Breese voters are again being asked to vote on a tax increase to help fund the school district.
It is the third time in 13 months that the district has asked taxpayers for an increase for education. The two previous attempts failed at the ballot box.
This one will ask on April 7 for the maximum authorized annual tax rate of Breese Elementary School District 12 to be increased from 0.92 percent to 1.22 percent, which means a 92-cent tax for $1,000 of assessed value on property tax.
School officials have said the 0.92 percent is the lowest the state allows a district to tax for the education fund. According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, the district is the 52nd lowest of 1,357 taxing bodies in 2013; Freeburg and Belleville 201 were among the handful of metro-east schools with lower rates. The Breese district’s total tax rate is 2.07, which includes operations, transportation and other funds.
“We will continue to ask for a referendum until the state takes us over or we close our doors. It’s that serious,” said Amy Kruse, a member of the school board’s finance committee.
“Obviously the state has been reducing the revenue that it’s been providing to us for a number of years. We’ve exhausted our reserves and come to the end of our ability to borrow,” she said.
The tax increase is opposed by a local group called Committee for Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability.
“They’re just rushing, trying to put it on the ballot again,” said Frank Richter, a member of the group.
According to Richter, a certified public accountant who is not associated with the district, the district’s budget shows a surplus of $340,000 this year.
“All I see is the general reports. When a district can’t tell you nine months into the year what the budget is, versus the actual budget, that concerns me. ... how should I vote for an increase if you can’t tell me any background?”
Kruse said the money Richter sees is not a surplus, but an increased tort levy to address a risk-management plan. She said that money is going toward teacher salaries.
The Breese district’s financial woes stem from the state, Kruse said, echoing what officials from other districts have said. The state has “cut 2.25 percent so that’s $20,000 gone, plus they may withhold a payment, and they’re currently behind on special education reimbursement,” Kruse said. “We were expecting a balanced budget and we’re already $250,000 in the hole.”
Mike Toeben, superintendent of District 12, said the district cut 7.5 teaching positions in the 2013-2014 school year, which means larger class sizes. He says the district would like to have one teacher for every 17 or 18 kindergartners; this year the schools’ 75 kindergarteners have three teachers.
Toeben says the most visible result of larger class sizes is “a slight increase in a few discipline issues (in grades 5-8); and we believe that is attributable to the larger class sizes” of about 31 students per teacher.
Richter says a private elementary school in Breese takes almost 30 percent of the district’s elementary students. “They have 69 percent of the students, but they take 100 percent of the real estate taxes,” he said.
Anne Davis is co-chair of Concerned Citizens for District 12, which supports the tax increase, and she is the mother of two children in the district. “The administration and school board have been doing a lot at the lowest mandated tax rate amount,” she said. “But with the state not doing their part in the funding of education, unfortunately it does go back to the local taxpayers.”