District 200 ponders tax abatement

Property owners could see relief next year pending board approval Feb. 28


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By Terry Dean

Staff reporter

The District 200 Board of Education will decide on Feb. 28 whether to give Oak Park and River Forest property owners some welcome tax relief via an abatement that would impact next year's tax bills.

It's an about-face from the board's previous stance, or more specifically the stance of some board members. The abatement proposal was discussed by the D200 finance committee on Feb. 19. The board's regular meeting is on Thursday.

The idea of giving some kind of relief to taxpayers had been shot down previously for various reasons. But the board is now considering offering some relief to property owners who have been asking for such relief for some time.

The plan is for a one-time abatement impacting 2014 tax bills. Two options are on the table: a full abatement totaling $2.4 million or a partial one for $1.6 million. The high school board last December levied about $1.6 million, a 2.5 percent increase, despite vocal opposition from many in the community.

If they go the partial abatement route, the school would not levy that 2.5 percent rate next year, resulting in no change in tax bills. The full abatement would actually result in a lower tax bill, but only for one year. A homeowner whose home is valued at $315,000 would see their taxes reduced by $55, according to school officials.

The school would pay for the one-time abatement from its working cash fund rather than its education fund, school officials said. The school has about $9 million in working cash, according to the 2013 fiscal year budget.

Board members John Phelan and Valerie Fisher broached the idea of providing a tax abatement, asking that it be put on the finance committee's agenda for discussion. Members spent more than an hour on the issue. Some cited previously-stated concerns in opposing such abatement.

With enrollment increasing at historic rates, the school's pool situation still unsettled, and long-term facility planning still in the works, some worried that an abatement, at this time, might not be wise. They also discussed whether it was more of a symbolic gesture on their part.

Only one board member, Ralph Lee, opposed the abatement outright.

"I'm convinced that what we're talking about here is pushing a burden today into the future. I'm convinced it's going to be a much greater burden to deal with in the future. I think we're talking more about a principle than we are real hardship. I'd like to see us do away with the idea of an abatement."

Amy McCormack, who chairs the finance committee, echoed Lee's concerns but did not say whether she supported an abatement or not. McCormack, though, insisted the school was in danger of putting itself in financial risk in the future.

"What I'm struggling with is also the benefit versus the burden," she said.

McCormack noted that the board and school are facing financial challenges now, such as sharply-rising enrollment and the need for new pools that weren't fully addressed in the four years since she began a member.

"What scares me a little bit is that four years from now, we'll be looking at another four scenarios," she said, "and I think we have to be very very cautious not to do something as a matter of principle, but to truly look at it, as Ralph is suggesting, as a benefit versus burden sort of argument."

Phelan, however, didn't think a one-year abatement would put the school in a "dooms-day scenario."

"For some people, that 55 dollars is going to make a difference, and we're telling them we recognize that it's a difficult time and we're doing what we can," Phelan said.

Board President Terry Finnegan noted that the abatement proposal was not a huge dollar amount for the school and that it was sending a message to the community that it's the right thing to do.

Sharon Patchak-Layman, who didn't vote for the 2.5 percent levy increase last December, has called for the school to give tax relief but was surprisingly cool to the idea of the abatement. That position even surprised Phelan, who said so after her comments.

Patchak-Layman insisted the school missed its opportunity back in December. She added that even the larger abatement amount was not enough compared to the school's 100-plus million fund balance.

"I think the numbers are just way off, whether on the partial or the full," she said.

D200 likely to support Collaboration initiative

The District 200 school board on Thursday is set to approve a resolution, setting the stage for OPRF to offer financial support to the Collaboration for Early Childhood's initiative for at-risk preschoolers. The Village of Oak Park has already approved funding for the program. District 97 has approved a resolution directing its superintendent to start allocating funding. The D200 board will vote on its own resolution at its regular meeting on Feb. 28.

Reader Comments

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Science rules!   

Posted: February 28th, 2013 6:25 PM

Jim, drmr is grumpy about D-200 funding the Collab so is mischaracterizing the report posted. Even though Head Start kids did better than the control group, both sets (Head Start and control) did worse than the national avg because they are low income. So the cynical types want to paint that as skepticism about what early childhood education can do within the scientific community. Which, of course, isn't the way science works.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 28th, 2013 6:04 PM

Drmr from Oak Park, would you please elaborate on what the research you sourced cites as why programs for at-risk preschoolers fail? The view that there is no lasting effect from the services is puzzling. I don't know if your concerns about the legality of District 200 providing financial are valid but am most interested in the performance data. Thank you.

