BERWYN – Parents of students in Berwyn South School District 100 showed their support for the Board of Education at a meeting Oct. 24 and urged its members to consider the children when making a decision regarding the unexpected surplus funds received from the 2017 referendum.
The district received an extra $2.7 million from the referendum, which passed in April 2017, after property values increased in the June 2018 assessment, leaving residents with higher-than-expected tax bills and the district with more than the $2.2 million it originally requested.
The board is considering two options for the surplus: using the money to pay down district debt or lowering the operational levy for 2019, which would be permanent. It is expected to make a decision by the end of December.
Superintendent Mary Havis said issuing rebates to taxpayers was no longer a feasible option because the school district does not have that authority. She said most parents do not want the board to lower the levy.
“We’re hearing from more parents now that school is in session, and they’d rather use the money to pay down bonds and keep the operational levy the same,” she said. “We’re already a lower-funded district, and to remove any funding would be detrimental to the district.”
Kim Van Wyk, a fifth-grade teacher in District 100, said at the meeting that if the board lowered the operational levy, it will be “choosing to suppress the opportunities” the children in the district deserve.
“Most people wouldn’t move into a district whose own school board chose to return funds that could’ve gone to the district,” she said. “Keeping the funding will benefit thousands of students now and in generations to come.”
Arielle Turover Cohen, another parent who spoke at the meeting, suggested putting more value on providing quality education would attract more people to Berwyn, which would lead to an increase in property values.
“I think the money should be used for the schools,” she said. “It comes down to what our values are. Mine is education. Education gives our community less crime and also gives businesses a chance to grow because we’ll bring in more people who value education. I understand how important it is to pay off bills, but we have to put our value system on education first in order to have all those other amazing things happen.”
While many of those who spoke at the meeting were supportive of the board’s goal to adequately fund the schools, some residents continued to express their displeasure with the situation.
Berwyn resident Matt Zurek said while he’s not against “good, quality” education in Berwyn, he believes district funding should increase “gradually.”
“I think we should fund our schools, but my taxes increased by $8,000, and I don’t know where I’m going to come up with that money,” he said. “I don’t know how many foreclosures we’ll see in this area, and that’s certainly not going to help our property values.”
State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, who did not attend the meeting, said she has been hearing from taxpayers about the increase in property taxes. She sponsored a bill in October that would reverse the referendum, explaining many residents are “irate” about their tax bills, and she is hoping to find a fair solution.
“This is a dramatic [tax] increase, and you can’t ignore what folks are going through. It was a well-intended referendum that went completely wrong,” she said. “This bill is just a starting point. I’m trying to see how we can work with the school district to come to a point where we can bring relief to some folks. I have to look at all sides to see what the best option would be to not only help the taxpayers but the school district as well.”
Havis said while she and the board are focusing on determining the best course of action for the surplus funds, anything that eliminates funding to the district “is a concern.”
“We don’t see this bill as a helpful way to get us to our goal," she said. "The board has been clear that it will honor the intent of the referendum."