District 300 putting up fight over Sears tax dollars

About 50 students, parents and staff from Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 appeared Monday before the Hoffman Estates Village Board opposing tax incentives designed to keep Sears Holdings Corp. headquarters in town.

District 300 officials say that if current incentives for Sears are extended, the schools will lose about $14 million a year. Superintendent Michael Bregy said the district needs those funds because student enrollment has nearly doubled in the past two decades and the district provides about 3,000 jobs.

“In the last several months we've been treated as if we are small and insignificant by some of the state's highest powers and the village of Hoffman Estates,” Bregy said, adding that many of the district's 21,000 students are taught in overcrowded classrooms. “Transparency is also sorely lacking in how the (incentive package) has been administered.”

The incentive package, known as an Economic Development Area, or EDA, was established by the state in 1989 to help Sears relocate its headquarters from Chicago to the Prairie Stone campus in Hoffman Estates. The company currently has about 6,200 workers in Hoffman Estates, making it the village's largest employer.

With the EDA set to expire next year, Sears reportedly is considering offers from other states to relocate its headquarters. Hoping to prevent that, village officials and state lawmakers are working on a 15-year extension of the EDA.

The EDA allows Sears to keep property tax dollars earmarked for local taxing bodies — most notably District 300 — and spend them on the Prairie Stone development.

While the EDA was not on the village board's agenda Monday, District 300 representatives, many sporting shirts that said “District 300 wants EDAs too — education development areas,” showed up hoping to pressure trustees to discuss the issue more.

“We wanted to stand together as a district. Sears has no rightful claim to that money. It should be going to our schools,” said Bruce Taylor, an economics teacher at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. “There's been no audits of this. There's been no transparency. It's all done behind closed doors.”

Nancy Zettler, a mother of two District 300 students, invited Mayor William McLeod to attend an Oct. 13 meeting at Westfield Community School in Algonquin to discuss the matter further.

“We're going to come out in force to let the legislators know that they have to make a choice between paying Sears and Hoffman Estates to continue doing what they're doing with the money — we don't know what they're doing because they won't tell us — or paying for the education of 21,000 kids in the district,” she said.

McLeod said there would be village representation at the meeting.

Village manager James Norris and other village officials said it will be important to preserve jobs provided by Sears, and that the village must take into consideration that 200 acres remain undeveloped in the EDA.

“In my opinion, as village manager, it has to be extended as an economic development tool,” Norris said.

Other states currently trying to lure Sears Holdings reportedly include New Jersey, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, as well as Washington, D.C.