On Wednesday, Jan. 23, the District 308 Board of Education discussed a possible operating tax increase that equates to 30 cents per 100 dollars of assessed property value. What this essentially means is that, if your house is worth $200,000, you would experience a $15 tax increase per month. This increase would apply to all citizens in the district, with the exception of a few listed reductions that some might qualify for. Three community hearings have taken place this past month. The referendum will be voted on at the April 2 meeting, and if passed, citizens will pay increased property taxes beginning spring 2020.
42Fifty had the opportunity to sit down with District 308 superintendent Dr. Sparlin to discuss the reasons for the referendum, the possible options left to the district should it pass or be rejected, and some of the focus areas for the district moving forward.
When asked how the district came to be in this unfortunate situation, Sparlin shared that this is not a new development.
“We’ve been deficit spending for the last three to four years,” Sparlin said. “We’ve got a cash flow problem, and there’s a couple of reasons for that.”
One of the biggest reasons is an issue with the scheduled funding from the state of Illinois itself. A freeze on a previous tax levy, meaning that a certain quantity of money is in danger of being seized by the IRS, is also referenced by the district on their official page discussing the referendum. However, the biggest reason Sparlin gave was prorated payments from the state.
To be “prorated” is essentially to be legally paid less than the amount that the state was slated to pay. One can see how this loophole can quickly become an issue for a larger district such as District 308. For example, if the state is supposed to fund a district with 30 million dollars, and it only pays 88 percent of that, the district is down multi-million dollar amounts.
This is the scenario District 308 has faced for four years. Unfortunately, it relies heavily on state funding, which comprises 40 percent of the overall budget. For that reason, it’s cited as one of the largest reasons for the financial issues to begin with.
Another potential cause is the snowball effect that borrowing money can have. When the district was first put into a scenario where they were unable to make payroll, they were then forced to make cuts and borrow money. Then the next year comes around, and they had to pay interest on that loan. Now the amount of money they owe is even more, and they still have to pay the yearly payroll. So, they are forced to take out another loan, repeating that same vicious cycle.
Due to those payments, the district has been making various budget saving cuts for the past four years.
“We’ve been trying to keep those cuts far away from the student body,” Sparlin said.
This is explained by a full list of the preexisting cuts, which is available on the dedicated referendum website page.
Without this referendum passing, more cuts are inevitable and unfortunately, so are cuts that affect the student body. Should it be rejected, the available funds will be exhausted inside of six years from now. Staff members could be potentially cut, or entire programs adjusted and made to be laden with fees.
Donna Makowsky, an employee at Oswego High School in the Dean’s office,helped shine a light on the potential effects of the budget on staff members. “It affects the people that I work with. They had to be taken to a different school [or had] their job RIF’d,” Makowsky said.
This is one of the more common cuts that occurs, the transplantation or elimination of various staff positions throughout the district, and if time continues to march these cuts could become more common. Drew Mundsinger, who works in the Learning Resource Center here at OHS, shined light on a few of the discussed cuts to positions very similar to his own.
“In January they talked about cutting four out of the five LRC positions at the junior high school level and moving down to just one person who could rotate between all five places,” Mr. Mudsinger explained. This cut hasn’t happened, but the talks continue to occur fairly regularly, and the future can only tell what kind of changes may be necessary if the money situation continues to regress.
Should it be passed, however, the outlook is very positive. Sparlin stated that this referendum would impact the district’s financial situation almost immediately.
Within a year of it’s passing, the referendum is projected to clear out the debt and get the district back into a positive budget balance. The future prospects only increase, as the district is expected to have a positive balance of 50 million dollars by 2029.
“My vision as your superintendent is to provide any and all opportunities to students, so that no matter what your next step is after highschool, you are ready to take that step,” Sparlin said.
In the interest of that vision, the public will vote on April 2. You can learn about the exact qualifications for exemptions and reductions on the official website. To learn more about the referendum, details about the Board of Education, contact information for staff members, and even more information, visit the official district page.