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Article posted: 11/20/2012 4:19 PM

Itasca Dist. 10 voters could see two April referendums

By Elisabeth Mistretta

Voters in Itasca Elementary District 10 could be asked to improve tax increases in April to address both a projected $500,000 budget shortfall and the need for an addition at Franzen Intermediate School.

District officials have until mid-January to decide whether to put one or more referendum questions on the spring ballot.

The district is facing a shortfall of more than $500,000 this fiscal year in its $20 million annual budget.

And in each of the next two years, officials project a deficit of up to $300,000. Director of Operations Kory Atkinson said the gap may close somewhat because four veteran teachers are retiring and their replacements will receive lower salaries.

But the district is funded primarily by property taxes and expenses are growing faster than the maximum tax increases allowed by the state-mandated cap.

To save money, District 10 already slashed its budget two years ago by $350,000 by canceling field trips, stopping before- and after-school programs at its three schools, reducing busing and implementing a one-year pay freeze for teachers.

In addition, the district increased savings by negotiating a contract with teachers that ties pay increases to inflation via the Consumer Price Index. As a result of both measures, District 10 has been able to continue programs such as art, music and foreign language classes.

But the district also faced an enrollment swell in 2008 and installed several mobile classrooms at Franzen. Officials say those mobile classrooms soon must be replaced with brick and mortar.

The cost to build an addition to the school could run from $2 million to $3 million for five classrooms and additional bathrooms, depending on whether the building is one or two stories, Atkinson said.

"No decision (about possible referendum questions) has been made," Atkinson said. "There could technically be two different referendums, because getting money for construction is considered a capital bond referendum. The other is for operational expenses and looked at as a rate increase referendum."

Atkinson said several other factors play into what tax increase measures, if any, District 10 may put on the spring ballot. He said complications like a possible move by Illinois lawmakers to shift pension costs back to school districts could further affect the district's finances.

Other problems include declines in state funds and grants and increases in health care costs.

"There are a lot of moving parts to this," Atkinson said.

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