By Terry Dean
The District 200 school board on Nov. 12, approved its preliminary tax levy for next year, a 2 percent increase.
The preliminary levy was approved 5-1 during a special board meeting Tuesday evening. Sharon Patchak-Layman voted against the increase. Absent from the meeting was board member Jackie Moore. The board will adopt a final levy next month. By law it was required to vote on a preliminary levy in advance of the final decision in December.
That final vote will coincide with the school's Finance Advisory Committee's recommendation to the board concerning the district's fund balance. D200 board members Jeff Weissglass and Tom Cofsky, both of whom also sit on the ad hoc finance committee, voted for the estimated levy increase but with reservations.
Part of the committee's work has been looking at how the fund balance has grown over the years, now totaling roughly $118 million. The school's annual increase in its tax levy, the ad hoc committee notes, has been a driver of the large fund balance.
Cofsky said he supports a flat levy this year. Increasing the levy, he argued, seems counter to what the school is trying to accomplish in reigning in its fund balance. Weissglass, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said the levy vote was a tough one for him. He and Cofsky ultimately voted for the measure, noting that it doesn't bind the board from changing the levy amount next month.
Patchak-Layman wanted the board to lower this year's levy -- she also wanted to lower the levy last year. She proposed amending the motion to adopt the increase but that effort failed when her amendment failed to get a second vote.
In supporting the 2 percent hike, board President John Phelan maintained there was no need to lower or maintain the levy because it was only a preliminary amount. The final vote will come next month, Phelan said, when the board can change the amount.
Last year, the board approved a 2.5 percent levy increase, but in February of this year, the board approved a roughly $2.4 million tax abatement. At Tuesday's meeting, the board also approved a preliminary levy increase for its debt service, roughly $2.5 million to cover bond and interest payments.
The preliminary levy and next month's final adoption have direct ties to the FAC's work.
Weissglass noted that the committee, which meets again next Monday, Nov. 18, has not yet decided whether to recommend a specific levy amount the board should adopt. But it was unlikely, he added, that any recommendation would call for an increase.
Phelan added that he doesn't anticipate next month's levy vote by the board to be an increase. The D200 board is scheduled to vote on the official levy on Dec. 19. By state law, a preliminary levy must be approved and put on display for the public 30 days before a final levy is set.
The FAC, which was established last spring, has been meeting since July. Its remaining meetings are next Monday and Dec. 2, where it is expected to finalize its recommendations, which likely will include a "fund balance" range for the district. Ways to bring down the current fund balance are also among the likely options.
The FAC's recommendations will likely come to the D200 finance committee Tuesday Dec. 10. A special board meeting would follow that session to consider the recommendation.