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posted: 12/19/2011 5:00 AM

School districts wrong to increase levies

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Tis the season. The season for approving school district tax levies, that is. And the news on that front from several suburban school districts is disappointing.

On the same day the U.S. Census reported that nearly 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are low income, officials from several area school districts approved levies designed to take as much as legally possible from taxpayers.

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We are indeed hopeful that recent economic indicators continue to improve. We also know that we pride ourselves in the suburbs on excellent schools, teachers, facilities and programs. We know all of that takes funding, but we are alarmed to see so many suburban school officials voting to take as much as possible already.

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 approved a 3 percent levy increase rather than provide relief to taxpayers. Officials voted 4-3 to do that even though they have known for at least a month that they needed to work toward $10 million in cuts. Board member Scott Herr noted none of the school district's full-time leadership had shared a plan for cutting.

At the meeting where that levy was approved and at others, taxpayers have been showing up to say they just cannot afford their property taxes.

Community Unit District 300 approved a whopping 20 percent increase in the levy over last year. Elgin Area Unit District 46 approved 15 percent more than last year's. Cary Elementary District 26 approved a levy about 4.5 percent higher than last year. These districts actually will be limited by law to the consumer price index amount plus any income from added property growth, but some officials still are trying to grab as much money from taxpayers as possible.

Maine Township High School District 207 voted 5-2 to approve a 3.39 percent levy increase. Schaumburg-Palatine School District 211 officials passed a 1.8 percent levy increase.

And Northwest Suburban High School District 214 approved a 2.4 percent levy increase. At several meetings, taxpayers howled in protest but did not persuade elected majorities to scale back their property tax funding plans.

We all know school districts take the biggest share of the property tax bill pie. We all want the best possible education for our children. We all also know the economic recovery remains tenuous. We don't unequivocally oppose levy increases, but the times demand that trustees, superintendents and every government body continue to trim costs wherever possible, operate efficiently and make do with the least amount of our money as they can, not the most.

Former Rolling Meadows Alderman Glenn Adams showed up at two districts' meetings to warn about taxes increasing while residents' incomes do not. "Please keep us in mind," he said. We earnestly hope school officials everywhere soon hear and heed him.

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