We've known for some time that District 97, the Oak Park public elementary schools, would be coming to voters in April with a tax hike proposal. What wasn't clear until last week is that the spring ballot would include two tax hike referenda from the district.
But on Dec. 20 the school board agreed to go for both an operating tax increase which would fund ongoing operations of the schools as well as a request to issue new bonds to pay for facility improvements and expansions.
That could make Election Day a very costly one for Oak Park taxpayers, already burdened with steep property tax obligations.
Illinois' property tax caps were well designed to bring our schools back to taxpayers on a fairly regular basis — every six to eight years — to seek permission to raise taxes. If the money is well spent and the outcomes are solid, there is no shame in a school district making that request.
The bond proposal will be sold to voters as having no impact on their tax payments as the new bonds would replace the bonds issued two decades ago to build the twin middle schools and now scheduled to be paid off. Of course, taxes could actually decline if no new bonds were issued or approved by voters.
Notably, the district argues that both tax hikes are necessary because of the 24 percent spike in school enrollment over the past 10 years. More kids equals more teachers and more necessary space.
That said, voters will require a lucid and transparent argument if the school district has any hope of making this sale.