SOMONAUK – Somonauk School District 432 is once again placing its fiscal future in the hands of voters.
School board President Tom Nielsen said a referendum to allow the board to raise the education fund tax rate up to 4 percent will be on the April 9 ballot. Nielsen emphasized that this didn’t mean the tax would go up; the board would just have the permission to increase it if necessary.
If the referendum is passed, District 432 could avoid making more than $800,000 in program cuts and layoffs this year. The district has been struggling with keeping its finances afloat as property values in the area drop.
“The district is trying to respond to a reduction in income of over $2 million,” Nielsen said. “With that kind of reduction, you can’t do the same things you used to do.”
The district will host a special meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Somonauk High School cafeteria, 501 W. Market St. Nielsen said they will talk about the referendum and the district’s finances, but it also will be a chance for the public to meet the individuals running for school board.
In November, a similar property tax referendum that would have generated $900,000 annually for the school district was voted down. Since then, the district board has considered cutting everything from athletics to teachers.
This time around, the board knows what the message is, Nielsen said.
“I’m optimistic,” Nielsen said when asked on the chances of passage. “We’ve heard a lot of feedback that people were not informed on the situation. So, we’ve really crystallized and clarified the message.”
Nielsen said a team of volunteers is canvassing neighborhoods, talking to friends and neighbors about the referendum. Nielsen said feedback has been positive, but he has kept the previous vote’s outcome in mind.
“The board does not want to make these cuts,” Nielsen said. “The board is responding to the decline in revenue because the belt is being tightened.”
Property values in the district have fallen for the fourth consecutive year, which is significant to a school district that relies on property taxes for 75 percent of its revenue.
The majority of the district lies in LaSalle County, which is not a tax-capped county. This means that to raise revenue, the district needs voter permission unlike DeKalb or Sycamore school districts, Nielsen said.
“If the values go down, you can raise the tax rate,” Nielsen said. You can levy as much money as you can to run your schools. You can’t do that in LaSalle County without voter permission.”
The district also will see less help from the state. The state already has announced it will prorate payments at 89 percent, but a declining district enrollment means that Somonauk will see a smaller share of state aid.