SOMONAUK – Somonauk School District 432 supporters are breathing a sigh of relief with Tuesday’s successful referendum that could bring in much-needed revenue for the district.
The referendum will stop the school board from stripping the district of its electives and extracurricular programs, including art, band and agriculture programs. Some sports also would have been cut starting in the 2014-2015 school year if the referendum had failed.
For Somonauk teacher Toni Saso, it meant her sophomore students still would be taking agriculture classes as seniors.
“I’m not a hugging person, but I’ve already hugged quite a few people today,” Saso said. “There’s a very dynamic group of underclassmen who this was going to impact them ... they’re pretty excited about that.”
The referendum allows the school board to raise the property tax rate for the district’s education fund. LaSalle County, where the majority of the district lies, is not a tax-capped county, meaning the board needed voter permission to raise tax rates.
“Thankfully for the voters, and what they’ve told us they wanted, we’re not doing that,” said Superintendent Dawn Green. “It’s not what’s best for the kids and the community.”
Green said the board would not move to raise the rate until budget discussions begin for the 2014-2015 school year. She said district officials will explore the possibility of reducing tax rates for other funds.
“Our goal is to keep taxes as low as possible, but get the money where it’s needed,” Green said.
Green said they already reduced some teaching positions because of declining enrollment in the district. However, those cuts would have happened regardless of the referendum’s passage.
But the district still is in rough financial waters because of property values. With the district relying on property taxes for 75 percent of its revenue for this current school year, fluctuating values could eat away the referendum’s potential revenue.
District officials previously said the referendum would bring in between $800,000 and $900,000 more, but it is projected to bring in $491,000 for the district in the 2014-2015 school year, said board president Tom Nielsen.
“We’re not going to be swimming in money,” Nielsen said. “We have to be fiscally prudent and responsible because the state continues to cut and prorate. We have to be smart. But the referendum keeps us from making those drastic cuts.”
Nielsen said the district will have a $350,000 deficit during the 2013-2014 school year so that no programs are cut.
Nielsen pointed to another benefit of the referendum, one that he hopes the board doesn’t lose in the future.
“I think the results reflect the Bobcat pride people have not only in the schools, but the community as well,” Nielsen said. “It really feels different in the community.”