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posted: 7/15/2010 12:01 AM

Back-to-school tax holiday stings year-round schools

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Seana McPherson sees it as yet another price to pay for her kids' unique education.

The Mount Prospect mother, who has a third-grader and kindergartner enrolled at Ridge Family Center for Learning in Elk Grove Village, a year-round school, has gotten used to missing out on the back-to-class sales.

Three-ring binders, pencils, folders and backpack prices always plummet in August - more than two weeks after her girls have started school.

This year, it'll sting a little more.

Gov. Pat Quinn last week signed legislation that eliminates the state's 5 percent sales tax for 10 days - from Aug. 6 to Aug. 15.

The sales tax holiday applies to school supplies and clothing items that are less than $100.

"I was reading about the tax break and said to my husband, 'Well, I guess we're missing out,'" McPherson said. "I'd like to wait to buy (the supplies), but you can't. You have to show up on the first day with them."

State Rep. Keith Farnham, an Elgin Democrat who sponsored the legislation in the House, said he "didn't really think about" including year-round schools in the tax holiday.

"Yes it's a tax break and it's a very targeted tax break to a certain group," Farnham said. "But I like the idea that it creates other sales along with it."

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, there are more than 50 year-round schools in Cook and McHenry counties.

While the majority of campuses are located in Chicago, Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59, Des Plaines Elementary District 62 and McHenry Elementary District 15 each feature schools with year-round calendars.

Elgin Area School District U-46 until last month featured three year-round elementary schools on Elgin's east side. But starting in August, Channing, Sheridan and Garfield elementaries will switch to a traditional calendar to help save the cash-strapped district an estimated $200,000.

Ridge Center Principal Barbara Zabroske said families who live within District 59 boundaries have the option to enroll their children at that school, which features shorter, more frequent breaks and a calendar that begins in late July and ends in June.

The McPhersons feel the schedule helps their girls to better retain what they've learned.

With a two-week break in October and longer Christmas break, family vacation planning has been easier as well.

Each July, Zabroske said, families have the option of buying ready-made school supply kits directly from the school, but a majority of parents still choose to do their own supply shopping.

McPherson has a budget of about $80 for both girls' supplies.

While Farnham says publicity about the sales tax may spur more families of year-round students to wait to purchase supplies, McPherson said she'd like to see lawmakers institute a more inclusive back-to-school supply tax credit.

"Then it doesn't matter when you did you're shopping. You always get notes home that you need more glue sticks, supplies throughout the year," she said. "Then it incorporates everybody."