Criticism of District 200 levy is misinformed

Opinion: Columns

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Terry Finnegan

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.

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Reader Comments

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Mary Rodrigo from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2012 2:19 PM

Mr. Finnegan, I believe from the articles and budgets that I've reviewed, that an increased tax levy is NOT warrented. Referendums allow taxpayers a say in how their tax dollars are used. By avoiding future referendums with the creation of extreme budget excesses you remove the taxpayer's input and voice in the financial's of OPRFHS. For Pete's sake, it's our HS. Do you really think OP taxpayers are going to let you increase the levy every year so you can avoid future referendums.


Posted: December 1st, 2012 9:58 PM

OPRFHS takes the credit for success of top students & blames minority and low income lack of success on parents. Can't have it both ways. Either admit that parents with $$ are edcuating their kids via private tutors or take responsibility for all.

A Realist from Oak Park  

Posted: December 1st, 2012 1:53 PM

Agree with Taxpayer. D200 cares about its future . . . but only on the revenue side. We in the real world have cut costs - buy used cars, paint rather than remodel. Government lives beyond reason, just because it can. Taxpayers are dead last priority


Posted: December 1st, 2012 1:33 PM

Shame on Finnegan for attacking a citizen who dares question why a public entity raises taxes on struggling families in a deep recession when it has $116M in CASH. You attack on collateral points but never address the main point - because you can't. You are wrecking struggling family budgets to hoard cash so you don't have to do any hard work actually getting value for our sacrifices.

OPRF Achievement GAP  

Posted: November 29th, 2012 5:34 AM

@sam - just woke up! clearly that is too much - there needs to be a solution - however illinois is the problem with their levy gimicks. If an entity goes down to 0, they are left with that. This thing needs a solution.


Posted: November 28th, 2012 11:48 PM

The issue isnt whether we are #1 or #688. The issue here is having a surplus of more than a full years operating budget in the bank and STILL thinking we need to raise taxes. Wake up

Mike from OP  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 10:35 PM

I bet you people have never compared how OPRF stacks up against schools with similar demographics.......try it.......OPRF is tops hands down....don't throw some charter school BS at me because they can select or deny any student they want

Mike from OP  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 10:31 PM

I'm sure that there are areas that need improvement as is the case at most high schools. Oak park ranks 22 out of 688 public Illinois high schools according to a very reliable study by US news & world report.

Oprf Achievement Gap  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 9:29 PM

@chip - why is the school so low from 1960? Thank d97. They cause this silly discussion. They is what is delivered to oprf. Kids who are 4 years behind on reading

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 5:53 PM

Chip-I'd be happy if OPRFHS was one of the top three school in its conference. I know money doesn't solve all educational problems, but if you have a surplus of over $100,000,000,000.00, you could probably make some improvements to instruction.

Truthiness from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 5:36 PM

Sir, let's forget the CPI and revisit Jim's comment. If the school is sitting on over $100M in cash, pls explain why you cannot withdraw the 1.7% from the account instead of raising taxes. It's not deficit spending unless there's an actual deficit.


Posted: November 28th, 2012 5:20 PM

The third from last paragraph regarding the 0% levy makes no sense to me whatsoever. Am I to understand that if TF is mistaken...that the Board would NOT be raising the levy by 2.5%? I do understand how the "base" affects a future ref, but...?

Chip Krasnow from Chicago  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 4:58 PM

In the 1960's OPRFHS was ranked one of the top 3 High Schools in Illinois, OPRFHS also enjoyed an very high national ranking. Now days, OPRFHS is not even in the top 40% of Il. High Schools. An extra $1,600,000 is like putting perfume on a pig!

OP Transplant  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 4:12 PM

Given that, in comparison to other schools in the Chicago area and the state, OPRF hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire in the last few years, couldn't some of this money be spent to improve instruction? It's a high school, not a bank.


Posted: November 28th, 2012 1:41 PM

The criticism of you and your board are not misinformed, but rather well deserved. When you have a $112 Million surplus, your income exceeds your expenses by over $6.9 Million, you should not be asking for a $1.7 Million raise from taxpayers.


Posted: November 28th, 2012 1:31 PM

Maybe the high school is sitting on a mountain of cash with the idea it may be needed to fund pension obligations later?

Stoopid Taxpayer  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 11:48 AM

*Hint: reconsider "free ride for life". Sources: ;

Stoopid Taxpayer  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 11:45 AM

Mr. Finnegan: You may not be able to do much about health care costs*, but your board presided over a net 25% increase in teacher salaries in the last 4 years at same time the CPI was less than 3% and Illinois real household income was DOWN 9%.

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 9:08 AM

Why does the Dist 200 board hate referendums? Are they afraid to go before the voters to justify how they are spending out money? District 200's reserve is obscene in the current financial climate and it should rebate some of it back to taxpayers.

Get your facts straight  

Posted: November 28th, 2012 8:12 AM

The statement that skipping a tax levy for a year would require a referendum to levy taxes in the future is inaccurate. The highest levy in the past 3 years is used to calculate the tax cap. The compounding of growth is lost not the ability to levy.


Posted: November 27th, 2012 11:05 PM

Terry, You have a 100 Million plus in the bank. I am not sure it matters if in years down the road you have to go to another referendum to increase the levy. Use the money you have and stop asking for more until there is a legitimate need.

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