District 121 leaders meeting with community to discuss tax-hike referendum

  • Running back Ben McLaughlin finds a hole in the line during a Warren Township High School football practice. Football and other sports could be eliminated as soon as the 2023 school year if voters reject a tax hike in June, district officials say.

    Running back Ben McLaughlin finds a hole in the line during a Warren Township High School football practice. Football and other sports could be eliminated as soon as the 2023 school year if voters reject a tax hike in June, district officials say. John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2021

 
 
Posted1/14/2022 5:14 AM

Just over five months remain before Warren Township High School District 121 voters will decide on a property tax hike that district leaders say is necessary to avoid significant programming cuts, including to student athletics.

The district will seek approval for a 60-cent property tax hike to generate about $13.25 million in additional revenue annually.

 

If the measure passes, the owner of a home valued at $250,000 would pay about $500 more per year in property taxes.

District officials gave at least 15 presentations to community members about the district's financial situation in the fall and plan on continuing to engage with them up until the primary election June 28.

"We are trying to have as many presentations as possible," Superintendent John Ahlgrim said.

District leaders have described funding to be at a critical point.

Since 2015, the district has cut 66 full-time positions, including 48 teachers, nine school support staffers, five transportation employees, three administrators and one school resource officer, documents show.

In recent years, the district also has refinanced debt, reduced the cost of employee benefits, and drawn down reserves to the lowest recommended level, Ahlgrim said.

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If voters reject this tax hike, all athletics and activities programs as well as 20 additional employee positions will be eliminated as early as the 2023-24 school year, officials say. Additionally, students would have only a seven-period school day instead of the eight periods they have now, and many elective courses would be gone, including programs for music, art, world languages, and industrial technology, according to the district presentation.

Officials held two virtual information sessions Wednesday evening, in English and Spanish, and expect to hold many more.

Ahlgrim said the district is trying to reach all stakeholders, including those the district doesn't normally reach. In the fall, he gave a presentation to a group mostly of district parents whose students will be freshmen at Warren Township High School this fall.

"Those are people whose students are directly impacted by these reductions," Ahlgrim said.

Ahlgrim said the district received just over $1 million in federal pandemic recovery funds, which will be used this school year to hire additional teachers to help students who might have fallen behind during remote learning.

"The grant money helps those kids in need, but it doesn't help address the longer-term staffing issue," Ahlgrim said.

For more information about the referendum and announcements on when future information sessions will be hosted, visit d121.org/domain/141.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A similar attempt last year to ask district voters for a property tax hike was rejected by a vote of 4,700 to 3,753.

District 121's last approved tax-rate hike was a 12-cent increase in February 2001, and the only other time voters approved a tax increase was in 1972. Proposed tax increases were rejected in April and November 1995, November 2000, February 2003, April 2007 and last year.

"The team is just trying to make sure everyone is aware of our situation," Ahlgrim said. "We've got five months to continue to try to get people to pay attention."

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