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VIDEO UPDATE: Despite Pleas, School Board Sticks With 1.5% Levy Hike

The School District 304 Board of Education votes unanimously for a 1.5 percent levy hike—in spite of strong arguments, some for zero percent and one for the maximum 3 percent.

Two strong, contrasting arguments Monday night didn't affect Geneva School Board's decision to seek a 1.5 percent tax levy increase.

That 1.5 percent levy increase would translate to a $340 property tax increase for the owner of a $315,000 home, according to previous estimates by School District 304 Assistant Superintendent for Finance Donna Oberg.

Speaking during the public comments period prior to the board vote, Geneva Economic Development Commission member Bob Mann told the board he felt a higher tax levy could create a downward spiral for the local economy.

"I think we can prevent that and send a signal to the market by holding the levy to where it was last year," he said.

On the other side of the issue, Geneva Middle School music teacher Jason Flaks suggeted that a better fiscal strategy would be for the board to levy the full 3 percent allowed under tax-cap legislation, based on the Consumer Price Index.

"The difference between levying 1.5 percent and 3 percent, on a $315,000 home is $76," he said. "The budget shortfall created for the district will be $900,000. As you know, this $900,000 will be lost forever and can only be reclaimed in the future through referendum.

"As a teacher in Geneva, I have worked hard to deal with the reductions we've already made in order to continue to offer the same quality programs for my students. I've lost 66 percent of my budget in the last five years.

"There will come a time when the dollars simply won't stretch anymore."

Flaks also pointed out that one of the most effective ways for the board to hold down rising property taxes is to collect the full levy, then use surpluses to pay down debt services.

"Addressing (property tax) through abatement does not have a compounding effect on the future funds available to the district; addressing it through a reduction in the levy does," he said.

"What I struggle with is whether a reduction in the levy solves the problems with which some residents of Geneva are struggling. Will that $76 keep them from foreclosure? Will it help find the job they need, or will it provide them a consistent increase in income that allows them to meet their expenses? The answer to these questions is, sadly, no. What these residents need is not possible for you to give ... A reduced levy, on the other hand, will weaken the School District."

Robert Danek said "there's always something to spend money on," and said the board shouldn't spend more next year than it did this year.

"Find a way to manage the $61 million you have," he said. "You may lose the compounding effect the levy would give you, but you'd gain the respect of most of the people here tonight."

At its Nov. 13 meeting, the board had passed a resolution to seek the 1.5 percent levy increase, the lowest of five options presented.

Bob McQuillan December 11, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Martha Disagreeing with someone is not belittling them. The teachers contract was not about the teachers, it was about the financial condition of the school district. The teachers and the GEA were the ones that made it about them. The contract was about trying to avoid yearly tax levy increases like the one approved last night. Step back and look what the BOE's new policy is: Don't spend the reserves which are the direct result of overtaxing the residents for a number of years. Instead overtax the same residents a second time and abate some of that over-taxation to the debt service payment. What happened to the policy of back-loading the debt payments so that future residents will pay for the buildings already constructed? Under the abatement plan, current residents are paying the full debt service plus more. This is opposite of what we were told would happen. Abating the debt to the $15 million dollar a year level each year might be a good idea but the money to abate is what you have overtaxed the residents. Use the reserves. You are not saving the residents any money, what you are doing is moving money from pot to the other. To save the taxpayers, the only answer is to cut current expenses. The BOE needs to look at operations & maintenance and the transportation funds to find true expense cuts. Both of these funds are much higher than compatible districts the size of Geneva. Savings are there, someone just needs to make the hard decision to make the cuts.
LLKCV December 11, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Dan, I agree with you. All of the facts/figures that are available to the public are fuzzy. You basically have to sit down with all the data, sift through it, and piece it together to get a comprehensive picture. I'll reiterate that is was a gross misrepresentation for the Board to say they would be facing at $900,000 in budget cuts if they agreed to the 1.5% levy. They claimed that with a 0% levy, they would be faced with $1.8M in budget cuts. I was at the meeting on 11/12/12, I heard it with my own ears. Those numbers are simply untrue as presented. However, with regard to my comment about the money already being in place to fund salary increases, I was pointing out that I'm tired of hearing the same battle cry from the GEA/IEA/teachers that the only way they can get salary increases is through increased taxation. It's ridiculous that nobody on the board or the GEA seemed to grasp that concept/bargaining point during the negotiations. If the GEA could've come up with some creative ways to fund salary increases without extra taxation, I think it would've been supported all around (well, except by the administrators I suspect). And I'm not talking abount funding the pension spiking, I'm only talking about annual salary increases. Like someone said below, the transportation and O&M budgets are incredibly high compared to neighboring districts (look at the percentages on the state report cards, they're available here: https://www.geneva304.org/Report_cards/index.asp.
Martina Natoma December 11, 2012 at 09:14 PM
JMZ, once you have followed the school board you will know that they really don't care at all about your fiscal situation. The school board is made up primarily of Teachers Union friendly residents, who would rather tax you out of your home (it's for the children) than show any sense of fiscal restraint. The Geneva citizenry is ultimately to blame for failing to vote in the school board elections. The Geneva 304 Union Teachers all get out the vote - and vote of course for whichever candidate promises them a pay increase. Simple as that.
Martina Natoma December 11, 2012 at 09:17 PM
David, the only way that will EVER happen is when a) Geneva further enhances it's reputation as a Tax and Spend District, to the point where it's obvious that home values are taking a hit, or b) Competent people get elected to the school board.
Mitch Dinges December 12, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Please run for the school board Martina. We need at least one maybe two eclectic new members to sit on the board. The board is too predictable as it is right now.

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