Editorial: District 203 made the right call to send tax relief checks
Last month, roughly 29,500 property owners in Naperville Unit District 203 got a pleasant surprise in their mailboxes: tax relief checks.
It turns out District 203 school board members in January unanimously agreed to reimburse taxpayers a total of $10 million to help ease the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis.
The move was possible because the district had an unanticipated budget surplus of roughly $14 million.
"Fiscal responsibility is one of the board's highest priorities," Chief Financial Officer Michael Frances said this week. "This is a way to show that they take it seriously."
Of course, the district could have done any number of things with the money. Indeed, challengers in the school board race questioned whether the money could have been better spent on other priorities during the pandemic. One candidate said the $10 million could have been used to provide protective equipment for teachers or to offer programming to help struggling students.
The district could have made the case for keeping the money simply to be better prepared for any potential future crisis. In many cases, taxing bodies have good reasons to save for unexpected expenses down the road.
But District 203 leaders made a call in the interest of taxpayers and decided to take advantage of a unique opportunity to provide some relief.
The $14 million budget surplus was realized because a statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020 halted in-person operations through the end of the 2019-20 academic year. District 203 ended up saving money on substitute teachers, transportation, utilities and food service.
Some of the surplus money will be used to help pay for the district's "Return to Learn" plan and get kids back in school. Another $1.1 million was set aside to reimburse district families for general fees paid this academic year.
However, the lion's share of the surplus cash went to taxpayers.
The owner of a $400,000 home received a $278 check, according to Frances.
That may not seem like a lot of money when you consider that the same homeowner pays roughly $6,900 a year in property taxes to the school district.
Still, every little bit helps.
Suburban municipalities and school districts understand that. Several towns have offered credits on water and sewer bills recently. And some school districts, including Northwest Suburban High School District 214, have waived student registration fees.
District 203 deserves kudos for going a step further and sending checks to taxpayers.