Hinsdale Township High School District 86 has approved a flat tax levy, a move that supporters call being fiscally responsive to taxpayers and detractors charge will put the district in financial jeopardy.
In an auditorium packed with a couple hundred teachers and residents, the school board on Monday approved in a 4-3 vote a levy that will seek the same amount from taxpayers two years in a row.
The flat tax levy means the district will receive the same amount of tax dollars from property owners that it did last year, about $74.6 million. Board president Claudia Manley, board members Victor Casini, Richard Skoda, Edward Corcoran voted for the flat tax. Board members Kay Gallo, Michael Kuhn and Jennifer Planson opposed it.
Gallo sought to amend the proposed tax levy to increase it 1.7 percent, which is the consumer price index. The amendment was shot down. She said the change would have set collections at roughly $75.8 million.
Manley said the district needs to live within its current means.
"At this point someone has to stop, take a deep breath and live within our means for a year at least," she said.
Planson said the $1.9 million the district will not receive because it is not raising the tax request will be felt for years in the future because the loss of funds will compound.
"Even if we can weather it for a year, that's fine. But year after year it compounds," she said.
Skoda has previously said financial projections by a district consultant show the expected end of year reserve of about $60 million would still increase.
The proposed high school district tax request assumes new construction will generate $50 million in additional equalized assessments and that pay raises for teachers and other staff will be two percent annually through the 2018-2019 school year.
Planson said some of the assumptions are dubious. She said negotiations over teacher salaries and benefits are far from being finalized.
About 30 people addressed the board, speaking on both sides of the issue.
"I do think there should be belt-tightening, but the challenge is to do it without hurting the morale of the organization," said Dick Kingman of Clarendon Hills.
Bill Carpenter of Darien said he's worried that about the impact on the quality of the schools, Hinsdale South and Hinsdale Central.
"Who's going to pay those teachers more or get the technology they need?" he asked.
Ed Mack of Darien spoke in favor of holding the line.
"Even after the zero percent levy (increase), we are still going to graduate excellent students who are going to go to excellent institutions and go on to lead excellent lives," Mack said.
Richard Brandeis of Darien said he will hold the board accountable for any decrease in excellence in the schools related to the flat tax.
"I'm going to use my loudest outdoor voice and hold you responsible for the consequences of your actions," he said.