Oak Park school board considering smaller referendum

State tax increase forces board to consider smaller tax increase


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Oak Park School District 97 is strongly considering scaling back its $75 million working cash bond sale referendum — approved last Tuesday by the school board — or switching to a limited tax-rate referendum.

In either case, the board will still ask voters on April 5 to accept a tax increase, but one that's likely smaller than what the district originally envisioned prior to the state raising income and corporate tax rates last week.

The state legislature agreed to raise personal income tax rates from 3 to 5 percent; corporate tax rates will jump from 4.8 percent to 7. That move also took away one of the arguments given by the district for choosing the bond route — uncertainty of the state meeting its financial obligations to school districts.

The bond sale option was also designed as a "bridge" to 2018. The board would then seek a permanent limiting rate referendum at that time.

With state taxes now raised, Dist. 97 will likely receive state aid that it was already due and future payments on time.

The board and district administration met for about two hours in a special meeting on Sunday to reconsider its options. The board on Jan. 11 approved its bond sale ballot question with the understanding that they have until Tuesday Jan. 18 to finalize the wording. Last Tuesday's vote occurred as the Illinois General Assembly deliberated on raising income and corporate taxes.

The state's recent move, Dist. 97 board members said, caused them to rethink their options. A referendum and spending reductions are still needed, members said. The board on Sunday went through various scenarios concerning both a bond sale and limiting rate increase.

The district could change to a $66 million bond sale referendum, under one scenario —an increase of about $54 for every $1,000 paid in property taxes — versus a $61 increase to sell $75 million in bonds.

The board also discussed the pros and cons of a limiting rate increase. An argument in favor of the limiting rate increase is that it would be even less of a hit to Oak Park homeowners — as low as $40 for every $1,000 in property taxes under one scenario.

But it would also be a permanent tax increase for property owners compared to selling bonds, which would come off tax bills in 2018 once they're paid off. With a limiting rate increase, the district would receive the money this year, versus receiving the money in 2012 under the bond sale option.

"We can dramatically reduce the dollar amount that the taxpayer is paying on an average basis looking over the course of the entire impact of a referendum," said board President Peter Traczyk, listing one of the pros for a limiting rate hike.

But the state tax increase might make voters wary of having to pay more come April, he said. Traczyk insisted the board was doing its due diligence in trying to make the referendum as small as possible for homeowners.

Reader Comments

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PM from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 5:39 PM

The Pupil-to-Administrator Ratio for D97 is 177.7 students per administrator. The state average is 203.8. I understand the value of less students per teacher, but not so sure that there is value in less students per administrator. Oak Park residents have always strongly supported their schools. But now we have hard times and hard decisions need to be made.

PM from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 5:36 PM

Oak Park residents have always provided strong financial support for the schools. But these are hard times for residents. Budgets are stretched thin and residents fear being able to remain in their homes. The high school district is OVERFUNDED. REFUND! BOTH Oak Park and River Forest could put $20-$30M to better use.

Referendum Doomed from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 2:15 PM

There is a lot of waste in the operations of D97.Only with qualified,innovative, educated admin staff can work,unfortunately the hiring practices of Oak Park (ex-teachers/family/friends) mean a legacy of older, ineffective, union workers who are shuffling paper around waiting for early retirement.That IS the REALITY of D97 now,and more money will just postpone the inevitable changes that are needed.Get rid of the wasteful positions adding NO value and fix the SYSTEM,before you ask for more $

Enough from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 12:37 PM

You can't get blood from a turnip. After the reduction in assessed property values that netted a 5-7% increase in property taxes, enough is enough. The referendum at hand asks for a minimum increase of yet another 5%. Not sure about the rest of you but a 10% property tax increase within 12 months is ridiculous. Oh, and then add another 2% increase on income (assuming you have one). The system is broken. Governing bodies must learn to do with less as most of us have over the last 24 months.

