Highland News Leader

Madison County voters may vote again on sales tax for schools

On a split vote, the Highland School Board approved a resolution on Monday, Dec. 19 to back a countywide referendum that would ask voters to implement a new 1 percent sales tax when they go to the polls in April.

This would be a second bite at the apple on the sales tax, the receipts of which are earmarked by statute to build new or renovate existing school facilities. Madison County voters soundly rejected the idea in 2011.

Highland Superintendent Mike Sutton said the problem in 2011 was that not all school districts were on board with the idea. Edwardsville, Collinsville, Roxana and East Alton-Wood River High School school districts all publicly opposed the referendum the last time.

But circumstances have changed since that vote, Sutton said.

“Over the last five to six years since that measure failed, there has been a lot of concern about school buildings and maintenance,” Sutton said.

Three neighboring counties — Bond, Macoupin and Jersey — have passed the tax since the proposition failed in Madison County. St. Clair County will vote on the tax this spring. Montgomery County voters have rejected the idea once. It has never come up for a vote in Clinton County.

Locally, the idea of going to the voters again was brought up at a recent meeting of Madison County superintendents, Sutton said. At that meeting, it was decided that each superintendent would go back to their respective boards to gauge interest in another try at a referendum. In order to make the ballot, boards representing at least 51 percent of the county’s overall student population must pass a resolution in favor. There are 18 school districts with territory in Madison County. The county’s total student population is just over 40,000.

The tax is applied to smaller consumer goods. Products not subject to the tax include automobiles, boats, ATVs, RVs, mobile homes, agriculture machinery and inputs, groceries and medicine.

The money cannot be used for salaries, operating costs, text books, buses, furniture, etc.

By law, the money can only be used to build new facilities, buy land, repair existing facilities, technology infrastructure, or purchase durable equipment (non-movable items).

The money can also be used to retire existing debt incurred for such purposes. For instance, the Highland School Board recently passed several million in bonding to do life/health/safety work across the districts. Currently, those bonds are backed by property taxes. However, if the sales tax passed, those property taxes could be abated, and the sales tax money used to pay the debt.

“You can do a good deal for your local taxpayers, if it’s done right,” Sutton said. “That’s really where the magic is.”

That idea is what brought board member Steven Price on board with the idea.

“If I’m going to support this, I want to be able to tell my neighbors, ‘Your property taxes are going to go down,’” Price said.

The tax would be paid by consumers who shop in Madison County. With shopping hubs such as Edwardsville, and many interstate miles crossing the county, Sutton said many people who do not live here end up paying the tax.

“Forty percent of (the tax) is generated by people who live outside Madison County,” Sutton said.

The tax is collected by local merchants and transferred to the state, just as is the case with all sales taxes. The state then returns the money to the Regional Office of Education, which disburses it on a per capita basis back to the local school districts.

If it passed, the 1 percent sales tax would generate about $1.59 million dollars a year for the Highland School District. Triad would received $2 million. (The Triad Board of Education also passed a resolution in favor of the tax at its December meeting.)

The Highland board passed the resolution on a 5-2 vote, with board members David Raymond and Joe Miller voting against it.

“Unless there was an offset, when a tax gets passed, it never gets reduced,” Miller said.

“I think a full 1 percent is a lot to ask,” Raymond said.

Madison County superintendents plan to meet again on Jan. 11 to see if there is enough support countywide to place the measure on the ballot this spring.

Other board action

Personnel moves approved

The School board approved the following personnel moves:

Retirements:

▪ Carla Wildhaber, special education at Highland Elementary, effective the end of the 2019-2020 school year

▪ Debbie Fralinger, fourth-grade teacher at Highland Elementary, effective the end of the 2019-2020 school year

Resignations:

▪ Tyler Weis, assistant track team coach at Highland High School

▪ Sarah Perry, assistant spring musical director at Highland High School

Change of Assignment:

▪ Erin Bloemer, from program assistant to Early Childhood teacher/RtI Interventionist at Highland Primary, effective Jan. 3, 2017.

New Staff:

▪ Mallory Kunz, program assistant at Highland Primary, effective Dec. 1, 2016

▪ Nancy Klaus, program assistant at Highland Middle School, effective Dec. 1, 2016

▪ David Wilton, spring musical choral director at Highland High School

▪ Gentry Herlitz, spring musical assistant director at Highland High School

Early graduates approved

Each year, the board approves early graduation for students who apply and qualify for graduation. This year, HHS had eights students applying for early graduation. They were all approved.

Flex benefits change approved

The board approved changes to the employees’ Flexible Benefits Plan for 2017. An adjustment was needed for programs dates to Dec. 31 from Jan. 1 to parallel with the calendar year. The limits were also been changed from $2,550 to $2,600 per year, as per changes by the Internal Revenue Service.

Agreement with SWIC renewed

The board approved renewal of an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) for the Running Start Program. This is a program for high school juniors and/or seniors interested in attending SWIC for high school/college credit classes. They do not attend HHS during the day, but may participate in all extracurricular activities at HHS. Students and their families bear the cost of the program, which is $3,325 per student.

This year was the first year for the program, and three students take advantage of it. Administrators called the program “very successful.”

The district will be hosting a meeting for interested students for next year, but board approval for the agreement renewal with SWIC was needed before moving forward.

Final tax levy approved

The board gave final approval to the district’s tax levy for the upcoming fiscal year. A tentative levy was approved in November. The final levy is for about $18.3 million, a 2.57 percent increase over last year.

The board also gave approval to several specialized levies: $188,758 for fire prevention, safety, energy conservation, disabled accessibility, school security, and specified repair purposes; $151,007 for special education purposes, $188,758 for lease of educational facilities, and $1,101,826 for tort immunity.

Contract amended

The board amended its five-year facilities plan last month to move up HVAC and roofing at Highland Middle School. The change in plan required a new agreement with the contractor, GRP, which is doing all the school’s health life/safety work.

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