Unit 5 appears poised to ask a referendum question on the November ballot, seeking an annual increase in tax revenue of about $14.5 million.
The problem is a growing multimillion-dollar deficit that shows no signs of abating — and the possibility of a tax rate hike to offset that.
“No formal action has been taken tonight,” Unit 5 Board Chairman Barry Hitchins told WGLT after Wednesday’s meeting. But he said the general consensus was that the board wanted the administration to present a proposal at the Aug. 17 meeting, to ensure election filing deadlines were met.
“It would just be putting the question on the ballot so that voters in Unit 5 could then vote on that increase,” Hitchins said.
The council asked Superintendent Kristen Weikle and her staff to prepare materials to get a referendum question on the ballot in November, after hearing about the results of a six-month community engagement process focused on district financial challenges.
Details are yet to be determined, such as “how much of an increase in our education fund rate do we want as a district specifically,” Hitchins said. The tax rate for this fund is currently $2.72 per $100 of equalized property assessment.
Results of the community engagement process
Collin Corbett, of EO Sullivan Education Consultants, shared details of community feedback collected during Phase 3 of the process on Wednesday.
After analyzing data gathered from surveys and in-person meetings, EO Sullivan compiled three possible funding structures to address Unit 5’s financial future. The company then shared them with attendees.
- Option 1 would increase district funding by approximately $12 million per year, to a base level that eliminates the negative effects of the deficit.
- Option 2, at $14.5 million, would meet the base level, in addition to providing funding for key district priorities such as smaller class sizes, student resources and improved security.
- Option 3, at $17 million, would go even further by adding expanded programs, an accelerated job placement program and technology upgrades.
If approved, these changes would mean that the owner of a $180,000 home would see their taxes increase by about $305 annually; $375 or $440 per year, respectively.
Corbett said the Unit 5 engagement process drew around 2,500 responses, a number he called impressive. He noted that while 35% of respondents opposed any additional taxpayer funding, more than 55% agreed with one of the three funding models presented.
“It shows that the community is ready to support something,” Corbett said.
EO Sullivan recommends that if the school board decides to pursue the referendum question, the second option was the strongest – as it allowed more than the bare minimum, but did not ask too much at the same time.
“At the end of the day, it’s about finding consensus,” Corbett said.
The cabinet also recommended that of the next three upcoming elections, the November 8 general election is likely to have the highest turnout. This means more Unit 5 taxpayers would have a say in the decision.
“Continuing this trend of engaging the community at a high level, we recommend that you watch November carefully and participate in this election,” Corbett told the board.
After EO Sullivan’s presentation, the board had a long conversation about the possibilities. The group agreed that option 2 seemed to be the best for the district.
Council member Kelly Pyle was absent on Wednesday.