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updated: 9/12/2012 8:37 PM

Itasca District 10 seeks feedback on possible tax increase, budget cuts

Officials considering cutting programs, asking for tax increase

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Itasca Public School District 10 will face a shortfall of more than $500,000 next fiscal year, and officials met with residents and teachers Wednesday to discuss options for balancing the budget.

Nearly 30 people attended the first of three public forums, where Director of Operations Kory Atkinson explained the reasons for the gap in the district's roughly $20 million budget.

Two more forums will be from 10:30 a.m. to noon Oct. 13 and from 7 to 8 p.m. Oct. 22 at Itasca Village Hall, 550 W. Irving Park Road.

The budget is about 90 percent funded by property tax revenues, Atkinson said, and this is where the shortfall begins; Illinois public schools are subject to a law that limits growth of its property tax revenue to the consumer price index or 5 percent annually, whichever is less.

But Atkinson said the district's expenses are growing at a higher rate than the CPI and cuts have already been made.

School board President Kathryn Miller said District 10 slashed its budget two years ago by $350,000 by canceling field trips, stopping before- and after-school programs at its three schools, reducing busing, and giving teachers a 1-year pay freeze.

In addition, Miller said the district increased savings by recently negotiating a contract with teachers that ties pay increases to the CPI.

As a result of both measures, District 10 has been able to continue programs like art, music and foreign language classes.

But now extra problems are arising, including declines in state funds and grants, and increases in health care costs.

In addition, District 10 installed several mobile classrooms in 2008 as enrollment swelled; Now enrollment remains steady and officials said those mobile classrooms must soon be replaced with brick and mortar.

So officials said they want resident feedback on whether to slash programs and eliminate jobs, to hold a referendum and ask voter permission for a tax increase, or a combination of both.

"Once the district starts to deficit spend, it's very difficult to get out of that mode," Atkinson said. "And that's largely because of the property tax cap. In many ways, it's much like your personal finances."

If the school board wanted to put a referendum question on the ballot for the April 2013 consolidated election, members must vote to approve it by January, Atkinson said.

Several audience members spoke Wednesday, primarily in favor of a tax increase.

Bryen Travis, president of the Education Association of Itasca, recommended the district post a list of programs and resources that would be cut if voters reject a tax increase.

"This kind of information, for better or for worse, will galvanize and mobilize a community," he said.

If the board approves a referendum, officials said this would be the first time District 10 is asking for a tax increase.

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