The District 200 school board is expected to vote on Jan. 27 on an administration recommendation to borrow $20 million in debt certificates to fund items in the Ten-Year Maintenance Plan, even though more than $60 million of the nearly $90 million sitting in the cash reserve or fund balance are surplus dollars that could be used for this purpose.
There is no reason for D200 to borrow money now, bypassing voters in the process and costing taxpayers at least $5.5 million in interest. The recommendation aims to stockpile even more tax dollars in the bloated cash reserve, making the board unaccountable to taxpayers on spending.
It is a fiscally irresponsible recommendation, and it lacks integrity as it is simply a shell game. There is no need to connect the dots either; buried in the administration’s memo, the shell game is made clear: The issuance of debt certificates “maintains an avenue for the district to address Project 2 using fund balance reserves and future budgets.”
Yet Project 2 and its $46 million 17-lane pool and 600-seat natatorium need to go to referendum for voters’ funding approval. Taxpayers overwhelmingly delivered that message to the board at the packed Imagine Plan Town Hall meeting in October 2018. And taxpayers are right. It is best practice to fund major capital projects with voter-approved referendum bonds, the same taxpayers who will benefit from a project should pay for it.
Cash reserves are not meant to stockpile current taxpayer dollars to fund future facility improvements. A cash reserve’s purpose is to cover possible funding delays during the year, and the Illinois State Board of Education gives its highest financial rating to schools that hold the equivalent of 25% of their annual operating expenses in reserve. For D200, that is approximately $22 million. D200’s bloated cash reserve has triple that in excess funds and needs to be downsized, spending it on actual needs, returning the rest to taxpayers. The last thing that D200 needs is more money.
The administration also issued a recommendation regarding the levy: “Utilize next year’s expected CPI increase (expected to be above historical levels) when adopting the 2022 tax levy to secure the additional revenues needed to pay for the principal and interest on the debt certificates.”
The debt certificate and levy recommendations are the 2022 versions of the tax loophole maneuver that D200 pulled years ago to stockpile more than $130 million of taxpayer dollars in the cash reserve. The methods and dollar amounts differ, but their intentions are the same: to siphon off and amass taxpayer dollars without voter approval, enabling the board to spend without regard to taxpayers.
The debt certificates vote is the reincarnation of the outrageous 2015 board vote to bypass taxpayers to build a $37.5 million Olympic-size pool.
Please consider emailing the board (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or making a virtual public comment at the Jan. 27 meeting and tell the board to vote “no” on the disingenuous debt certificate proposal.
Monica Sheehan is an Oak Park resident.