area District Special Education co-operative (LADSE), which he estimated could save the district $400,000 a year. 

The school board last week approved a resolution to separate from LADSE on July 1, 2017, a year from now. The district is required to give LADSE one year's notice of its intention to withdraw from the co-op.

But that decision is not irrevocable. A number of parents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting saying how valuable LADSE's services are and requesting more detail about the potential savings.

Schumacher said that he had no issues with LADSE's quality and said that the district would look at ways to continue to work with LADSE.

Schumacher outlined other spending cuts that would be needed if a referendum does not pass. These could include laying off teachers and increasing class sizes to as many as 28 or 30 students, closing the Barnsdale full-day kindergarten center, eliminating some non-teachers and support positions, closing the science center, eliminating all supplemental stipends for teachers for extracurricular activities, reducing support for special education students and eliminating programs such as band, orchestra and Spanish in the elementary schools.

According to the Illinois Interactive School Report Card District 102 spends slightly less than the state average on instructional spending per student -- $7,167 per student in 2014 compared to the state average of $7,419. 

In terms of operational spending per student, District 102 spends more than $1,000 per student less than the state average, $11,247 in District 102 compared to $12,521 statewide in 2014. 

District 102 spends less money per pupil than Riverside Elementary School District 96 but more than Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary District 95.

Teachers in District 102 make slightly more than the state average, earning an average salary of $65,575 compare to the state average of $62,609. 

District 102 receives about 80 percent of its revenue from local property taxes.

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