How Roselle District 12 would use $500 average tax hike
Voters in Roselle Elementary District 12 will decide March 15 whether to approve the district's first operating tax rate hike in more than 30 years.
Supporters say the increase would help the district fix its financial woes and begin to tackle mechanical, roofing and paving work at its two aging schools. But taxpayers would have to dig deep: The district's portion of the property tax bill would increase roughly $500 a year for the owner of a $250,000 market-value home.
If the referendum proposal fails, the district will make a second attempt at a tax increase that "won't be any smaller," Superintendent Melissa Kaczkowski said.
"There's just not a lot of time to let expire, because if you pass a referendum, it's still another year out before you levy for that new amount," she said during a recent interview with the Daily Herald's editorial board. "It takes a year-plus to actually see an additional penny, and District 12 doesn't have years."
In 2015, the owner of a home with a market value of $259,000 paid more than $2,500 to the district, according to the Bloomingdale Township Assessor's Office. The tax increase would raise almost $1.5 million annually for the district.
"That $1 million a year makes a big difference. Not only would it address the deficit, but then we could start tackling the facilities work," Kaczkowski said. "We'll never be able to tackle it all at once, but at last we can get on a plan where we can start to do it."
Kaczkowski stepped into the job in July 2014, and a short time later the district commissioned architects to do a study of Roselle Middle and Spring Hills schools, both of which are more than 50 years old.
The study originally recommended a total of roughly $12 million in work to be phased in over years, Kaczkowski said. But the district and FGM Architects reduced the list to nearly $5 million in high-priority projects.
Major equipment work accounts for almost 85 percent of the $2.13 million tab at the middle school during an initial, four-year phase, according to the Oak Brook firm.
One particular point of concern is a boiler that dates to 1985. If it failed in the cold months, the heating system in the middle school would shut down, officials say. The district would have to put students on a split schedule at Spring Hills or relocate them to another temporary site, Kaczkowski said.
Replacing the boiler with two smaller units -- so if one stops, the other kicks in -- costs roughly $400,000. Architects also say the south parking lot at Spring Hills should be resurfaced and the roof on a former house that's been converted into the district's administrative offices should be replaced.
"We're not looking to push the envelope," school board President Rob Bisceglie said. "We're looking to bring (schools) up to current standard."
The district's finances, meanwhile, led Moody's Investors Service last April to downgrade its bond rating and to issue a "negative outlook," citing regular operating deficits, "declining though still satisfactory" reserves and a modest tax base.
The district also was one of 70 in the state that was assigned the second-worst financial ranking -- "early warning" -- in an annual report by the Illinois State Board of Education based on 2014 data.
"We have no real retail or industrial tax base to this school district," said parent Steve Zurek, one of about 10 core members in Save Our Schools, a group supporting the tax increase.
Next school year, the district expected to a face a roughly $844,000 budget shortfall. But about $35,000 will be saved through a one-year freeze on cost-of-living pay increases for teachers, an offer made by the union to build support for the tax increase.
The union and the school board also agreed to delay negotiations on a new contract for one year.
Under the current pact, teachers got a 2.5 percent cost-of-living pay raise in the first year and a 2 percent raise in each of the final two years.
The district still will provide so-called step and lane increases tied to the number of years teachers work in the district and their completion of course work. The average step increase is about 2 percent, union leaders say.
Whether the referendum proposal fails or passes, the district plans to make roughly $400,000 in cuts that include eliminating full-day kindergarten and offering only a half-day program next year.
If voters reject the tax increase, the district also would look to cut student extracurriculars such as drama club, newspaper and athletics. The district now spends $11,189 per student, below the $12,251 state average.
If voters approve the increase, the district's tax revenues would more closely align with those of neighboring districts, Kaczkowski said.
"It's not just about closing an $800,000 deficit," she said. "We've got a structural issue with our funding and our tax base.
"We are a bedroom community. We haven't had an increase in over 30 years, but we're trying to provide the same level of education and services as our peers."