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Elmhurst District 205 Will Ask for a 4.7 Percent Increase in Property Tax Revenue

One homeowner wants to know why property taxes to the School District have gone up 100 percent in 12 years, while inflation has risen only 39 percent over the same time period.

Elmhurst District 205 School Board members on Tuesday unanimously adopted an overall levy of $95.8 million, an increase of 4.7 percent over 2010, which is based on a consumer price index of 1.5 percent and an amount for new growth.

A large portion of taxes related to new growth is coming from the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital properties, but that money—$1.4 million—will have to be returned if the hospital regains its tax-exempt status.

Board member John McDonnough pointed out that if the district has to return money to the hospital, it will have to do so with interest.

"The interest we'll have to pay on $1.4 million will exceed any interest we will earn (while holding on to the money)," he said. "This whole hospital thing is going to cost us money."

The district is levying more than it expects to receive from taxpayers in order to capture all potential revenue from new growth.

"We expect (to receive) more like 3.79 percent," assistant Superintendent for Finance Chris Welton said.

District 205, like other districts, is facing falling revenues and increasing expenses, Welton said. Interest income is down, state funding is unreliable and likely to decrease and federal funding is flat, while healthcare and other staffing costs, technology needs and energy costs have gone up. The district gets 84 percent of its revenue from property taxes.

"The district is a very service-intensive organization," he said. "Seventy-nine percent of the budget is related to staffing, and that is closely linked to enrollment and the needs of students."

Flat revenues and increasing expenses have resulted in "a structural deficit for schools," he said.

The tax cap limits taxing bodies' annual request for property taxes to 5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is lower, plus an amount for new growth. It was put in place to force school districts and other taxing entities to get permission from taxpayers, via referendum, to receive more money.

"Our last referendum was in 2006," Welton said. "The district is attempting to stretch the amount of time between referendums with significant budget cuts and staff reductions over the past two years."

The district has achieved a net reduction of about $5 million in expenses over the last two years as a result of budget cuts and fee increases for students.

In related business Tuesday, the board heard a summary of its annual, independent financial audit. Welton said the district, for the fifth year in a row, has received recognition for its positive financial position. A summary of income shows a net increase of $4.15 million in the district's fund balance in fiscal year 2011.

"It was a positive financial year for the School District," Welton said. "This can only be achieved by hard work, budgeting and prudent financial decision making. We continue to comb through the budget to see what costs can be lowered."

But that is no consolation to Elmhurst homeowners like William MacDonald, who spoke during the tax levy public hearing.

MacDonald lives in a 1,500-square-foot, three bedroom ranch house on Madison Street. He told the board that in 1998, he paid $3,800 in property taxes, with a large portion of that going to the School District. In 2010, he paid $7,600 in property taxes, of which $5,200 was for the schools.

"That's a 100 percent tax increase in 12 years—more than 6 percent a year," he told the board. "According to the Federal Reserve Bank, inflation was 39 percent over the same time period. Why does education go up 100 percent and (inflation) go up 39 percent? It speaks to the fact that you haven't managed the (district) very well.

"Over the last 12 years, home values have collapsed, but the taxes you levy have not. Now you want to raise them again."

He said the action was "cruel" to taxpayers, and board members are not willing to ask the teachers to make any sacrifices.

"You are great advocates for the teachers union and administrators, but the taxpayers of Elmhurst have no advocate," said MacDonald, who was the only citizen to comment at the hearing.

John January 11, 2012 at 03:53 AM
First of all, Stewart, the Board of Education is a VOLUNTEER position, which these members dedicate inordinate amounts of time to because they genuinely care about the quality of education in our system. So no, they're not "paid to sit and think of how to do it on your dime." And as much as you dislike our "Soviet public education," it actually benefits you. Better school districts are big draws for families hoping to settle down, and can eventually catalyze growth economically for regions. As a senior at York, I feel I've received an excellent education which will extend to my post-high school plans. Of course there are things that can change, but I've definitely gained a solid foundation, and I owe that to PUBLIC education. We've never been "explained gay rights" (although I think that would be perfectly acceptable since it is a burgeoning political movement) or that it is "normal to experiment with bisexuality," but we have been taught one thing: tolerance. I hope this is something your homeschooled kids will also learn.
John January 11, 2012 at 04:02 AM
^^^Of course they don't send their kids to public schools. But inner city Chicago public schools and, perhaps worse, DC public schools are NOT the same as District 205. Do you know why Lab School and Sidwell Friends are able to consistently rated top in private schools? Because they have proper funding. We can't expect our Board to face huge deficits, and not take actions to correct it. And further, if we hope to better our own schools, we have to give them a chance. Yes, that costs money.
Paul Guerino January 11, 2012 at 04:48 AM
John. The taxpayers of Elmhurst couldn't afford to support York at the same level as the Lab School. Fees at the Lab School are about $40,000 per child per year. That is about four times what we spend in Elmhurst. Read the Chicago Tribune for Nov. 2, 2011. There is a list of the top 50 public schools in Chicagoland. The top four are Chicago Public Schools. President Carter is to my limited knowledge the only President in the past half century that sent his child to a public school.
John January 11, 2012 at 05:01 AM
^^If you're referring to places like Walter Payton and Northside College Prep, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't those charter schools? I don't think you can use that as a metric to York, because those schools matriculate selectively and also have generous funding. And I'm not saying we have to spend $40,000 per child per year. I'm saying that we can't assail our Board for wanting to raise taxes to remedy a deficit that many of them were not responsible for. We don't need to commit that much money to per pupil expenditures, but we can learn to use what we have more efficiently and also recognize that sometimes excellence requires certain financial sacrifices.
Paul Guerino January 11, 2012 at 06:20 AM
John. There have always been magnet schools in Chicago. Chicago in the 1960's had one very famous magnet school on the north side, Lane Tech. At that time it was all male. There were several others in the city as well. Elmhurst is selective by the very fact that it is a middleclass suburb. When I went to college I was taught that the economic and education backgrounds of the parents would predict the schools success.This is proved when we look at Leyden High School. The school district has a great economic base but the population doesn't have individual economic and educational success. The school's scores are terrible. If we broke our scores down by family level of education and income our scores would be very impressive. We have a changing demographic and it is reflected in our scores. We have to look at the flewed idea that Dr. Krizic pushed of one school with many campuses and face the reality that were are a community of diverse neighborhoods. We are going to have to allocate funds on the basis of need and toss the idea of equal funding if we are going to raise York's scores.

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