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D122 Talks Taxes, Debt, Fees: 'Our Moms and Dads Need Some Relief Today'

The Board of Education met Tuesday night for a special meeting to go over various aspects of district finances, including the tax levy and registration fees, and look at them in context with the bigger picture.

The District 122 school board has given a 5-2 consensus for administrators to move forward with a plan that would cost the average resident about $16 in additional tax revenue next year.

Despite the slight increase, the plan that Supt. Mike Sass presented during a special board meeting Tuesday includes refinancing debt to significantly cut what taxes would be, and also cut $50 in registration fees per student.

Purpose of the Meeting

Board President Nick DiSandro, who was elected in April, called the meeting so the members could look at numerous financial planning issues and put them in context with each other.

In the next few board meetings, the discussion will focus on a facility projects plan, refinancing the district's bond debt and passing the annual tax levy. That all comes before the board's annual strategic plan meeting in February in which cuts are made to reduce the budget deficit.

"In the past it seems (the board) talked about all these money things and each piece was separated," he said. "It needs to come into focus altogether."

Parts of the Plan

Sass said he and the other administrators have been looking through various components of the district's finances to try and form a plan for the next year that, above all else, meets the needs of the district and students but keeps in mind families' personal finances.

The plan that Sass recommended to the board includes:

1. Tax the max: He suggested the board approve a tax levy of the maximum amount allowed by law, which is last year's levy plus the rate of inflation. For a district resident with a $300,000 house, that would mean about $33 in additional taxes next year. Business manager Harold Huang said it would cost the district an additional $4.5 million over five years if they didn't haul in the most it could from property taxes, which makes up the majority of the district's budget.

2. But save taxpayers money: The district has discussed five scenarios to refinance its debt, and Sass recommended one that would save taxpayers the most money over the next six years. The tax increase noted above could be significantly more if not for refinancing.

3. Decrease fees: The board didn't give a consensus on this matter, but it will be revisited. Sass recommended decreasing student registration fees by $50. Right now, parents pay between $275 and $285 per student.

4. Construction finance plan: At next week's board meeting, the district will review a plan to finance various construction projects needed at some of the older schools. Sass said administrators looked at many ways to pay for this, and his suggestion was taking $6.5 million from the district's reserves.

Refinancing the Debt

Originally, the district structured its debt repayment for new buildings  with conservative estimates based on assumed growth from new families and taxpayers. Then the economy tanked and tax and interest rates ballooned.

Currently, the district's plan involves paying off debt through 2027, and the tax levy would increase from about $8.3 million in December 2010 to about $12.1 million by December 2013. For a homeowner with a $300,000 house, that would mean about a thousand dollars more in taxes over the next four years.

The to save taxpayers money in the short term and hope that new growth helps share the cost later. The scenario Sass recommended was one that would increase the district's tax rate 1 cent for the next three years and 2 cents for the following three years.

Without this refinancing, the average resident's tax bill could increase by $95 next year. However, this plan would add about $20 million in interest owed by the district, which concerned member Maureen Broderick. It would help taxpayers right now, yes, but would it burden the district too much in the long run?

Sass said the hope is that new development, both commercial and residential, will lead to more tax revenue to offset future debt payments.

"I don't like to sit with a crystal ball and try to forecast what New Lenox is going to be like," Broderick said. She added that she wants to see a more detailed breakdown of all the times the district has refinanced its debt and how much additional interest that's added.

Whether to Cut Fees

Sass' plan to reduce registration fees was met with concern by board members. Cutting $50 in fees from each student could mean about $250,000 less revenue annually for the district.

Some board members worried that was too big a loss for something they feel parents aren't overburdened with.

"I've been paying for five kids this whole time and I haven't had a problem with it," member Sue Gillooley said. "I'm just concerned with if we had to make cuts (because of the lost revenue)."

Member Kathy Miller suggested a tiered plan in which families with multiple children in the district could pay reduced fees, but DiSandro didn't think that was fair, and he and Pat Martino were in favor of reducing the fees.

Deb Kedzior worried about decreasing fees, only then having to restore them later if the district decided it was too big a hit. She said the district could look elsewhere to give parents relief, such as the cost of required items in the school supply list.

The board did not give administration a consensus on this part of the plan and decided it would be best to revisit it later, probably around the time the members work on a budget deficit reduction plan. By the time that comes, the district might decide it wouldn't be feasible to cut fees.

"I feel our moms and dads need some relief today," Sass said.

What Comes Next

Upcoming board meetings will give the board a chance to further review some of these plans and vote on them.

  • Nov. 2: Facilities director Bob Nelson will present a plan that prioritizes building projects and gives the board an idea of the options available the fund them.
  • Nov. 16:The board will vote on both the projected tax levy and a plan to refinance the debt.
  • Dec. 14: The board will vote to officially approve the tax levy.¬†

Following those meetings, the district will get a five-year financial forecast and start looking ahead to ways to trim its budget deficit. Right now, the district projects a $1 million budget deficit in the next year, but that will be covered by a surplus from last year's budget.

However, other changes could force the district to find other ways to cut. The board plans to review its bus schedule changes from last year, which saved about $372,000, and Gov. Pat Quinn might also veto additional transportation funding.

The board took an unofficial vote during Tuesday's meeting to determine whether to give Sass consensus to move forward with the first two parts of the plan (the tax levy and bond refinancing). Broderick said no because of her concerns with bond refinancing and Sue Smith said no because she wants to try and find a way that taxes don't increase at all.