Paddy Boy  

Posted: February 28th, 2013 2:14 PM

$55.00? That's it? Even King George would offer more than that and he was an evil man, he was. Can you hear me?

drmr from Oak Park  

Posted: February 27th, 2013 6:36 PM

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/head_start_report.pdf Read the executive summary and you will see why the high school should NOT give one cent to CEC.Kevin Peppard,is this even legal?These programs have no lasting effect and District 200 money should not be allocated for pre-schoolers.A %1000 increase in the next three years?Insane.Especially for a proven failure.Board members,please read the report or its' conclusions before making a rash decision.This is a bad idea.

oprf mama  

Posted: February 27th, 2013 5:50 PM

Mike...review your math...! Folks, if you don't think the $55 is a big deal, that happens to be the amount your taxes will increase as a result of the annual levy recently approved. Remember that the 2.5% is on the portion of your tax bill that goes to D200 - it's not a 2.5% increase of your overall taxes. fyi

Mike Lennox from Oak Park  

Posted: February 23rd, 2013 5:07 PM

Nice start. Now, how about looking at why it takes 12.6 persons to educate 1 student at the school. 3,200 students, about 253 teachers,staff, etc.


Posted: February 22nd, 2013 4:28 PM

drop the ridiculously outdated class ranking while you are at it.

Ron from River Forest  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 12:51 PM

My guess is that Terry Finnegan realized that he has competition in this election and therefore asked the board for a fig leaf to hide the overtaxing ways of the past 7 years. It will be interesting to see if it works.


Posted: February 21st, 2013 12:36 PM

All the talk targeting their $100 million+ surplus has them scared. We still need to carve that surplus down to about $10 million.

Jim from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 11:53 AM

Amy McCormack. Is my Google search right and she owns a legal recruiting agency? So she thinks in terms of corporate lawyer salaries, right? She is out of touch with much of the district and the east and south sides of Oak Park especially. My sense is that she is an elitist who wants to avoid a referendum forever because that would give the peons who pay the bills some say in where the ship is going. She's not up for re-election. Good thing.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: February 21st, 2013 9:24 AM

It's not April 1, is it?


Posted: February 21st, 2013 7:07 AM

Come on School Board, really? A whole, maybe $55? How about doing away with the tax levy you just shoved down the tax-payers throat?

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 7:21 PM

@LPG of NYC when you finish being insulting maybe you could be more helpful. What makes the educational system in your city so great? Please explain?

Leonard Pinth Garnell from NYC  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 6:59 PM

You midwesterners are so simple minded. Your educational system lacks compared to my great city.


Posted: February 20th, 2013 6:47 PM

"Amy McCormack.....insisted the school was in danger of putting itself in financial risk in the future. With enrollment increasing at historic rates...." Based on what? This Trib article shows that the opposite is coming to OPRF: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-27/news/ct-met-fewer-illinois-children-20130127_1_fewer-kids-fewer-workers-fewer-children. I posted this link one month ago and it had a section which showed that the age 0-10 population in OP had declined by around 3%.

lived here too long  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 6:38 PM

high taxes + contested election with incumbants running = promise of tax relief. Nuf said?

Lanny Lutz from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 6:02 PM

A beginning. Let's take what we can get. Please stop finding ways to spend. Continue finding ways to cut. Park District is next. 25 Million to build a new pool and ice rink !! No. Repair what we have, and make do with that. Understand what a majority of us are going through, with or without children in the system.

David W Ristau from Lahaina and River Forest  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 4:50 PM

OPRF 200 board members should attend presentation being held by Kevin Peppard to explain school finances and tax revenue requirements. Kevin has studied OPRF 200 for at least 20 years and is IMO as knowledgeable as any of the finance directors the school has employed and way more knowledgeable than most elected board members. A tax abatement is long overdue given the carried balances in the school's funds. Kevin's detailed analyses will shed a bright light on board practices and overtaxation.

Tired of Taxes from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 4:34 PM

This is good news, but as someone else said, small potatoes compared with our massive tax bills.

Rick from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 4:07 PM

You can keep the $55.

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 4:07 PM

@RP not meaning to offend but your comment reminds me of a fart in church.

Whole Lotta Nuthin from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 4:06 PM

Read article title and get hopeful... see article details and laugh. Really? REALLY?

Robert Plant from Hvn  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 4:02 PM

Does anybody remember laughter?

Speedway from Oak Park  

Posted: February 20th, 2013 2:03 PM

I think it is sort of a "bait and switch". You may abate from a working fund of $10mil. but what about the general fund with surpluses over $100 million. What about abating part of that fund? Is D200 trying to confuse the taxpayer or just possibly offering a tidbit to make us feel better. No D200 you need to offer much more.

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