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posted: 12/5/2017 5:25 AM

U-46 board adopts tax levy increase

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Citing a shortage of funds for future capital projects and a desire to be competitive, Elgin schools' officials authorized raising taxes Monday night.

The Elgin Area School District U-46 school board voted 5-2 adopting the tax levy certificate and resolution for a total levy extension of roughly $272.8 million. Officials agreed on a 2.1 percent levy increase for 2017 based on the tax cap limitation. With new construction value added, the final extension would amount to a 2.53 percent increase. The levy must be filed with the clerk's office in Cook, DuPage and Kane counties by the last Tuesday in December.

In September, the school board adopted a roughly $518 million spending plan for the 2017-18 academic year.

Total revenues projected for fiscal year 2018 are roughly $509 million -- $3.1 million less than the previous year's budget. Expenditures are projected to increase by $6.6 million over last year's budget and will draw down the total fund balance by $8.9 million, documents show.

School board member Jeanette Ward, who voted against the budget, said she couldn't support a levy increase when enrollment is projected to decline 2 percent yearly over three years. Ward and board member Phil Costello voted against the levy adoption.

"I'm concerned about the overall state of the budget," Costello said. "I would liked to have seen more cost containment. If we can get more people in, the tax rate itself goes down. I'm concerned about people leaving the district because of what U-46 is."

Ward and Costello said high property taxes are forcing people to flee the state.

Board member Sue Kerr said the district is living with cuts made in 2010, affecting class sizes and limiting some sports.

"We still as a district spend over $1,200 less than the state average," Kerr said.

Kerr wants the district to stop relying on working cash bonds to fund capital improvements to maintain existing buildings.

"At some point we are going to have to look at how we fund future capital improvements," she said.

Beyond recent cutbacks, the district hasn't restored cuts made in the early 2000s, board member Melissa Owens added.

"We don't have art in our kindergarten classes. We don't have music in our kindergarten classes. That's important," Owens said. "It's a high levy, but we are still only raising less than $7,000 per student. Our families and our students are asking us for services that they should be getting. And we are competing with other districts that are able to give their students those services because they can raise more money with their property taxes."

Board member Traci O'Neal Ellis said U-46's graduates are competing with students from other states and must be prepared.

"Regardless of who is moving out, we need to be able to provide our students a competitive education," Ellis said. "Our students deserve services and programs and it is our job to figure out how to provide them."

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