Flat levy or decrease likely for OPRF

Finance Advisory Committee poised to recommend either option next month

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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

The District 200 Finance Advisory Committee will likely recommend that the D200 school board adopt a flat or reduced levy next month.

The committee discussed both possibilities on Monday. Some committee members strongly backed the reduced levy option while others favored a flat levy. The group will finalize its recommendations on Dec. 2, concerning the proper size and use of the school's $118 million fund balance.

The group on Monday took its first steps toward committing to a levy recommendation, which it had not up to this point.

Last week, the D200 board approved its preliminary levy, calling for a roughly 2 percent increase. The board made that vote with the understanding that the ad hoc committee was still finalizing its recommendation with respect to the fund balance and a possible recommendation concerning the levy, which will receive a final adoption by the board on Dec. 19.

The D200 board last week noted that the final levy vote would be influenced by whatever the FAC recommends, which will likely come forth on Dec. 10, a week before the school board officially approves its levy for next year.

FAC members met at their scheduled meeting on Monday and looked at a several options the board could take with next month's levy adoption, including approving a flat levy for the next four years. Other options included a small levy decrease or giving a large tax cut. Some committee members argued that the board should adopt some kind of levy decrease to gain favor with the public.

"Is it not possible to try and re-build the goodwill with the community to have not just a flat but a modest reduction in the levy?" asked committee member Karen Latham.

Maintaining a flat levy wouldn't draw much support in the community, Latham added.

The committee looked at the option of an $8 million levy decrease and also the option of a massive $45 million tax cut next year. A huge one-year tax cut, however, was ultimately ruled out in favor of a more modest reduction.

Latham argued that something below an $8 million decrease could suffice.

Supporters of the flat levy, however, argued that maintaining the tax rate could also be seen as good financial stewardship and a trust-builder. Members noted that a flat levy for one or two years could be followed by a levy decrease after that.

While the committee did not decide on either option Monday, committee members seemed open to the idea of modest decrease.

The committee looked at four overall options. A couple of options involved maintaining a flat levy until the school faces an operating deficit. The school board could then go for a full CPI levy increase either a year or two prior to entering deficit spending.

The other options involved either an $8 million decrease or tax cut next year. The committee concluded that a large tax cut would be too complicated to do in one year, with implications involving how the county would handle such a request with what would amount to a month's notice — the D200 board needs to finalize its levy on Dec. 19.

As the committee discussed how property owners are impacted by the levy and fund balance, Supt. Steven Isoye reminded members about how this all impacts the students.

"The only key point I would make as we look at the numbers and projections, graphs and lines, we're also talking about the experience of the students," Isoye said. "A lot of the things that are built into the graphs and numbers are parameters that pretty much maintain the status quo and how we staff a variety of things."

Isoye, as well as committee members, also acknowledged that the school's strategic plan will include initiatives with financial impact.

The committee Monday continued to talk about how the school can rebuild trust with the community. Latham warned that if the board makes the wrong decision concerning the levy and fund balance, that could further build distrust. The current feeling in the community, she noted, is that the school is just looking to spend money it's stockpiled in the bank.

Latham said the school and board can re-build trust by seeking the community's support on what to spend the money on.

"I worry that the good will that is gained by virtue of the efforts spent on what to do with the tax levy, whatever money we would need to spend on capital projects would need to have the support of the community," she said. "Having a large fund balance does not mean you have the consent of the community to spend massive amounts of money on what may be really great projects, but the community has to say yes."

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

17 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Taxpayer from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 2:28 PM

I hope the school board listens to its finance committee.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 2:21 PM

As Bridgett noted below, FAC meetings are recorded, but as of today, last available recording is for 11/4. I'm sorry my point seems to have been lost here. The point being, citizens elect people to represent them; the press reports on their actions. Citizens rely on that. Citizens with more time may or may not go to meetings, watch livestreams or watch hours of tapes. We need that too. But we need robust coverage by our local press. I will give Mr. Dean the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 1:35 PM

Mimi Jordan, Terry Dean did a fine job at reporting what took place. You may want to contact your smart phone company and have them provide a camera at meetings so you can either stream meetings on your phone or download them later. After all, smart phones are suppose to keep you informed of everything. Oak Park buys into the technology and should be sending out notifications of all meetings. Oak Park may want to invest in the camera for the phone company.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 1:21 PM

