Winnetka Public Schools District 36 board members recently approved levying $35.8 million despite residents' request for a lower tax levy increase or not levying for a year to draw down the district’s healthy fund balance.
The approved 2012 tax levy is a 5 percent increase over the 2011 extension of $34.1 million levy.
Residents who spoke at the Dec. 4 meeting say the increase comes at a time when student enrollment is down and when the district has nearly a 100 percent reserve, meaning it has enough funds for the district to operate for a year without any new revenue.
Resident: Tax Increase in D36 Higher than New Trier
“Since 1997 [the consumer price index] is up 38 percent. The taxes for District 36 are up 122 percent, that’s significantly higher than any taxing bodies in the area – higher than New Trier,” Winnetka resident Jim Wyant said at the meeting citing Village of Winnetka data. “Enrollment is declining yet staff rates are rising. … As a taxpayer. it’s hard for me to understand how you can ask for the maximum amount of increase in light of these facts.”
School officials say if the district doesn’t levy the full amount, future tax revenues could be impacted. Historically, the district has levied the maximum amount, said Marcia Sutter with Winnetka Public Schools' Communications and Community Relations office.
“If you don’t levy for that [maximum] amount this year, your base is lower next year and every year thereafter. So you are impacting not just what you collect this year but every year in the future and you never have the opportunity to go back and do it again,” Sutter said in a phone interview Friday.
Board member Tom Shannon, who called into the Dec. 4 meeting, says he disagrees with the argument that if the district forgoes levying for a year, it’s given up on tax revenues in future years.
The levy passed 5–0 with Susan Crowe, Jon Kaplan, Crow Whitcome, Beth Moritz Filip, William Meuer and Matthew Hulsizer voting yes. Board president Dana Crumley was absent and Shannon left the meeting before the vote.
D36 Cost Per Pupil Higher than Nearby Districts
During the Dec. 4 meeting, Winnetka resident Connie Henry also asked board members why District 36 was spending more per pupil than nearby school districts.
For the fiscal year 2010–2011, instructional expenditure per pupil was $11,035 in District 36; $8,248 in Wilmette School District 39; and $9,243 in Glencoe School District 35, according to data from Illinois Interactive Report Card.
Sutter said the reason District 36’s cost per student is higher than nearby districts is because the district’s debt service is reflected.
“In the past, the community has been extremely supportive of the schools and passed several referendums,” Sutter said. “The repayments of those bonds are reflected in our cost per student.”
Some of the referendums were to raise funds to cover capital expenses for new buildings and maintenance on old buildings, Sutter said.
“The way Illinois school funding works is typically after you pass a referendum you start to build up the reserves and then eventually you start to spend them down,” she said. “You try and maximize the amount of time between referendums. So clearly with the reserves we have now there’s no referendum anywhere on the horizon.”
District 36 plans to start its discussion on debt abatement or repayment options at 4 p.m., Jan. 15, Sutter said.
“There’s numerous issues that need to be addressed and discussed before [debt abatement or repayment] options could be presented,” Sutter said.