District 300 ponders impact of Sears incentives

Updated 5/9/2011 5:30 AM

Financially troubled Community Unit District 300 stands to gain millions in additional property tax revenue after the incentives package that lured Sears to Hoffman Estates expires next year. Now, though, Hoffman Estates wants to extend the tax deal for another 15 years.

It's unclear exactly how much that would cost the district, but it's a lot. Officials from District 300, the village and Sears will meet Thursday to discuss financials.

The Carpentersville-based school district doesn't serve any students from Hoffman Estates, but its boundaries include the Prairie Stone business park where Sears Holdings Corp. is located.

District 300 in March approved cutting 363 staff positions to save $5 million and help balance its budget. It's expected most will be recalled; all of them if unions agree to sufficient concessions.

Property taxes fund the majority of public school costs, and property values are lower across the district than in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, which includes Hoffman Estates High School and Conant High School in Hoffman Estates.

Cheryl Crates, District 300's chief financial officer, said the Sears Economic Development Area money would help bridge that gap.

"It wouldn't allow me to have class sizes like you have in Hoffman -- I have 41 kids in algebra and 37 in 1st grade," she said. "My kids don't have art, my kids have a half-time librarian. We don't have what the kids in Hoffman Estates have by any stretch of the imagination."

Sears is a valuable asset, and Crates said many parents of District 300 students work there. She doesn't want the company to leave, but she's skeptical about the company's threat to leave and also wonders what will happen in 15 years if the deal is extended.

"They could always say they could move again," she said.

District 300 and other taxing districts have received some property tax money from the Prairie Stone development. From 1994 to 2010, taxing bodies have received about $40 million, with more than half going to District 300.

Hoffman Estates Village Manager James Norris said that means District 300 received money even though it doesn't have to educate any village residents.

"They get all the benefit, but none of the expense," he said.

Norris and Hoffman Estates Mayor William McLeod vow that any extension of the agreement with Sears won't lead to reductions in property tax revenues to District 300 and other taxing bodies. They say they are happy to negotiate with Sears and others to create a "win-win-win situation."

The original agreement requires the village to distribute 25 percent of property taxes to taxing bodies, with the rest going toward the incentive payments. McLeod said he'll continue that practice, ensuring District 300 won't see a dip in funding.

"I personally guarantee, to the best of my ability, at least 25 percent, and hopefully more," McLeod said. "I'll make the commitment personally."

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