O'Fallon District 90 is asking voters to approve a property tax increase referendum when they cast their ballots April 9.
The tax increase would directly pay for schools in the district. The district is asking voters for a 49-cent increase, bringing the education fund rate from $1.40 to $1.89.
O'Fallon District 90 serves 3,500 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at seven schools and employs 202 teachers. The district's annual total budget is $34 million.
Why is the referendum necessary?
Superintendent Todd Koehl said District 90 is "out of options." Over the last three years, he said the state has shorted the district close to $1.5 million and the projections for next year is the district will lose another $1.2 million.
"We have worked through cuts and spending down reserves in order to maintain our programs," he said. "We feel lets just get this matter in our own hands, because the state isn't going to be able to solve the issue in enough time."
Koehl said the district only has $117,000 left in its cash reserves fund.
What cuts has the district made?
The district has cut employees including 20 certified teachers and two administrators, according to Koehl. He said the district has maintained its staffing costs by promoting qualified staff members from within and not replacing employees who have retired.
The district has also reduced employee benefits costs by 22.5 percent and frozen salaries of staff members.
"People are getting paid the same amount they were two years ago," Koehl said.
In addition, the district has increased student fees and athletic fees and renegotiated bus contracts.
How much will the referendum cost a homeowner?
The owner of a $210,000 home would pay an additional $316 in taxes, according to Koehl.
How much will the referendum raise if it passes?
The referendum would raise approximately $3 million, Koehl said, based on the district's current estimate of the equalized assessed value.
What happens if the referendum fails?
The district has a plan in place if the referendum doesn't pass. According to Koehl, the following would be eliminated: all extra-circular activities; music, physical education and computer classes at the grade schools, and electives including band, chorus, computer, technology and art at the junior high schools.
In addition, he said six employees retiring at the end of this school year will not be replaced; all instructional support aids will be cut; and the number of custodians will be reduced. Parents will also pay higher student fees next year, Koehl said.
"We made a decision that the role of education at the primary grade level is to make sure that a student is prepared with basic skills to survive in a school environment or a world environment -- reading, writing and math, those type of things, are the critical piece," Koehl said. "We did our best to protect the classroom."
These cuts will eliminate $2.7 million in operating costs for the district, according to Koehl.
What are supporters saying?
Kim Soule of O'Fallon, who has two children attending Marie Schaefer Elementary School, said she is in favor of the referendum because she doesn't see any "wastefulness going on" and understands the need to "keep the school system where it is and as good as it is. It's our duty to help the school system," said Soule, who volunteers at Marie Schaefer and is president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization.
Likewise, Anelee Lemieux of O'Fallon, who has two children at O'Fallon Township High School, also supports the referendum. "I do not want to pay more taxes, but I am willing to. District 90 has very good quality schools and I would like that to stay the same," she said. "I'm not seeing waste, and I'm not seeing people do things unnecessarily. I see people doing as much as they possibly can."
Claire Slone of O'Fallon said she supports the referendum because she doesn't want to see her daughter's class size increase any more as it's already at 30 fourth-graders. In addition, she said she wants her daughter to have the opportunity to participate in sports or other extra-curricular activities that students in the past have gotten.
"I look at the tax increase as three or four meals out with my family," she said. "I am more than willing to sacrifice that luxury for the good of the children of O'Fallon and their futures."
Information in favor of the referendum can be found at www.district90yes.com.
What are opponents saying?
Ed and Paula Lilly of O'Fallon said they are against the tax referendum because District 90 has not made all of the potential cuts.
"This is unacceptable, especially when District 90 completely ignores other viable cost controls that would not result in tax increases," the couple said in an email.
"They continue to use scare and threat tactics, always at the root of the quality of our children's education and the availability of programs like art, music, band and so on to 'sell' their agendas. The 'tax and spend' ideology has got to stop."
Ron Davinroy of O'Fallon also is opposed to referendum. He said if the education employees' union would agree to pay a fair share of their own retirement costs, District 90's budget could be balanced without a tax increase. In addition, he said the option of school district consolidation is being ignored, even though it would "eliminate staff management duplication."
Cliff McKinstry of O'Fallon said he's against the referendum because he would like district administrators to "seek alternatives that work for the community instead of maintaining an unwieldy and unworkable status quo that fosters a 'them' and 'us' mentality."
Information from those opposed to the referendum can be found at www.cad90.com.
United Congregations of the Metro-East will host a forum offering the pros and cons of O'Fallon District 90's referendum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, at the New Life in Christ Interdenominational Church at 689 Scott Troy Road in O'Fallon.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.