Geneva teachers argue they should be granted pay increases because District 304 has a $35 million reserve in the general education fund and can afford raises. If the district were broke, teachers say, they would be willing to accept a pay freeze.
The $35 million reserve is the product of past taxation decisions. Each year, the board automatically increases the school tax levy by the maximum amount permitted by the tax cap law. Their rationale is that if they don't take the maximum tax increase this year, when they may not need the money, under tax caps they won't be able to double up on the tax increase in future years when they may need it.
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Since the reserve is the product of taxation decisions rather than hardships endured by teachers, taxpayers should have first claim on these funds.
In the past two years, the board has used funds from the reserve to abate some of the increase in the debt service levy. This has reduced the overall rate of increase in Geneva property tax bills. The district's total debt service outstanding is $306 million. The debt service levy will increase from approximately $15 million in 2012 to $25 million in 2019. For the board to maintain the debt service levy at 2012 levels through 2019 would require far in excess of $35 million.
To the extent the reserve fund is used for pay raises rather than to abate the debt service levy, taxpayers will endure a dollar-for-dollar tax increase over and above the burdensome increases to which they are already subjected. Thus, while teachers may or may not be entitled to pay increases, any suggestion that raises can be awarded without additional burdens on taxpayers is wrong.