Practicing responsible fiscal oversight is one of the most critical functions of the OPRF High School board, as it is for any board of a taxing body. Our communities deserve a full and accurate reporting of how the board manages the funds with which the public has entrusted us — and that is why it is essential to correct misinformation regarding District 200 finances, as was published in a letter to the Wednesday Journal last week [District 200 rushes levy increase, survey, Viewpoints, Nov. 21].
The letter writer stated incorrectly that the District’s comprehensive, audited financial statements were late this year. In fact, they were presented to the district by representatives from the independent auditing firm during open session at the Oct. 25, regular board meeting, just as they are every October. These statements are published on our website (in the Business Office section) and are available for anyone to read.
In addition, the letter writer refers to the proposed property tax levy as “clandestine,” a characterization that is difficult to understand given the facts: The presentation of this year’s levy is following the same timeline it does every year. This timeline was presented publicly at the Board Finance Committee meeting on Oct. 16. As announced at that time, the preliminary levy then was presented in open session during the Nov. 15 regular board meeting. Next, on Dec. 20, the board will hold a Truth in Taxation hearing, which is not required by law. However, the board holds the hearing annually in the interest of transparency, and any member of the public is invited to attend. The levy will not be approved till the hearing is completed.
Illinois school finance is complicated, so some background about the levy may be helpful. The district’s proposed 2012 levy is 2.5%. This actually is half a percent lower than the Consumer Price Index of 3% that is allowed this year. The maximum amount is set by Illinois tax caps, which limit the amount the district can levy (to 5% or the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U), whichever is less).
Keep in mind that the CPI-U is based on a specific list of goods consumers typically purchase — including cigarettes, televisions, and pet products — not the items a school district must pay for, such as health care insurance for employees, which can increase annually by as much as 10%. If the district were to skip a year of levy — that is, if it were to levy 0% — it would not be permitted to request another levy until a new referendum passed.
The last District 200 referendum was in 2002, and the board intends to delay going into deficit spending of reserves, triggering the next referendum, as long as possible. Through significant cost-cutting measures incorporated into the current budget, the district saved nearly $600,000 over original budget projections for the year. Cost-savings targets have been set through 2022, and district leadership already has begun discussing cost-containment ideas for the 2013-2014 budget.
Increasing student enrollment and Illinois pension reform are likely to affect future budget projections, but the board remains committed to practicing sound fiscal management while delivering excellence in education for the young people of our community.
Terry Finnegan is president of the District 200 school board.