St. Charles school board members nearly drew a line in the sand against a roughly 2 percent tax increase Monday night, but the tide of support for already agreed-to teacher union contracts washed the opposition away.
The budget, which was approved by a 4-3 vote, forecasts a $403,000 deficit. That deficit is part of a tax abatement plan that's already returned $4.5 million to local taxpayers over the past two years. The district is spending down some of its savings in anticipation of a $16.5 million drop in its tax levy coming in 2017 through the retirement of a large portion of its outstanding debt.
That tax relief isn't coming soon enough, according to Board Members Corinne Pierog, Jim Gaffney and Judith McConnell. They cast the three votes against the new budget.
"I have been receiving many calls from fellow taxpayers who have asked me to please put an abatement on this tax increase for this year," Pierog said. "At this time, I believe that we're levied to the max that we can levy to on many counts. I see many people still sitting on homes that are under water. I can't support a tax increase."
The majority of the board agreed they've all received similar calls from local taxpayers. Gaffney said it's time for teachers, which represent the largest expense in the district, understand local taxpayers don't have more to give.
"Maybe once in a while they have to give back a little," Gaffney said. "I think it's time we draw a line in the sand."
But member Kathy Hewell reminded the board they agreed to a three-year union contract with teachers just last year. The contract called for 2.8 percent raises to the base pay of teachers and allowed for other raises based on experience and advanced education.
"We signed on to increase the budget, at least the salaries part," she said. "Our community expects us to maintain our fiscal situation and to improve academically. I think 2 percent is a reasonable increase reflecting what we need to do to accomplish that."
Superintendent Don Schlomann said a "no" vote on the budget would mean an increase in class sizes throughout the district to cut costs.
"You will fill this room with parents that are angry if you do that," Schlomann said. "If the board of education wants to go that direction, give us some time to plan. At this point, this is where we need to be."
The majority of the board agreed, at least for the next school year. That's also the final year of the current teachers union contract.