Local leaders, more than 50 area business owners and a large parent-created group in the district have all voiced their support for Warren Township District 121’s proposed property tax increase, which will be submitted voters in the June 28 elections.
If passed, property taxes would increase by 60 cents per $100 of assessed value to generate about $13.25 million a year for the district, and the owner of a home worth $250,000 would pay about $500 more per year.
Matthew Schultz of Chicago Taxpayers United of America said the organization opposes raising taxes.
“These school districts spend, spend, spend and expect taxpayers to foot the bill,” Schultz said. “We are naturally against it.”
Schultz said if it hadn’t been for the recent death of the group’s founder, Jim Tobin, Taxpayers United would have helped organize organized opposition to the proposal. There doesn’t appear to be any locally organized opposition, Schultz said.
Proponents of the tax hike said the reason the district needed more funding was not a matter of spending but a lack of revenue.
“If people want the school to live within its means, that means cutting and cutting and cutting,” said Aaron Fleming, co-chair of community group Yes for WTHS.
Warren Township High School has the lowest tax revenue per student and the highest student-to-teacher ratio, as well as the highest student-to-administrator ratio, of any school district in Lake County.
District leaders have long said that if voters reject this tax hike, all sports and activities as well as 20 additional employee positions will be cut as of the 2023-24 school year. In addition, students would only have one school day of seven periods instead of the eight periods they currently have, and many elective courses would disappear, including programs in music, art, languages of the world and of industrial technology, according to the presentation of the district.
Beth Pope, co-chair of Yes for WTHS, said the cuts would send the school district into a death spiral.
“It would be very difficult for the community to recover from this blow,” Pope said of the loss of so many courses, programs and sports offerings. “A generation of children will miss much of the high school experience.”
A similar attempt last year to ask voters in the district for a property tax hike was defeated by a vote of 4,700 to 3,753.
Fleming said he and other parents learned of the district’s dire revenue situation during a community engagement session shortly before the failed 2021 referendum effort.
“For the first attempt, we had two and a half months to do it during COVID,” Fleming said.
The extra time this time allowed the group to form a coalition that includes people from across the district community, including people without children in the district, Fleming said.
The group distributed approximately 1,500 blue signs to residents of the district, which covers more than 50 square miles and includes all or parts of Beach Park, Gages Lake, Grandwood Park, Grayslake, Gurnee, Millburn, Old Mill Creek, Park City, Third lake, Wadsworth, Waukegan and Wildwood.
In addition, more than 50 area businesses have given permission for the group to display “Vote Yes for WTHS” signs, and the referendum effort has won endorsements from prominent local figures like Gurnee Mayor Thomas Hood.
Hood, a 1978 graduate of Warren Township High School, endorsed the tax increase at a March 2022 board meeting, saying the need was critical.
“From my perspective, we have no choice,” Hood said during the reunion. “I think it’s the right thing to do.”
District 121’s last approved tax rate hike was a 12-cent increase in February 2001, and the only other time voters approved a tax increase was in 1972. Proposed tax increases were voted down in April and November 1995, November 2000, February 2003, April 2007 and last year.
School district officials have given more than 30 community information presentations about the proposal and have a few more scheduled before the June 28 election.
For more information on upcoming presentations and district financial data, visit d121.org/referendum.