District 128 residents grill board on taxes, school spending

  • Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 board President Pat Groody, right, responds to a resident's complaint about high taxes Monday night as Superintendent Prentiss Lea listens. One resident also criticized the district's spending on the laptops at the meeting.

    Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 board President Pat Groody, right, responds to a resident's complaint about high taxes Monday night as Superintendent Prentiss Lea listens. One resident also criticized the district's spending on the laptops at the meeting. Russell Lissau | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 8/9/2016 5:49 AM

A small group of people frustrated by high property taxes and school spending voiced their displeasure at a Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 finance committee meeting Monday.

"I'll be blunt -- the taxes are way out of control," Libertyville resident Phil DeFrancisco told board members and administrators at the district's office in Vernon Hills. "We really need to start reducing taxes."

 

Gerry Verbeten called for an independent inspection of the district's books.

"Get someone in here and audit the books," said Verbeten, also of Libertyville.

The remarks were prompted, in part, by a recent Daily Herald story that revealed the district's $81 million surplus could be depleted within six or seven years if officials don't curb spending or find new revenue sources.

That disclosure came during a July 25 board discussion of a proposed $98.3 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which began July 1.

Board President Pat Groody and Superintendent Prentiss Lea responded to the residents' complaints Monday, engaging in a nearly hourlong conversation about school spending and the local tax burden.

Groody tried to sound sympathetic, saying board members live in the district and also are unhappy with their property tax bills.

"Every one of us sitting at this table feels your pain," Groody said.

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The only way to significantly reduce the tax burden is to cut spending, he said. A hiring freeze that would result in larger class sizes is among the options on the table.

But that sort of cut could result in a lower quality of education at Libertyville High and Vernon Hills High, Groody said.

Groody called that struggle "a real test to the community."

"It is a problem," he said. "And it's one we're going to collectively have to solve together."

Libertyville resident Donna Johnson said she wanted to hear some sensitivity from the board and for officials to acknowledge "some adjustment needs to be made" in the budget.

At some point, she said, officials need to "make concessions."

Johnson noticed the Hewlett-Packard laptops in front of each board member and administrator and suggested they could buy less expensive equipment rather than "Bentley products," a reference to the luxury carmaker.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As part of the budget talks, officials have discussed postponing the planned construction of a new swimming pool at Libertyville High and a second gym at Vernon Hills High. Money for both projects is included in the proposed spending plan.

Verbeten suggested the pool-and-gym plan be placed on a future ballot so residents can decide if it should be funded.

"You're not going to get it," he said.

A final vote on the budget is expected Aug. 22.

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