Glen Ellyn District 89 seeking nearly $400 average property tax increase

  • The decision to seek a tax rate increase comes after the "Our 89" engagement campaign that included surveys and forums for residents. "The district has worked really hard to engage them in this process, and we appreciate their feedback, and we're hearing from them and listening to them that they value our schools," said Superintendent Emily Tammaru, right, with School Board President Beth Powers.

      The decision to seek a tax rate increase comes after the "Our 89" engagement campaign that included surveys and forums for residents. "The district has worked really hard to engage them in this process, and we appreciate their feedback, and we're hearing from them and listening to them that they value our schools," said Superintendent Emily Tammaru, right, with School Board President Beth Powers. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, May 2018

 
 
Updated 8/21/2018 9:12 PM
An earlier version of this report mistakenly referred to District 41.

Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89 will ask voters in November to approve its first operating tax rate increase in more than 30 years to relieve budget pressures from burgeoning school enrollment.

Board members say the revenue would put the district on firmer financial footing and stave off educational programming cuts.

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But taxpayers would have to dig deep: The owner of a $300,000 house -- the district average -- would pay an additional $396 in property taxes to the district a year. That average resident now pays $3,318.40 to the district.

Voters last approved a district operating tax rate increase in 1986. District 89 hasn't placed a tax-rate increase on the ballot in that time.

"It's hard to ask people for money," Board President Beth Powers said. "It's hard to ask them to pay more. But there's a value in our district, and I think people have understood that and are willing to say it's been 32 years."

The board's unanimous decision to seek the increase comes after an "Our 89" community engagement campaign that included forums on the state of school finances and surveys.

If nothing changes and enrollment projections hold, financial planners anticipate five consecutive years of budget deficits. The operating budget shortfall could reach nearly $1.4 million by the end of fiscal 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Without the new revenue, officials say, the district would look to make potential cuts that could include: Eliminating full-day kindergarten and offering only a half-day program; eliminating extracurricular clubs and sports; reducing P.E. classes from five to four days a week for kindergartners through eighth-graders; eliminating the gifted services program for second and third grades; eliminating band for fifth grade; and eliminating orchestra for fourth and fifth grades.

"The board would be looking at making difficult decisions regarding non-mandated programs to our students," Superintendent Emily Tammaru said.

The district's finance committee, a group of parents, taxpayers and educators that reconvened last year, made a recommendation in March to end the deficit spending and provided two options for the board to consider: increase revenue or reduce programs.

In 2011, the last time the finance committee was meeting, the district began a similar process that led to greater belt-tightening. The district made nearly $3 million in budget reductions from 2009 to 2016, officials say, but largely avoided impactful cuts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We were able to capitalize on declining enrollments and being able to have retirements and not have to rehire people because we don't need to with declining enrollment. You don't need as many teachers," Powers said. "But we're not at that spot anymore. Enrollment is going back up. And so we engaged the community again, and this time, they have said, for the most part, 'Yes it's time for an increase.'"

About 19.6 percent of phone survey respondents strongly favored a tax-rate increase, while about 37 percent were in favor and 14.7 percent were in opposition. For the online survey, about 40 percent strongly favored a rate increase, while about 20 percent were in favor and 5.5 percent were in opposition.

At the start of classes last week, the five-school district enrolled 2,255 students -- up from a low of 1,865 students in 2012. The district also hired 4.5 classroom teachers for the 2018-19 year due to the enrollment growth.

In his 2016 study, district demographer John Kasarda estimated enrollment could reach 2,554 students by the start of 2022-23, according to his so-called "Series B" projections for the "most likely" number of students expected.

The associated costs from the enrollment surge are a significant contributing factor to the deficits, officials say.

With a favorable ballot vote Nov. 6, the district would maintain programming, hire new teachers as needed for increasing enrollment and operate within a balanced budget, Tammaru said.

"It seems a longer-term solution is what people are looking for because if we do a lower number, we're just going to have to go back and ask for more money again if it passes ... This way, with this amount of money, we're looking to have a longer-term solution," Powers said.

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