Millburn Elementary District 24 officials say they've done everything possible to shore up finances and now hope to gain support from taxpayers for a measure on the April 9 ballot.
Covering an area that includes Lindenhurst, Wadsworth and unincorporated Lake County, District 24 is seeking voter permission to go beyond a state-imposed cap on annual property tax levy increases only on bills issued in 2014. School officials say they need the ability to make up for recent reductions in state and federal education funding.
If the measure passes, Superintendent Jason Lind said, the district would have a larger financial base to work from in future years.
"Any experts that want to look at our financials, we're more than happy to have that," Lind said during a recent Daily Herald editorial board interview. "We've really tried to push the transparency of our school district in the last few years to get that information out there, to make it easy for people to see that we're not misappropriating any funds. It's not being wasted anyplace. This (education) is where it's going and the taxpayers need to choose what kind of school district they want."
Nearly two years ago, voters in District 24 soundly defeated a tax referendum to generate about $2 million to replace lost state funding. Since then, state funding cuts have worsened, prompting officials return to voters with a smaller request April 9.
District 24 wants voter permission to push the property tax levy increase limit from 5 percent to 12 percent next year, generating $900,000 and then setting a higher financial base for the future. It would cost the owner of a single-family house with a $200,000 market value an extra $228 in the first year.
Lind said Millburn has coped with a combined $1.3 million in reductions in state and federal funding over the past four years, while trimming a total of $3.3 million from the budget during that time. If voters reject Millburn on April 9, Lind said, "special classes" such as art and music could be eliminated.
District 24 board President Robert Reding said the elected officials have a balanced budget policy and agreed to a reduced reliance on borrowing. He said taxpayers are unlikely to get into Millburn's finances at a deep enough level to make an independent decision about the referendum, so they should believe in the board's decision to place the referendum on the April 9 ballot.
"I think it comes down to trust," Reding said. "And I think they (taxpayers) should have 100 percent trust in the administration and the board."
Roughly 1,450 students are enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade at District 24.