Opposing groups debating District 202 tax-cut measure
Two opposing groups of Lisle Unit District 202 residents have formed to advocate for and against a ballot measure that would reduce the school district's property tax levy.
Voters in the April 2 election will consider a binding question that asks if District 202's levy -- the portion of its budget paid for with property taxes -- should be reduced by at least $1.2 million.
The referendum is happening because two dozen District 202 residents collected more than 1,400 signatures -- nearly 400 more than needed -- to put the question on the ballot. In addition to pushing for the ballot measure to be approved, the grass-roots group is working to get three candidates elected to the school board.
"We want to make Lisle District 202 the best it could possibly be," said Ray Sojka, a member of the pro-tax-cut group. "We have a great location, and we have small class sizes. But the fundamental thing is that they (district officials) have overtaxed for years."
If the levy reduction is approved, District 202 officials say decisions would need to be made about how to proceed with less revenue. The list of changes that would be considered includes increasing class sizes, cutting teachers, reducing support personnel positions, reducing the number of honors courses, and eliminating 10 percent of athletic and extracurricular activities.
So a group called Citizens for Lisle Kids was created last month to oppose the tax cut and prevent program cuts.
"Any cut is a bad cut," said Josh Martin, a member of the group. "There are no good cuts. We don't want to sacrifice services."
Both sides are active on social media, and the Citizens for Lisle Kids have a website. The groups also are planning to send out mailers, go door to door and participate in public forums to spread their message.
"The stakes in this referendum are very high," Citizens for Lisle Kids said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the chips on the table are Lisle's children and their education."
Sojka said District 202 is trying to "create uncertainty and doubt."
"We focus on facts," he said. "The school district has energized parents."
The referendum is possible because of a state law approved in 2017. As part of the law, school districts that have an "adequacy level" for education funding that's 110 percent or more are eligible for referendums that seek tax cuts. The adequacy level reflects how much the state believes a school district should be spending to educate students in comparison to what the district actually spends.
Sojka says District 202 has an adequacy rate of 149 percent. "It's the second-highest funded school district in DuPage County," he said.
Supporters of the levy cut have criticized District 202 for using tax revenue to build reserves, allowing the school board to build a new school without seeking voter approval.
A successful request would reduce the district's levy by 10 percent or the amount that would bring it down to a 110 percent adequacy rate, whichever is less. The District 202 ballot question asks if the district's education fund should be reduced to $17.15 million from $19.06 million.
However, the district recently reduced the education fund by more than $700,000. So the ballot request, if approved, would reduce the levy by an additional $1.2 million.
The property taxes homeowners pay to the district, meanwhile, would decrease about $100 per $100,000 of a home's value.
While that's not a trivial amount for homeowners, Martin said those tax dollars help the district provide excellent services for the students. He fears there will be cuts to programs and services if the levy is reduced.
"We're not even asking for additional money," Martin said. "We're just saying leave the funding where it's at."
But Sojka argues District 202 still would have healthy reserves. "There should be no cuts due to the referendum," he said.
Meanwhile, the pro-tax-cut group is supporting three candidates in the school board race. Susan Cassa, a member of the group, is challenging incumbent Pamela "Pam" Ahlmann for a 2-year seat on the board. The group also is supporting Elizabeth Kennedy and James R. Strnad in the five-person race for the three 4-year terms. Also running are incumbents Daniel Helderle, Wendy Nadeau and Lisa Kiener-Barnett, who was appointed in October.