All four candidates for the Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89 school board say the district needs money and they're willing to ask residents to increase property taxes to do it.
Current Board President Lori Gaspar, incumbent Terry Lachcik and newcomers Tim Jedlicka and Art Hilliard all said they would vote to put a referendum on the March 2012 ballot that, if approved, would raise the tax rate for the first time since voters approved an increase in 1986.
The district is facing a $1 million deficit due to increased costs and state funding cuts, and current board members are considering a variety of personnel and programming cuts, fee increases and use of reserves to make up the difference.
But long term, the four candidates all said in interviews with the Daily Herald that they'd support a tax increase. They are seeking three available 4-year seats on the board.
Gaspar, who is seeking her third term, said parents have told board members to resolve the district's worsening financial situation and thinks they would be supportive of a tax increase. Since every tax referendum the district has sought has been approved, she thinks voters would be receptive.
"The community knows we do a great job watching their pennies," Gaspar said. "We've done our due diligence."
Lachcik, who also is seeking a third term, said the district has done well without a tax rate increase, and has been able to live off reserve funds in the short term. But eventually, new revenue will have to come from somewhere, he said.
"We've talked about a referendum for a while," Lachcik said. "I don't see any way around it."
Jedlicka said he thinks a referendum would have a good chance of passing if supporters emphasize the district's "world-class" status and good test scores.
"The last tax rate increase was in 1986. You could argue we're due," Jedlicka said. "The community has had support for education in the past."
Hilliard said the district has struggled with paying for unfunded state mandates in the midst of increasing expenses and a falling Consumer Price Index. He doesn't believe there's "another way around" a tax increase.
"I think the district has been very responsible. The problem we have is not a result of management," Hilliard said. "It's just a function of the market."
Currently, the school board is considering cuts that would have the least effect, officials say, on classroom instruction, such as reducing nursing services and eliminating some secretarial positions. Gaspar and Lachcik said additional cuts with a moderate impact on instruction would have to be considered next year.
Hilliard said the district will be faced with making deeper cuts if there isn't a tax increase.
"If a referendum doesn't get passed, you're talking about Level 2 and 3 cuts and affecting the value of education," he said.
The district covers portions of Glen Ellyn, Wheaton and Lombard.