Concerns expressed by several district residents and two board members at Monday night’s Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Board of Education did not convince a majority of the board to stop a tax levy increase. By a 5-2 vote, the board gave final approval to a $75.5 million levy request, which includes $73.1 million for capped funds like education and operations, a 4.5 percent increase over the 2011 tax levy of $69.9 million.
Two dozen spectators packed the Black and Gold Room at Hinsdale South High School for the meeting, with the majority appearing to be present for the tax levy discussion. Several addressed the board on the topic during the public comments section at the beginning of the meeting.
George Logan said the levy increase would lead to negative PR for the district.
“It creates the perception that we’re not really representing the taxpayers very much,” he said. “I would recommend that you seriously look at not only the levy itself, but the attitude that will be reflected in the amount of money the newspapers and the media report.”
Roger Kempa of Darien, who -- according to his LinkedIn profile -- is a retired local government chief financial officer, having worked at Morton College in Cicero, was harsher in his criticism.
“This is ridiculous,” he said. “You’re gouging the public. … These are harsh economic times.”
Kempa noted that the district had roughly $60 million in reserve funds.
“I’d like to see the taxes go down,” he said. “Use your reserves.”
Barrett, Skoda seek zero percent increase
Board members Dianne Barrett and Dr. Richard Skoda echoed some of the comments made by audience members.
“Some of the speakers said very eloquently what I tried to say at a previous meeting,” Skoda said. “Just the asking for the 4.5 [percent increase] is arrogance.”
Barrett offered an amendment to the tax levy motion before the board that would have sought a zero percent increase.
“We all know these are hard economic times,” she said.
Board President Dennis Brennan asked Barrett where she would cut $3 million out of the district budget for the next fiscal year.
“It’s not up to me to make the cuts,” she responded. “It’s up to the administrators.”
Brennan answered his own question.
“It comes from cutting teachers,” he said. “You’re not being honest if you think you can cut $3 million out of the budget without affecting personnel.”
Skoda retorted that the district had “excessive reserves and surpluses.”
Barrett said the district had $2 million more in expenditures than revenue in the previous fiscal year.
Business Manager Jeff Eagan indicated the district had not spent $2 million more than it took in, saying the numbers Barrett referred to were based on a different accounting system than that used by schools in the state.
“You’ve now repeated the same lie three times,” Brennan told Barrett. “This isn’t your campaign.”
Brennan was referring to the upcoming April school board election, when voters will decide who will occupy both of their seats on the board.
“You’re showing your true colors once again in attacking other board members,” Barrett said.
“I’m correcting a board member who refuses to tell the truth,” Brennan replied.
The motion to amend the levy increase to zero percent failed on a 5-2 vote, with only Barrett and Skoda voting for it.
Brennan presents case for levy increase
Brennan noted that the district gets $218 per student in state aid, substantially less than many other districts, some of which get up to $6,300 per student. He said that difference amounted to about $27 million per year.
“It costs more than $218 to educate a student,” Brennan said. “We don’t have a sales tax. We don’t get money off the car dealerships or the malls or whatever in the district. We rely on property taxes. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way the General Assembly set up the system.”
Brennan said Barrett and Skoda were asking the district to “operate in a system we don’t have.”
Brennan said having the same levy as the previous year would result in larger class sizes and fewer teachers.
“It’s not a scare tactic,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
Skoda countered that the district did not need a 4.5 percent increase in the levy, suggesting the board settle on a more “realistic” figure.
“Nobody’s talking about cutting teachers,” he said.
Brennan said the district would not actually get the full increase, but asking for a 4.5 percent increase would allow the district to capture all of the tax revenue generated from new construction in the district. He added that the district faces uncertainty about the amount of money it will have to spend as a result of health care reform, popularly known as Obamacare.
“There’s going to be a cost,” he said. “Everybody agrees with that. Are we supposed to just stick our heads in the sand and pretend all those costs aren’t going to be there?”
The board approved the 4.5 percent tax levy request increase on a 5-2 vote, with Barrett and Skoda voting no.