D97 chooses working cash bonds as referendum measure

Board will next settle on a size by Nov. 13

Updated:

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Print

By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

Having decided last summer to hold a tax hike referendum next April, the District 97 Board of Education last week chose a specific, and somewhat unusual method, of raising money for the cash-strapped system.

Rather than asking voters to approve a permanent increase in property tax rates, the school board will ask voters to OK the issuance of working cash bonds -- a debt instrument – that will be gradually repaid and then fully retired. Taxes would rise sufficiently to repay those bonds but the tax increase would expire when the bonds were paid off.

The board decided that while the bonding route was more of a mid-term than long-term solution to school funding issues, that it would be less of a burden on recession-weary property taxpayers. Peter Traczyk, school board president, said later that the bonding plan could bridge the several years until 2018 when the district will pay off construction of the two middle schools and the village's downtown TIF district expires. Both milestones will ease the district's finances.

When the board meets again on Nov. 13 for an additional study session, it will decide the amount of bonding capacity it will seek from voters.

A small crowd of about 20 people sat in the audience at Longfellow School where last Tuesday's meeting took place. The board spent three hours going over projections, revenue and expense targets, and looking at generic numbers of what a working cash referendum could look like.

"The board has decided to issue debt instead of doing an operating tax because it's, to me, easier to understand," said Peter Traczyk, president of the school board, after the meeting. "We're asking for a set amount of money and not a rate increase that's going to keep growing into the future. You know when we're going to pay it back, [and] it's going to end, so it's not this continuing obligation."

The board acknowledged that a working cash referendum was more of short-term solution for a much needed cash infusion. Without a referendum, the district will run out of money by 2014 and resort to drastic cuts to prevent that from happening. Traczyk also noted that the bonds for the two middle schools are set to expire in 2018, which will drop the district's levy by $3.5 million annually. That presents an opportunity for the district to run a referendum in 2018 that increases the district's tax rate without actually raising the taxes paid by a property owner.

"We're sensitive that this is not the right economic environment to run a referendum," Traczyk said. "But given the impact of the state budget crisis on our already dwindling fund balances, we're looking for approval of a smaller referendum to bridge us to 2018, when our middle school bonds retire and the downtown TIF expires, as well."

Members spent a good deal of time Tuesday talking about longer term planning, including the need to address the district's structural deficit. Supt. Albert Roberts stressed that the deficit can't be solved solely by cutting spending. Roberts and the board talked about how a successful referendum can lead to investments in such things as technology and capital improvements.

Roberts reiterated a point he's made in previous discussions, that a referendum is about investing in the future rather than maintaining the status quo.

Contact:
Email: tdean@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

21 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

W. from Oak Park  

Posted: November 12th, 2010 5:59 PM

Just got my tax bill - $9800 in taxes going to the schools - Triton, OPRF and District 97 and Triton only gets $372, and District 97 wants more!

Mary Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: November 8th, 2010 8:58 AM

Quinn and the state Democrats, who control the state legislature, plan to impose a one percentage point increase in the state income tax early in 2011-perhaps more. Quinn says it's "for education,"so Oak Park should receive an increase in state aid. So,before we vote to tax ourselves more, we need to know how this "education" tax increase will affect Dist 97. Local school bureacrats should be working on determining this, not on raising ourastronomical property taxes even higher.

Reality Check  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 2:51 PM

Where does check out the facts think that funding for charter schools comes from? Charter schools depend almost entirely on public funds.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 12:03 PM

HI Check Yep it looks like I need to do some boning up on charter schools. Hold my thought at the blog until I get smarter on the subject.

check out the facts  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 5:12 AM

With all due respect Mr. Murtagh as I agree with most everything you have written in this forum, charter schools can NOT cherry pick, unlike the magnet schools in Chicago. Charters are open to everyone within a district by random lottery. Charters aren't perfect but they're not blaming "gaps" and lack of funding for poor performanace.

john murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: November 5th, 2010 12:06 AM

I am with RNs comments, and I hate the charter school argument. Of course most charter schools are better than public schools. They get to cherry pick the student. Our schools are not allowed the exclude those who have special needs or have no chance of getting into the charter schools. The comparison is unfair. Think of it this way. If you make draconian cuts in OP education, what happens to your property value?

check out the facts  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 9:49 PM

Charter schools have been very successful with very little public support or funding. In fact, many charters have out performed the so-called "great" Oak Park schools with less money. Let's try an across the board paycut before a referendum.

