Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Schools facing future freeze on revenues seek higher 2015 tax levy

Johnson County Schools continue to face hardships during state financial crisis, proposing property tax levy increases

“Truth in Taxation” hearings set for Dec. 10, 14, 15

School districts across Illinois are facing additional financial hardships with less educational funds coming from the state and a strong chance of them being locked in at their current funding levels for several years to come.

vhs gradMany of the Johnson County School Districts have scheduled “Truth in Taxation” public hearings to approve proposed property tax levy increases to help fund each of the districts during the state’s budget crisis.

New Simpson Hill District #32 will hold their public hearing on Thursday, Dec. 10, at 6:00 p.m. in the board of education office.

Vienna High School District #13-3’s public hearing will be held Monday, Dec. 14, at 6:15 p.m. in the school’s media center.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, Cypress Elementary School District #64 will hold a public hearing in the board of education room at 6:30 p.m.

The hearings will give the public an opportunity to present testimony regarding the proposed property tax levy increases.

It is no secret that Illinois is in one of the most financially volatile conditions that many have ever experienced.

VHS Business StudentsAccording to the Illinois State Constitution Article X Section 1, “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”  Unfortunately, the state has struggled to make this happen.

Currently the Educational Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) is charged with determining what it takes to adequately fund the education of a child in the State of Illinois.  The Advisory Board recommended cost is $8,899 per student, per year.

The general assembly responded to that recommendation with the “foundation level,” the amount at which they will fund education, which is currently $6,119 per student.

However, even the “foundation level” experienced cuts to its funding since 2011 even though it was already set at a level below the EFAB recommended amount by $2,780 per student.

This practice has been referred to as the proration of general state aid, which allows for limited funding until the state can resume full payments.

VHS aerial view 2014Proration alone has reduced general state aid funding to Vienna High School by $618,205.58 since 2011. State aid to Cypress School has been reduced by $281,117.61 over the past five years.

The other schools in Johnson County have also had state aid funding drastically reduced; Goreville by $862,747.15; Buncombe $151,134.04; Vienna Grade School $790,408.99; and New Simpson Hill down by $568,723.29.

Cumulatively, Johnson County Schools have taken a reduction of $3,282,320.45 in state aid over the past five years.

Cypress schoolThe local boards of educations and school administrators have worked hard to overcome this major reduction in funding by reducing their expenses.

Administrators have had to make cuts to bus routes, cut funding to athletic programs, RIFling (reduction in force) teachers, reducing administration, cutting programs, increasing class sizes, reducing janitorial and cafeteria staff, cutting freshmen coaches, deferring building and grounds maintenance, deferring bus replacement, negotiating hard-pay freezes with staff (meaning no raises; no cost of living and no experience step), and not refilling vacant positions.GHS aerial 2014

In addition to the reduced EFAB recommendations and the prorated general state aid, schools now fear a state-wide, property tax freeze that would in turn, freeze school revenues.  This is further complicated by a change in the way the state assesses the value of farm land causing an unique increase in EAV over the next several years.

Two bills are currently being floated in Springfield which seek to create state-wide property tax freezes.

VHS '55If passed, regardless of future re-assessments, schools will see no increase in tax revenues above the 2016 levels, which must be set by late December.  And, those rates could persists longer if deemed necessary.

The good news is that Johnson County has a historical trend of growth in terms of Equalized Assessed Value (EAV), which, with a property tax freeze, will cause the tax rate to decrease in subsequent years.

The bad news is that revenues would remain flat for schools at the same time state funding remains questionable.

The 2015 Tax Levy Debate

When each of these elements are taken into consideration, setting the 2015 tax levy will provide taxpayers with tough decisions.

NSH basketballTaxpayers will choose to either:

1.) Levy 2015 taxes with only a nominal increase, which, if bills freezing property tax levies pass in Springfield, would keep school revenues flat for several years, or;

2.) Levy 2015 taxes at the amount needed to maintain programs and personnel at current levels throughout Johnson County schools?

Looking to secure the future of school funding, administrators favoring a higher 2015 tax levy say their plan includes an abatement should funding turn around.  Should funding at the federal, state or local level increase either through sales tax or changes in state aid formula, the districts could abate an increased 2015 tax levy set to offset proposed property tax bills in Springfield.

Laptops at NSHUnder the state-mandated guidelines of Cypress Elementary school’s ten-year Health, Life and Safety survey, Superintendent Kimberly Shoemaker said her school is facing structural upgrades required by the state.

“If a tax freeze is approved by the State of Illinois, we would have no way to pay for these required projects and would have no authority to increase taxes to make any required improvements to our building.”

Shoemaker said her school has already cut their technology department, combined two classes and reduced the office staff.

With school districts throughout the state already facing budget woes, Johnson County school administrators agree that the future needs actions today.  Vienna High School superintendent Joshua Stafford said, “The long-term solution to this problem is not one that is necessarily within local control, but has to be one in which the state holds true to their constitutional obligation.”

NSH kindergarten trikathon“We all must inform our state leaders about the great things that are happening in our schools and how important it is that they find a fair, adequate and equitable way in which to provide for the educational needs of the children of our communities,” Stafford added.

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