BERWYN – The Berwyn South School District 100 Board of Education is continuing to review options for what to do with the surplus referendum funds it is expected to receive this fall.
At the Aug. 22 board meeting, Superintendent Mary Havis presented three options the board is considering to offer taxpayers relief. The first is issuing rebates directly to the taxpayers, and the second two options involve the district paying down its debt or reducing operational levies.
Taxpayers received unexpectedly high property tax bills in June after the referendum, which passed in March 2017, intended to bring in $2.2 million for the district but instead will give it an additional $2.7 million.
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 district originally estimated in 2016 that the cost to taxpayers would be $160 per $100,000 of assessed home value, which was based on an EAV from 2015.
In the meeting, Havis explained that after consulting with legal counsel, the state of Illinois does not give school districts the “direct express legal authority” to issue rebates to taxpayers. She also cited implementation concerns, like determining refund amounts to individual taxpayers and the administration of the rebates.
Havis said the second two options would mean that the 2019 levy would be lower, providing some relief to taxpayers, but she doesn’t expect the board to make a decision until later this fall. The board’s deadline to certify the 2019 levy is the last Tuesday in December.
“We’ll be much better prepared to make an informed decision in November than we are in August,” she said. “We’re looking more closely at reducing the levy. The district doesn’t have the legal authority to issue rebates, and we don’t have the capacity.”
Board member Jennifer Mitchell explained that while the board does have an obligation to the taxpayers, she said the district also needs to make sure it is spending the money correctly and thinking about the implications for the children.
“When all these conversations are happening about, ‘We’re going to give all this money back, and this is what we’re going to do,’ I would like to have some more focus on what that means for the kids of this district,” she said.
Board President Mark Titzer said the district is still receiving input from financial advisers and attorneys.
“We’re being slow and deliberate,” he said. “It is complicated stuff, and we’re trying to get it right. We’re going to talk about it some more, and we’re going to come to the right decision.”
Several community members continued to express their frustrations with the situation at the meeting. Berwyn resident Richard Mikuta compared the school district to a “daycare center” and questioned the quality of the education children in the district are receiving.
“You keep coming back and saying, ‘We don’t know how we’re going to do this.’ Well, you took the money real quick,” he told the board at the meeting. “It was 12 percent voter turnout, and [the referendum] passed by 54 votes. What would’ve happened if you would’ve told the people the truth? That’s not gross incompetence. That’s fraud.”
Berwyn Township Assessor David Avila also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and reminded residents that his office is still open for property tax appeals until Aug. 30.
He also encouraged attendees to write to their elected state officials to demand a new way of funding schools.
“I know a lot of people are angry and upset, and you should be. I’m upset. We’re here in 2018, and the state has not found a different way of funding our schools,” he said. “The biggest thing that hurt us as taxpayers are the assessments. As you saw from your tax bills, assessments jumped, sometimes unfairly.”