Breese Elementary and Triad school district residents are being asked to vote on tax increases in next Tuesday’s election.
Triad is asking for a 50-cent increase in the education fund to $2.34, which is estimated to increase taxes by $170 a year for a home valued at $120,000. With a planned refinancing of existing debt, the district hopes to lower that bill to $156.40. The increase would generate an additional $2.158 million per year for the district.
Yes 2 Triad coordinator Karen James said they have been organizing community outreach meetings, civic organizations, canvassing door to door, a website and a Facebook page to inform voters about the referendum. Overall, she said, reaction has been positive.
“People want to know why the district is asking for more money, but once they hear the story, they understand,” she said. “Once they hear what the costs will be... it’s been very positive.”
James said Yes 2 Triad ordered 300 yard signs encouraging people to approve the referendum. Then they had to order another 100 signs, and still they ran out.
“I could have ordered another hundred,” James said.
Still, she said, there have been a handful of people that have been resolute “no” votes. “I’m trying to think positive,” James said. “I think it’s going to be close, and everyone needs to go vote. I think our message is compelling, and I strongly encourage everyone to vote and let their voice be heard.”
The ballot issue in Breese is the third time in 13 months that the district has asked taxpayers for an increase for education.
“They’re just rushing, trying to put it on the ballot again,” said Frank Richter, of the Committee for Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability, which is against the referendum in Breese.
This one will ask 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 board member on the finance committee.
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.
Breese District’s financial woes stem from the state, Kruse said, echoing what officials from other districts have said as well. 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 said the district would like to have one teacher for every 17 or 18 kindergarteners; this year the district’s 75 kindergarteners have three teachers.
Toeben said 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 said 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 and 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.