The school board meets at 7 p.m. at the Nov. 2, Nov. 16 and Dec. 14.

Marie October 26, 2011 at 11:29 AM
Fees are too high, taxes are too high, and administration is overpaid. It is beyond belief that no board member or administrator grasps the reality that we remain in a recession, unemployment is rising in this state, homes are being lost, and yet they talk of getting the maximum from us. I am sure many taxpayers can easily come up with a way to cut $250,000.00 from the district's personnel budget. REDUCE YOUR BURDEN ON THE TAXPAYERS!
NLMom October 26, 2011 at 12:28 PM
I agree with Marie. It's laughable some board members don't think the fees should be a problem. In the past Sass has said they need to pay in salaries what other districts pay in order to keep teachers and principals. Why doesn't he feel the same about fees? Surrounding towns pay nowhere near what New Lenox parents pay in fees. Reading this article it seems to be certain board members and administration are out of touch with the very people they work for. It would be interesting for the Patch to do an article on what surrounding communties in Will County pay in school fees. They are many districts in this country that don't charge fees at all. It seems to be the Illinois way.
Michael Sewall (Editor) October 26, 2011 at 01:05 PM
I've updated the article to reflect that some of the board members do support reducing fees. As noted earlier, there was no consensus on what to do with the fees and it will be discussed in more detail later.
Michelle D. Monbrod October 26, 2011 at 01:32 PM
I have 4 kids in district. My girlfriend in the Summit Hill School District pays around $140 per child. HALF of what I pay per child. I would appreciate a break on the fees. The Parochial schools give beaks on the more kids you have in the school you get get a break on the tuition. Can't we instill something like that in our district? Our bus schedules are crazy. My 9 and 11-year olds are up at 615a to catch a bus for school. I think maybe that crazy schedule needs to be looked at. Maybe the Junior High kids can take the EARLY shift. There are lots of things that should be looked at. Thank you for your consideration. Mr. DiSandro should have brought this up at the last PTO meeting during the Super Session. I am sure lots of the mothers in attendance would have gladly made comments and given some input to the whole situation. Maybe at the next one he can discuss the plans.
Amy October 26, 2011 at 02:06 PM
I would also like to see a surrounding area fees comparison as well as a more concise description as to where the fees are allocated, outside of the categories on the fees sheet. With two, going on three kids in the district, that is important to me.
NLMom October 26, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Considering what we pay in comparison to other districts $50 seems to be a crumb thrown at us parents.
tanja wolf October 26, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Dear Board Members Not everyone in this community is thriving, some are barely surviving and to assume that "parents aren't overburdened with." school fees is to sit in ignorant judgement. Further, Sue Gillooley, --"I've been paying for five kids this whole time and I haven't had a problem with it," goodie for you! Now let us consider the whole economic demographic of this community. Perhaps she has had no economic hardship in her family as many New Lenox residents have. $50 is a great start, to hear that the school board could not even come to a concensus on as much as the 'thought' of reducing the burden of the parents- shows a real and significant disconnect-with the financial realities of the parents, students, and the overall economic demographic of the village as whole!
NLParent October 27, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Seems to me that the board should solicit feedback from the community before it makes decisions on items that financially impact others. Making informed decisions in this manner should bring some much needed credibilty to the board. This goes the same for the Village board as well. When a community feels left out of the decision making process it only adds bad will and hinders good things from happening.
David Vancina October 27, 2011 at 01:08 PM
Seems to me that if there's room in the budget to reduce revenues, the tax burden should be reduced, not the fees. Fees are paid by the user of the service, which seems fair, doesn't it? Nobody raises gasoline prices to make the car wash less expensive.
NLMom October 27, 2011 at 02:35 PM
The people using the service are paying in property taxes and fees. All property owners in a town with decent schools benefit because it is reflected in the property values whether they have a child in the schools or not. No, it doesn't seem fair considering what property taxes are in New Lenox and then the fees that are charged on top of it.
David Vancina October 27, 2011 at 03:39 PM
If you're arguing that cost should be allocated in proportion to benefit received, I'd be totally cool with that. People who use the government schools would be paying A LOT more in fees and people with kids in parochial/private school (that is, people who provide for their own children's education) would be paying A LOT less in taxes. If you're simply arguing that others should pay for benefits you receive... well... that's a bigger topic.
David Vancina October 27, 2011 at 03:42 PM
And by the way... when the users of a service are the ones paying for it, they pay a lot more attention to how their money is being used. The service is better and more cost-efficient. When the money just gets thrown in a great big pot and doled out as some third-party sees fit you get... the Illinois/Federal debt.
NLMom October 27, 2011 at 08:13 PM
I'm not arguing others should pay for benefits received. That's a whole other topic that I'm willing to say we would probably agree on. I'm just saying that all property owners benefit from good schools. Even if you don't have kids in the public schools you will still benefit from those schools in your property values. Parents are paying through the roof both on property taxes and school fees. If you don't have kids in the district then you're just paying through the roof on property taxes. The board doesn't seem to understand that neither parents or taxpayers without kids in the district do not have a never ending money tree growing in our front yards.
Dan October 28, 2011 at 01:04 AM
Taxes are too high, school fees are ridiculous, school schedules are also maddening for a family that has kids going to separate school within the district. Plus, all the miscellaneous fees during the school year continue to be frustrating. Yes, us parents made the children, but do we have to feel like we are continually penalized. Recession, bad business practices; asking more water from a jar that is empty is not going to get anyone anywhere. Life within the means, quit raising other people's bills for mistakes and just maybe problems can be resolved.

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