Voters have a new way to reduce how much in property taxes they pay to local school districts.
At the ballot box.
One of the parts of the school funding compromise approved by the General Assembly, signed Thursday by Gov. Bruce Rauner, is a provision for voter-initiated referendums for school districts that have certain funding levels.
“I’m a big advocate for bringing down property taxes, and this bill allows that as well,” Rauner said Wednesday during a visit to Breese.
The evidence-based funding formula calls for each school district to have a target funding level.
A ballot question becomes a possibility if a school district is above 110 percent funding adequacy, under the new school funding formula. The most a levy can be reduced is 10 percent, according to documents discussing the legislation.
Under projections from the Illinois State Board of Education, Red Bud Community School District 132 in Randolph County and Venice Community Unit School District 3 in Madison County are among the 100 school districts around the state where a referendum could take place.
Most of the remaining school districts are in the Chicago suburbs.
The referendum could be placed on a ballot if 10 percent of registered voters in a school district sign a petition.
Under the funding formula Red Bud is at 120 percent adequacy. Venice is at 116 percent.
We’re not the district that is over taxing its citizens. We’re just not. It’s not the case. The extra cash we get from the corporate personal property replacement tax is what puts us over there, it skews it a little bit.
Red Bud Community School District Superintendent Jon Tallman
“I understand the premise of wanting to give local taxpayers some relief if their local school district is found to be adequately funding the students in their district,” said Red Bud School Superintendent Jon Tallman. “Our district is a little bit unique in that when it comes to evidence-based formula, what they believe should be the appropriate amount of funding we should be providing for students, bringing in from local taxpayers, as opposed to what we’re bringing in, doesn’t tell the real story of what they’re trying to address.”
The evidence-based formula says Red Bud is capable of bringing in $9.5 million in local money for education spending. However, the school district’s education fund only brought in $6.2 million in local property tax money, according to its 2016 annual financial report. Although, it received a high amount of corporate personal property replacement taxes — $1.3 million in 2016.
“We’re not the district that is over taxing its citizens,” Tallman said. “We’re just not. It’s not the case. The extra cash we get from the corporate personal property replacement tax is what puts us over there, it skews it a little bit.”
When including state resources, Red Bud has $9.4 million in school funding, even though it is capable of having up to $12.7 million. It’s adequacy target, under the funding formula, is $10.6 million.
Tallman said Red Bud school district officials will be ready to explain how money is spent.
“We will as a district communicate how we have been good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” Tallman said. “We’ve kept our tax rate as low as we possibly can over the years … if a referendum would be to lower the tax rate even more, it would be up to us to show how it would affect the programing we offer our students.”
Many would argue what drives a lot of the property taxes is how much of the local resources goes toward their local schools.
State Rep. Will Davis D-Homewood
State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, one of the chief sponsors of the legislation, said legislators have a desire to provide property tax relief.
“Many would argue what drives a lot of the property taxes is how much of the local resources goes toward their local schools,” Davis said.
Davis said if there is a situation where a school district appears to have a certain funding level but the numbers may be skewed, the district should be able to explain the situation to its residents.
“We like to think if they have an honest dialogue with their voters, the voters should understand the situation they’re in,” Davis said.
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, who voted for the compromise measure, said if a school district goes above 110 percent adequacy in the future it would allow the possibility of a referendum.
“The voters would have to put it on there,” Meier said.
There’s such a disparity that we won’t get to adequacy. We’re not going to be able to get to take advantage of lowering property taxes. I didn’t see where anybody in the whole senate district qualified for it.
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said he didn’t think any school districts in his district would come close to qualifying for the property tax reduction written in the legislation.
McCarter voted against the compromise.
“There was no property tax relief that I could see anyone in our district can take advantage of,” McCarter said. “No swap that I could see that would be an increase from the state and a decrease in property taxes.”
He said there is still a huge disparity between how much is spent on Chicago students versus downstate students.
“There’s such a disparity that we won’t get to adequacy,” McCarter said. “We’re not going to be able to get to take advantage of lowering property taxes. I didn’t see where anybody in the whole senate district qualified for it.”
Reporter Lexi Cortes contributed to this article.
School funding adequacy levels:
The evidence-based funding formula calls for each school district to have a target funding level. Here are the projected funding level percentages for some area school districts.
- Red Bud School District 132: 120 percent
- Venice School District 3: 116 percent
- Roxana Unit School District 1: 104 percent
- Pontiac-West Holiday School District 105: 101 percent
Source: Illinois State Board of Education
2015 property tax rates, payable in 2016 for various unit school districts
- Red Bud 132: 3.32
- Sparta 140: 4.86
- Cahokia: 11.04
- Dupo: 5.42
- East St. Louis: 10.83
- Mascoutah: 4.93
- Belleville 118/Belleville 201: 5.79 (total tax rate between the two districts)
- Granite City: 5.01
- Venice: 4.64