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Education

Berwyn District 100 explores solutions to surplus referendum fund

Residents listen as Berwyn South School District 100 Superintendent Mary Havis talks March 15, 2017, at Irving Elementary School about the referendum that was passed by voters on April 4, 2017.
Residents listen as Berwyn South School District 100 Superintendent Mary Havis talks March 15, 2017, at Irving Elementary School about the referendum that was passed by voters on April 4, 2017.

BERWYN – The Berwyn South School District 100 Board of Education continues to consult with lawyers and financial experts on how to remedy the surplus referendum that left taxpayers with unexpectedly high property tax bills in the most recent installment.

A referendum passed in March 2017 that was intended to bring in $2.2 million for the district but instead will give it an additional $2.7 million.

Hundreds of concerned residents packed the board meeting July 25 to hear the possible solutions the board is considering to return the surplus $2.7 million to the taxpayers. The Cook County triennial assessment in 2017 found that property values had risen over the past three years, and the equalized assessed value of properties jumped by more than 20 percent.

The referendum’s tax rate of 4.195 percent did not change, but because the EAV went up more than anticipated, taxpayers were left with higher bills. The district originally estimated in 2016 that the cost to taxpayers would be $160 per $100,000 of assessed home value, which was based on the EAV from 2015.

Richard Mikuta was the first resident to speak at the meeting. He said his tax bill “went up three-fold,” and he wanted answers from the board.

“This isn’t gross negligence. This is bordering on fraud,” he told board members. “If you don’t have answers by the next meeting, I think we should form a citizens committee and proceed with hiring an attorney and suing you for fraud.”

Another concerned resident, Florentina Bradea, questioned the board on where the money from the various fees parents have to pay each year goes.

“Where does the technology money go? Where does the registration fee go?” she said. “Nothing has improved in these buildings, and every year, you ask for more money. I consider this a grand theft that should be punished like a felony.”

The board is still weighing its options and did not vote on an action item at the meeting. Some of the options include issuing rebate checks to taxpayers, abating the district’s bond levy or abating the operating levy, which could reduce property tax bills in coming years. The school district will still use the $2.2 million it originally asked for to improve teacher retention and educational programs, keep extracurricular activities and maintain preschool programs.

Board President Mark Titzer said in the meeting he understood the taxpayers would probably “go away unsatisfied” after the meeting because the board did not have a clear solution.

“We’re still researching this issue and bringing in legal and financial experts to advise the district administration and board,” he said. “We don’t have the answer that we’re going to make an action item on tonight. But if we made a mistake of miscalculation, we don’t want to perpetuate that. We want do it right.”

Superintendent Mary Havis said the district is committed to rectifying the situation.

“We recognize that these are funds that need to go back to the taxpayers,” she said. “Parents should know that we’re still committed to all those things we said in the referendum, but at the same time, easing the burden on taxpayers and staying true to the referendum. There is not a simple, immediate solution. We want to make the best decision possible.”

The next scheduled board meeting is 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at Heritage Middle School, 6850 31st St., Berwyn. Havis said she hopes the board will have more information at that meeting, but she wasn’t sure if the board would be ready to vote on an action item.

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