Hi Mr. Dwyer, I don't have the "expectation that a newspaper must act like a stenographer or court reporter and document every comment made by everyone in a meeting." I do expect a reporter to have some sense of what's newsworthy. So I guess no one else at the FAC meeting said anything newsworthy--which is all I was getting at in my initial comment--and/or that Mr. Dean reported on it as well as he could.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 12:51 PM

I'm not being defensive, Ms. Jordan. I'm being critical of your rather silly assumptions regarding news reporting. Dean did a very good job reporting a developing story that has not yet been resolved. If anything is "unseemly," it is your apparent expectation that a newspaper must act like a stenographer or court reporter and document every comment made by everyone in a meeting. That's simply impossible. Dean covered the key issues and the general views expressed quite well.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 12:40 PM

Mr. Dwyer, I appreciate your impulse to defend your fellow journalist. However, as many people have said on this comment board, most people do not have the time to go to every single public meeting that affects us. We rely on journalists to do that, and to provide a fair account of what happened. This reliance is not unreasonable, even in the Internet age. As I noted, it is the historic role of the press, and one that I thought you journalists were proud of. This defensiveness is unseemly.

Mary Unbehauen Rodrigo from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 11:13 AM

Well said Ms. Latham.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 11:04 AM

Actually, Ms. Jordan, if you feel such a need to hear what each elected official has to say at a public meeting, you need to make the effort to attend the meeting. Or obtain a tape of the meeting. Terry Dean is a journalist, not a stenographer. He showed up to committee meeting and wrote a 785- word article nicely outlining the concerns expressed. As he pointed out, the committee will make a final decision Dec. 2 and the school board on Dec. 19. You're free to attend either one.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 10:27 AM

Mr. Dean, everything you said below is true. However, your role as reporter is to give your readers an accurate report on the meeting, to help us as citizens determine how well our elected or appointed representatives are addressing the community's needs. The press is colloquially called the "4th branch" of govt because the press has historically helped the citizenry understand what the other branches are doing. You do not fulfill that role if you just tell us to go look it up.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 9:26 AM

"Is it not possible to try and re-build the goodwill with the community to have not just a flat but a modest reduction in the levy?" asked committee member Karen Latham. "Trust in the community" didn't seem to bother the board when it was building the fund balance to over $100M. I'll believe that there will be a flat levy or decrease in the levy when I see it.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 1:57 AM

Correction: There wasn't a meeting of the Finance Advisory Committee (FAC) on 11/12. The Finance Committee Meeting (of the Board) was on the 12th. So just waiting on the recording of the 18th. On another note, minutes aren't approved until the following meeting, so there is a lag time of finding out what happened at a meeting. Sometimes an entire month. In addition, minutes that have been approved, have not been uploaded. Don't know why.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: November 21st, 2013 1:42 AM

Just to clarify, the Board meetings for D200 are not recorded (I wish they were). The Finance Advisory Committee meetings are. They are located here: http://www.oprfhs.org/Finance-Advisory-Committee/Videos.cfm#.Uo23s53nbQ4 You get to the page by going to the www.oprfhs.org website, and clicking on the "Finance Advisory Committee" blue box on the left. And then "Recording of Meetings" on the left of the next page. Right now, the last meeting posted is 11/4. 11/12 and 11/18 are not yet posted.

Terry  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 2:10 PM

Ms. Mimi, these meetings are recorded and posted on OPRF's website, usually the day after the meeting (a Tuesday). Minutes from the meetings are also taken. For any lengthy meeting, there is a lot of discussion, info provided and conversation, all of which can't, unfortunately, end up in a single news story. Thanks for reading the story and responding.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 9:33 AM

Mr. Dean, it would have been helpful to hear what other members had to say. Surely more people spoke than Ms. Latham and Mr. Isoye? We need to know how the board members we voted for last April who are on the commttee are thinking.

Want to Stay in Oak Park  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 8:32 AM

Halleljuah. Now if we can keep D97 from building an administrator's palace we may be able to slow the debilitating property tax increases.

7ofus  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 8:26 AM

Meantime, since August, D200 has not had one full week of school all year. And ANOTHER late start today.

Mr. Middle  

Posted: November 20th, 2013 8:18 AM

I work most nights when these meetings go on so I could not attend this meeting. If public comments where taken add this..you cannot build "trust in the community" by keeping a flat levy. You are not deficit spending and you have two years of cash on hand. The only reasonable thing to do is take a large reduction in levy so that you deficit spend for a few years. If you spend $8M a year more it will take 5-7 years to reduce fund to proper balance. This stockpile of money is obscene.

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