Naperville District 203 to rebate taxpayers $10 million in surplus funds

Faced with an unexpected surplus after schools shut down last spring, Naperville Unit District 203 plans to repay taxpayers a total of $10 million to help ease the financial burden of the COVID-19 crisis.

The statewide stay-at-home order halted in-person operations from March through the end of the 2019-20 academic year, saving the district money in areas of utilities, transportation, food service and staffing, Chief Financial Officer Michael Frances said.

The reduced expenses resulted in an unplanned budget surplus of about $14 million, he said. The school board this week unanimously approved allocating $10 million of those funds toward providing property owners with a one-time reimbursement.

"I think this is something the board has set as a high priority, looking at just being fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars," Vice President Donna Wandke said. "This is something that almost no other school district in the state, or at least the area, has done. It's really exciting that we have the opportunity to do this."

Determining which of the nearly 40,000 parcels within district boundaries are eligible for the rebate is "quite an undertaking," Frances said, noting the process is dictated by state statute. He and his team are working with officials from DuPage and Will counties, as well as four townships, to collect all necessary data and issue more than 30,000 checks over the next several weeks.

Initial estimates suggest the owner of a $400,000 home could be rebated between $275 and $300, Frances said.

Property owners don't need to take any action at this time, officials said. The district expects to release additional information about the timing of the refund, though Frances says his goal is to dole out the cash by the end of February.

Administrators are developing plans for the remaining surplus funds, such as creating programs to help identify learning gaps and address the disruption of in-person instruction for students, Superintendent Dan Bridges said.

The district is expected to transition into a hybrid model next week after spending months in the enhanced e-learning stage of its "Return to Learn" plan. Parents and school board members have stressed a need for additional resources and assessment strategies to help students who may be falling behind socially, emotionally and academically.

The school board is expected to discuss those options at a future meeting, along with a proposal to refund student fees, which would cost just over $1 million, Frances said.

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