GLEN ELLYN – After a lengthy discussion, the majority of Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education members voted on Dec. 18 to approve a flat tax levy for 2017.
Board President Stephanie Clark, along with members Linda D'Ambrosio, Kurt Buchholz and Bruce Currie, voted in favor of the $44.5 million levy, which will fund the district's 2018-19 budget. Voting no were members Jason Loebach, Erica Nelson and Robert Bruno.
Eric DePorter, the district's assistant superintendent for finance, facilities and operations, told board members that historically, a school district will request an amount in excess of what it actually anticipates, to capture the value of new property added to the tax rolls during the tax year. The value is unknown at the time of the levy filing and therefore must be estimated.
District 41 administration recommended maximizing the district's levy this year while also recognizing the opportunity to abate taxes. Superintendent Paul Gordon warned the board to consider the consequences of imposing a flat levy if the state freezes property taxes.
"One of the reasons we are recommending maximizing the levy is a lot of the unknowns that occur within the state of Illinois," Gordon said. "There's a high likelihood that this could happen. I would just ask that board members take that into consideration."
If the district implemented a flat levy followed by the state imposing a two-year property tax freeze and expenses being reduced by $900,000, the district would run a structural deficit by 2021.
"The reduction in revenue through the levy and the $900,000 in perpetuity would necessitate reductions in programs and services," according to a district memo.
The League of Women Voters of Glen Ellyn also supported maximizing the district's levy this year.
"The League of Women Voters supports providing the best possible education for our children," league spokeswoman Gail Kalinich said in a statement to board members. "The League of Women Voters of Glen Ellyn urges the board to request the maximum levy permitted under the current guidelines. Failure to do so could hamper the work of future boards by restricting the amount of the levy they're able to request. The request for the maximum allowable levy does not guarantee it will be set at that rate, but it gives future boards the ability to respond to changing financial conditions or educational goals or programs, such as providing all-day kindergarten.''
Glen Ellyn village trustee Pete Ladesic, however, urged the board to impose a zero-percent levy.
"Much of the money that comes into this institution never makes it to the classrooms, the teachers and the students," Ladesic said, in addressing board members. "It's irresponsible to believe we can solve problems by throwing money at them. No dollar amount would assure that each child will have a successful education. District 41 already collects more than 45 percent of our property tax bills. There has to be a point where the district exercises restraint and starts to implement some lasting tax relief for its residents. Any vote other than a zero [percent] levy is a tax increase."
Currie said the district should levy for what it needs.
"We've discovered that we have $5.4 million that we didn't spend," Currie said. "This is 20 percent of the budget and leaves our reserves at 41 percent. That seems like a really good position to be in. We also aren't completely zeroing the levy. We are capturing approximately $500,000 in new construction dollars, so that is more money that is coming in. I think it is important that we align our budgets to people's incomes here in Glen Ellyn. We have to respect the taxpayer in Glen Ellyn."
Clark proposed the district adopt a flat levy.
"We're using what we need to run our schools," Clark said. "We're not looking to change anything. We're looking to keep the high quality of education we have here. And then when we turn to the community for funds, hopefully we can pass a referendum by more than 10 votes. Bottom line, based on all the financial information we have now, we do not need more money to run our schools the way we are running them. We can maintain all of our great staff and programs. We don't have to change any of that."
By a vote of 2,666 "yes" votes to 2,656 "no" votes, voters in April narrowly approved a $24.2 million bond referendum to replace the portable classrooms at Hadley Junior High School and do other work throughout the district.