SOMONAUK – Somonauk School District 432 band director Lis Schurman accepts that her job could be cut in light of the failed property tax referendum.
But she worries about what that will mean for the district’s 124 band students.
“It’s really heartbreaking that we’re in these times now,” said Schurman, who has been the band director for three years. “I think it’s something these kids really need.”
Everything is on the table – including program cuts and layoffs – as D-432 reacts to a property tax referendum that voters rejected last week, with about 58 percent of the votes cast against it.
By a vote of 574 to 366, voters denied a referendum that would have increased the district’s education tax rate from 3.05 percent to 3.95 percent, an increase district leaders estimated would generate about $900,000 annually.
The district has a balanced budget for the 2012-13 school year, but it’s not by much. They’re projecting to collect $8.54 million and spend just more than $8.24 million this school year.
The picture in the educational fund – one of the district’s four operating funds – isn’t as rosy, though. Administrators predict they will have a negative fund balance of $916,122 on June 30 in that fund, according to their annual budget. Overall, they expect to spend $7.5 million and bring in $7.8 million in their four operational funds this fiscal year, with those funds having a combined fund balance of $2.3 million June 30.
District Superintendent Dawn Green said she was considering all programs not mandated by state or federal law to be on the chopping block. Possible cutbacks include reducing sports and electives, doubling-up on bus routes, laying off teachers and increasing class sizes in all three of the district’s schools.
“You can’t cut required courses, so anything else is eligible to be cut,” Green said.
Green emphasized that the final decisions rest with school board members, who meet Monday at 7 p.m. But she warned that further cuts would have a big impact on the students.
“You can’t make those cuts without maintaining a quality education system, which I know people in this community want,” Green said.
Schurman said the high school choir was eliminated when the district reduced that teacher’s position to part-time; only elementary school students have a music teacher now.
“That was heartbreaking for all of those students as well,” Schurman said. “They don’t have that anymore. They don’t have an outlet for music anymore.”
School board President Tom Nielsen said the board would have to prioritize budget cuts. For school programs, the board will consider student enrollment and costs to the district. And while the board has yet to meet since the referendum’s failure, Nielsen said he expects another referendum on the April ballot.
Both Green and Nielsen said the district has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. Like many communities, property values in the district have fallen.
The school district is seeing its fourth consecutive year of falling property values, a big problem considering that 75 percent of its revenue comes from local property taxes.
In conjunction with the district’s property value woes, there’s less money coming in from the state, which has announced it will pro-rate its payments at 89 percent.
Enrollment in the district has dropped as well. Green said a lower enrollment does not necessarily mean fewer teachers are needed, but it means a smaller share of state aid for the school district.
Nielsen agreed that further cuts in the district could have an adverse impact on the education D-432 students receive.
“We’ve had our staff take pay freezes for three out of four years,” Nielsen said. “We’ve reduced benefits. We’ve eliminated 27 positions. We decided that to keep cutting is really going to hurt kids and the community. ... That’s why we chose to go for the referendum.”