LA GRANGE – La Grange School District 102 has opted to go to referendum to ask residents for an additional $3 million in annual tax revenue to help assuage continuing budget deficits.
The district's Board of Education voted unanimously at its Aug. 17 meeting to put the question on the November ballot following a series of community engagement meetings hosted by district officials earlier in August.
District 102 Superintendent Kyle Schumacher said more than 100 people attended the meetings.
"I think the overall feeling was that no one likes to see their taxes raised, but they understand the value and the service the district is providing and don't want to see that diminish," he said, referring to feedback received at the meetings.
But 100 people is far from representative of the larger La Grange community, and Schumacher said putting the question on the ballot will give school officials a stronger sense of how residents want the district to evolve in challenging financial times.
If voters approve the referendum, property taxes will increase by about $112 per $100,000 in assessed home value, he said.
District 102, which serves roughly 3,100 students in grades kindergarten through 8 across six schools, is expected to run an about $2 million deficit this year. The district will take in a little less than $35 million and spend roughly $37 million. Schumacher said the district has been spending between $2 million and $3 million more than it takes in each year for the last several years.
State budget cuts and growth in the student population are largely to blame for the district's current fiscal woes, he said.
The last time the district passed an operating referendum was in 1996.
The district is legally barred from using taxpayer money to advocate for the passage of a referendum. Schumacher and board President Matt Scotty said a parent group is forming to campaign for its passage. Schumacher said the district will host informational meetings in the run-up to the election to provide residents with facts and figures.
"I think we need to get out there," Scotty said. "We need to present the facts to more people like we did at these four meetings in early August and really let the community decide. My personal opinion is I hope the referendum passes. I think we want to continue to offer the programs and services we currently offer without having to cut any because of the budget situation. But it's not up to Matt Scotty; it's up to the community as a whole."
Even if the referendum passes, the district still will need to implement "limited" cost-cutting measures to achieve long-term financial stability, Schumacher said. If it doesn't receive voter approval, "we'll be looking at increasing class size and reducing programs in order to get to that approximate $3 million mark," he said.
Whether or not the referendum passes, Scotty says the district and board will continually monitor the budget to identify the most cost-effective way to deliver the best service and education to students. However, he said, if the referendum fails, the district will need to make deep cuts to programs with the exception of those mandated by the state and federal government.
Scotty said community feedback is what drove the board to put the issue out to a vote.
"They understand a good school system is good for the community and for property values," he said.