RN from Oak Park  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 6:12 PM

Oak Park needs to decide as a community what is most important for our children in our schools. It is a myth that we have no resources. If you want to see schools with no resources, take a walk to Austin. We have art and music and languages, wonderful things in our schools that I, for one, would hate to lose. But I think there has also been a lot of wasted money on "quick fix" strategies like PBIS, Accelerated Reader, ISAT practice.

Tom  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 12:19 PM

I am sorry PM. I misunderstood. I thought that you meant simply transferring some of District 200 largess to District 97. I would be all in favor of a tax rebate by District 200.

ER from Oak Park   

Posted: November 4th, 2010 10:22 AM

In reply to MJ's comment- my son used to attend Irving school in District 97 and there was no money being spent there on 'tap dancing lessons'. People in Oak Park need to stop kidding themselves about their public elementary schools and understand just how strapped for BASIC materials and supplies some of them are. Make sure the money is not being wasted at the District office level and that it GETS to schools. Or we won't maintain even current standards, let alone improve them.

PM from Oak Park  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 9:21 AM

Tom, River Forest is not awash in cash these days, as demonstrated by the recent vote on the sales tax increase. The River Forest taxpayers would benefit by reducing the tax allocation to D200 as well.

Tom  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 9:17 AM

PMI think that the taxpayers of River Forest might have an issue with your plan as well.

MJ  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 9:12 AM

We are in a different world right now, cut out tap dancing lessons at school and get back to basics. Our teachers have some of the top salaries in the state are we in the top ten schools? That is what people should be talking about.

PM from Oak Park  

Posted: November 4th, 2010 8:49 AM

Well, district 200 has a huge surplus and district 97 has a deficit. Lets think about REDUCING the taxes allocated to D200 and allocating that money to D97. Seems like a simple solution. Why burden the taxpayers when there is money available to support ALL the schools. One big problem, I am sure D200 will try and sue the taxpayers if such a thing is attempted. After all, they have enough money to pay lawyers...

CG from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 9:06 PM

Les, while I am not with you on your opposition to the tax increase for the schools, the secret I really want to know is how you get around the 500 character limit for these comments. Please divulge.

Robert Larson  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 8:56 PM

Hey JMA,Why don't you move to East St. Louis? I hear they don't spend much on their schools either!

Les (corrected) from OP  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 8:53 PM

I find these board comments insulting and laughable. 1. Once a taxing body finds a way to put their hands into your pocket book, they never let go. The comment that once the working cash bond is paid off the tax will expire is a mockery of any intelligence. Les Golden remembers when the village invoked the need to purchase new equipment as the reason for a so-called temporary increase in the 911 fee. It of course became permanent as they found another use for the additional taxes. 2. In 2018 the bonds for the two (failing according to the state report card) middle schools will, they state, be paid off and the tax levy will decrease by $3.5 million. What are they smoking. In the next 8 years they%u2019ll find another use for those millions. Anyone wanting to join the citizens committee to defeat the referedum, contact me. Finally, concerning Forest Park. The young couples who previously moved to Oak Park are moving to Forest Park because it%u2019s affordable and has vibrant shopping districts and low taxes.

Les from OP  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 8:51 PM

I find these board comments insulting and laughable. 1. Once a taxing body finds a way to put their hands into your pocket book, they never let go. The comnment that once the working cash bond is paid off the tax will expire is a mockery of any intelligence. Les Golden remembers when the village invoked the need to purchase new equipment as the reason for a %u201Ctemporary%u201D increase in the 911 fee. It of course became permanent as they found another use for the additional taxes. 2. In 2018 the

Tim Unsell  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 8:18 PM

Nor a wildly great school district. I never hear people say, "We should move to Forest Park because they have amazing schools."

JMA from Forest Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 6:33 PM

The school system always runs out of money. What on earth do they do with it? I grew up in OP and I am so glad I now live in Forest Park. We don't have a wild spending school district.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 5:37 PM

This proposed property tax increase should be viewed in light of a probable increase in the state income tax following the (almost certain) election of Governor Quinn. Quinn campaigned on a one percentage point increase in the state income tax, with modest adjustments for low earners.Some believe, given the state's fiscal situation, that the hike will exceed one point. Given the still-precarious state of the economy, many Oak Parkers may find these combined additional taxes burdensome.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.


            
SubscribeClassifieds
Photo storeContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor