Metro-East News

Edwardsville voters again will be asked to increase tax for schools

A school bus departs Edwardsville High School in this file photo.
A school bus departs Edwardsville High School in this file photo.

Voters in Edwardsville School District 7 will get another vote on whether to increase property taxes for schools.

The District 7 school board voted unanimously Monday to put the 55-cent tax referendum on the April ballot. Proposition E would have raised property taxes by 55 cents, bringing the education fund tax rate from $2.15 to $2.70 per $100 of equalized assessed value. That would have put the total district tax rate at $4.70 per $100.

For the owner of a $100,000 home, it would have increased the annual tax bill by $183 and added $6.9 million per year to district revenue.

The proposition failed by 1,080 votes out of nearly 28,000 cast.

“The very close margin by which the measure failed was encouraging, telling us that we made our case to a lot of the public,” said Superintendent Lynda Andre.

If they did not try in April, Andre said, it would be another 16 months before they could put up the referendum again. In the meantime, the district’s financial situation has worsened. Andre said they have been informed by the state that they may not receive two of the four quarterly payments they are owed by the Illinois State Board of Education this year.

“We may have to borrow up to $5 million to cope with the shortfall from the state,” Andre said. “That’s $7 million in debt, directly as a result of the state’s failure to pay its quarterly payments.”

The missed payments are not absolute yet, but Andre said they’ve been told to “anticipate” the shortfall. Those missed payments do not include the reduced or skipped payments for “categoricals” like special education or transportation.”

Edwardsville has had referenda for building projects in the past, most of which did not pass until at least two attempts had been made. The district has not raised the education fund tax rate since 1978.

The district had already cut $2 million toward its $4.5 million deficit prior to the November referendum. The new funds would have been dedicated to balancing the budget by June 2019, eliminating operating debt, $1 million toward postponed projects like replacing aging textbooks and upgrading technology and school security systems, and $1.5 million toward anticipated cost increases.

There was a strong grassroots movement by the citizens group “Committee for Excellence in Education” for the November vote, with groups walking in area parades wearing orange T-shirts, yard signs reading “Yes on E” on area lawns. The group actually ran out of yard signs and had to order more, leaders said. There was a series of online videos with local civic and business leaders, former teachers and residents, including former city administrator Ben Dickmann, WSIE director Steve Jankowski and the mayors of Edwardsville and Glen Carbon.

Andre said that kind of effort will be required again, as turnout is historically much lower for a spring municipal election than a fall presidential election.

“One of many things that will be part of our message is that we need (voter) turnout,” Andre said.

Andre said they were encouraged that the number of people who voted in favor of the increase is actually more than the number of parents with children in the District 7 schools. “We believe we made a strong case with both parents and non-parents,” she said. “We are working with the committee to continue what we started.”

The spring election will take place on April 4.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald