By Bob Skolnik
The LaGrange-Brookfield Elementary School District 102 Board of Education has made it official.
There will be a referendum question on the Nov. 8 ballot, asking voters in District 102, which includes the southwestern portion of Brookfield, to raise property taxes to generate more operating revenue for the elementary school district.
This will be the first operating rate referendum in District 102 since 1996.
At a special meeting on Aug. 17, the District 102 school board voted 6 to 0 to ask voters to approve a property tax hike, as it had telegraphed it was going to do in June. The referendum question will ask voters to increase the district's tax rate from 3.68 percent of the equalized assessed valuation in the district to 4.10 percent, an increase of 42 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation.
If the referendum passes, the district forecasts a property tax increase of about $112 per $100,000 of market value of a home. For example, the owners of a home worth $200,000 would see their taxes increase by about $224. The owner of a home worth $300,000 would see an increase of about $336 in their tax bill.
If approved, the tax increase will bring in about $3 million a year in additional revenue to the district in the first year.
The district is forecasting an operating deficit of nearly $1.9 million in 2016-17 and ran a deficit of about $2.1 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
District 102 has been deficit spending and drawing down its cash reserves for years. If the referendum is not approved, the officials estimate that the school district will run out of cash reserves by the 2021 fiscal year.
If the referendum is approved, the officials forecast a healthy $12.6 million in reserves in 2021, or about 32.6 percent of the operating budget.
District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher told school board members at the special meeting on Aug. 17 that he believes the referendum will pass.
"I have confidence that this is something that the community will support," Schumacher said.
If the referendum is not approved, significant budget cuts will eventually have to be made.
"We'll have some difficult decisions to make," Schumacher said.
Even if the tax increase is approved, the school district will still look at ways to save money, Schumacher said.
"A referendum, or revenue increase alone, is not going to solve all our problems long-term," Schumacher said.
This month, the district held four community forums to discuss the district's financial situation and the need for a referendum. While a mixture of views was expressed at those forums, school board members say that they heard nothing that dissuaded them from putting the issue to voters.
"I think it's the right thing to do," said District 102 school board President Matthew Scotty. "We passed a resolution in June to pursue it. We got feedback, and the feedback was, 'Yeah, we should pursue it.'"