Chicago Tribune | South Berwyn schools seek tax hike for improvements
Two questions are asking for a $1.40 tax rate increase, up to $4.30 from $2.90, which would raise almost $6.2 million, and to approve selling $51.5 million in bonds for improvements. That would raise taxes another 93 cents.
The two increases would cost $491 annually for the owner of a $100,000 home, $817 for a $150,000 home and $1,145 for a $200,000 building. Figures are for bonds lasting 20 years, the limit under the Illinois school code. If the Illinois General Assembly changes the limits under a bill the Senate is considering, the 93-cent tax rate increase would change to 73 cents if the limit becomes 25 years or 59 cents if it becomes 30 years.
Stan Fields, District 100 superintendent, said the added tax revenue would help the South Berwyn schools deal with 516 more students in the last six years – with no new space added – and less state funding. Bonds will add 19 classrooms; improve electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems; and provide a multipurpose room in each school where students can eat, rather than be in the gymnasium where they are limited to seven minutes for lunch.
Facebook groups such as Building a Better Berwyn are supporting both measures.
But others, such as Anthony Harris, a District 100 board member from 2007 to 2011, and Jim Tobin, founder of Taxpayers United of America, say the increases will overtax home and business owners.
District 100 is a high-minority, high-poverty district of six elementary schools and two middle schools that brings greater needs, not less, according to Fields: “We have necessary resources for two of three students,” he said. Some 85 percent of students are minorities and 74 percent come from low-income families.
Per-pupil spending is 20 percent lower than in some of the neighboring schools districts and state funding was cut 7 percent, according to the district. South Berwyn has the 26th lowest school tax rate of 27 Cook County communities with similar demographics and property values, officials said, and a tax increase has not been sought in more than 20 years.
Five of the six elementary schools – all but Emerson – are beyond capacity, with Pershing at 112 percent. Total enrollment last year was 4,107, compared to 3,388 in 2003. The projected enrollment in 10 years is 4,491.
None of the schools has central air conditioning and all get heat from boilers that are old and hard to find parts for, Fields said. The bond money will allow the district to “effectively rebuild the infrastructure – mechanical, electrical and plumbing. The life of these improvements should be 45 to 50 years.”
Harris said he was a member of the board’s Buildings and Grounds committee, which was informed of required repairs and necessary maintenance, “but nothing on the order of magnitude that is being proposed. Unquestionably repairs must be made, but the cost of $51.5 million at this time is prohibitive.”
By adding classrooms that may not be needed in 10 years, the district will be burdened with debt for 20 to 30 years depending on the life of the bond, he said. “The upgrade of six of the buildings is popular with parents; however, it is likely to be more costly compared to consolidation of schools and the construction of new buildings with greater capacity.”
“The request for the $51.5 million bond alone is a staggering sum to ask of a small community and will be a burden for at least two decades. The additional request to increase the limiting rate by 1.4 percent will overtax home and small business owners and has no date of expiration,” he said.
The owner of a $200,000 home would pay what amounts to an additional mortgage payment every year, he said.