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 11:41 AM

Mr. Green Jeans, I find it odd that despite your alleged "lots of time" spent looking into the issues at both District 97 and 200 that you didn't run across the fact that District 200 also includes taxpayers in River Forest, who I am pretty sure would not be in favor of consolidation. Why is it every solution for Oak Park's problems that is proposed by Oak Parkers necessarily includes more tax dollars from River Forest?

Diverse Person  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 11:40 AM

Thanks, Mr. Green Jeans. The schools have been looking for that elusive answer to making everyone excellent and you found it! Consolidate and make a mission statement. Promise to make everyone excellent. Why didn't the schools think of that? They've been trying to work with students coming from a diversity of backgrounds, some who don't care about school. Just make them excellent. Simple! And one American culture. How elegant. Of course, they would have to pick one - business, sports, racial...


Posted: January 18th, 2011 11:29 AM

@ Elizabeth Rees. You have made some sweeping generalizing statements about D97. Could you give some details? What has led to your lack of confidence in admin., especially spending? What positions are bloated? How would you propose handling State and Federal requirements with less staff? Just curious for more details. It sounds like you have a plan, right?

Mr Green Jeans from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 11:18 AM

Isn't it time we did something REALLY progressive in this village and consolidate D97 with D200? After investing lots of time looking at all the issues with both, my conclusion is there are too many people in admin at both places doing too few things of REAL educational value in 2011. One Board, One Mgt team, one community & one culture (American) with one mission...that EVERY child walking in the door in PK or K is prepared to excel in college when they leave. No Gaps, no excuses,& no more $$.

Elizabeth Rees from Oak Park   

Posted: January 18th, 2011 10:32 AM

Elementary schools in District 97 continue to be punished for the high school referendum. People feel as if they have already been made to given enough to 'the schools'. However, I think District 97s bigger problem is that many taxpayers have NO confidence at all in the District's administration or HOW they money will be spent. With such a bloated administration, not enough tax dollars are trickling down to the students they are meant to serve. This is the real reason we are hesitant.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 9:07 AM

The problem, I would say, is that there is no guarantee that an infusion of cash from this property tax increase will improve the quality of Oak Park schools. In fact, it could have the opposite effect, increase complacency on the part of the education bureacracy, and relieve any pressure for reform and innovation. Nobody questions the good intentions of the Board. But they may be living in the past, where floods of cash were seen as the solution to all deficiencies. This is highly unlikely.

J from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2011 8:42 AM

I'm feeling the recession as much or more than any other homeowner. But I've looked at the facts and I don't think the board has a lot of options to work with. We need reform of our funding statewide and nationally. Thanks to D97 board for the thoughtful work they've done in trying to craft a solution that's as painless as possible. Fellow homeowners: Oak Park has done comparatively well on property values. That won't last if we let our schools go downhill.


Posted: January 18th, 2011 5:30 AM

Most homeowners have seen their home's value diminish by 25-35% from 5-7 years ago. However, the property taxes continue to increase - It is time for Oak Park to say "no, we can't always get what we want". The teachers and administration could revisit contracts so that they are not getting a percentage raise in addition to the lane and step raises. Cut back. Cut waste. Why not seriously consider a merge w/ the HS? Enuf is enuf.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2011 8:11 PM

When deciding whether to support this referendum, whatever its final form, it is important to note that the personal incoem tax increase approved by state Democrats last week is unlikely to be temporary. Realistically, the this a permanent increase. The governor's budget chief has already been quoted in the press as saying that there will be a "hole" in the state budget when the full 2 percent increase expires. The Quinn administration is already signaling a permanent increase.


Posted: January 17th, 2011 6:35 PM

raise taxes on personal income in Illinois from 3 to 5 %. raise taxes on small business owners from 3.4 to 7 %--immediately. next in line, local government--the village, the park district, the township, county, and school board. make district #97 school board's tax hike permanent --just like the other taxing bodies. where is all this money coming from in the Great Recession??? WHY do we need all these "services" anyway???

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2011 5:26 PM

Whether it is $66, $61 or $40 per every $1000 it is still a lot of $$ to ask struggling homeowners in this economy.

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