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updated: 9/19/2011 5:43 PM

Town hall meeting to cover District 68 finances

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A town-hall meeting scheduled to give residents in Oak Grove Elementary District 68 a snapshot of finances will cover some familiar ground, such as how property is assessed and the impact of declining housing values.

But the session at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Junior High Learning Center, 1700 S. O'Plaine Road in Green Oaks, could also include debate about property taxes.

With a cash reserve in excess of state standards and because it has been spending less due to declining enrollment, District 68 is sitting well financially compared to many districts.

That relative calm means the district theoretically could ask for less in property taxes when the annual tax levy is set in December.

Whether that will be the case or what it could mean to homeowners in the district is to be determined. But there is interest among some board member in levying less than the authorized amount.

Under what is known as the tax cap, school districts are limited to asking taxpayers for an increase of 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. The CPI last year was 1.5 percent.

While most school districts levy to the tax rate authorized by voters, there are some board members interested in levying less, Superintendent Janice Matthews said.

"There are two philosophies being discussed at the board level," board member Judy Egan said. "I'm waiting to hear what they present, but I probably lean toward levying at the authorized limit."

A district can drop the amount of tax it asks for but if it does so, it can't necessarily go back to previous levels the following year.

"The tax cap makes it a tricky process," board member Gordon Boulger said. "If it's the right thing to do for our school and taxpayers, we should consider it."

Matthews explained that the district has spent less than anticipated in the current budget, potentially allowing it to put more money in reserve.

The question could become how much of a reserve is enough. Both Egan and Boulger emphasized that any decisions should not shortchange programs or other district improvements.

Uncertainties in state funding and other factors likely will come into play as well, and the 2011-12 budget may change.

"The biggest unknown is we haven't finalized an agreement with our teachers," Matthews said. The four-year contract ended June 30.

Speakers on Thursday include: Libertyville Township Assessor Peggy Freese; Kurt Valentin, District 68 business manager; and, Howard Crouse a financial expert who will discuss the impacts of variables, such as a reduced tax levy, on long term finances.