School referenda frustrate voters

April 4, 2009 8:03:53 AM PDT
In several Chicago suburbs, next Tuesday's municipal elections involve referenda on raising taxes for education. The money is needed for new school buildings, reducing class sizes and helping district school boards get out of deficits. But the timing and complexity of the referenda are perplexing voters.

Oak Forest is a bedroom community with 1,400 students and certified educational staff of well over 100 people.

School District 145 - one of two in the area - is seeking a 60 cent hike on every $1,000 of a homeowner's market value assessed property. For a typical $250,000 adjacent to the new school and administration building, that's an increase of about $250 per year for the next three years.

"We are still going to make expenditure cuts, we are not trying to just fix our deficit with revenue opportunities, we want to cut over a half million dollars from our budget regardless of the referendum passing or failing," said Supt. Allen Jebens, Arbor Park School District 145.

Jebens says he's struggling to keep down class sizes and save 5-7 teaching jobs. This is the first request for a tax rate increase here since 1994. The referendum's wording is an attorney-developed tortured amalgam demanding a yes or no specifically.

The referendum reads: "Shall the limiting rate under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law for Arbor Park School District Number 145, Cook County, Illinois, be increased by an additional amount equal to .60% above the limiting rate for levy year 2007 and be equal to 3.293% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property therein for levy years 2008 and 2009?"

"It certainly works against any school district trying to move forward with a referendum, if someone is on the fence sort of doesn't understand it and sees all that language there. It certainly doesn't bode well for an undecided voter to come in and vote yes on that," said Jebens.

"I think they need the money to for the people that work for the educational programs," said Peggy Boyceof Oak Forest.

"Everybody wants taxes, Cook Co. wants taxes, the state wants taxes now the district wants taxes, municipalities want taxes, it has got to stop somewhere you know," said Tom Dockus of Oak Forest.

The complexity and frustration in evidence in Oak Forest can be found throughout the suburbs where tax increases are on the ballot. And it's made worse by Springfield's habit of decreasing education payments to places that get tax increases passed.

The capitol tends to say, they're getting more, we can give them less. But that practice may come to an end soon with Senate Bill 2051.

It just passed this week and is headed to the state house, outlawing the practice (it's called the state aid penalty and it drives administrators crazy.


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