Property taxes, of which a large percentage is used to support our local school systems, are getting out of hand in many districts across Illinois and throughout this nation. While a large percentage of assessed property taxes go to fund school districts, unfortunately the extra spending to operate schools has not improved the quality of education in the past twenty years. Why? For in looking at any school budget the majority of spending goes for salary and administration costs, not particularly to benefit students.
Although taxes are high in my own school district, Lake Forest #115, the issue hasn't been bought front and center as it now has been in the Barrington School System #220 in western Lake County by Thomas Banfield, a resident of the Garlands Retirement Community and Chairman of the Garlands Members Advisory Committee.
Having first met Mr. Banfield when I attended a lecture sponsored by the Barrington History Museum in Lake County at the Garlands Performing Arts Center in Barrington, Illinois, on August 26, Banfield was introduced as a retired Commander U.S. Navy and Nuclear Submariner. Subsequently, Mr. Banfield spoke about the U.S. nuclear submarine program under Admiral Rickover and the tragic loss of the USS Thresher over 50 years ago. My two-part writeup of Banfield's lecture was posted at Illinois Review on Friday, August 30th, and Sunday, September 1st.
Recently I had contact with Thomas Banfield in a role that was a new one for me. As Chairman of the Garlands Members Advisory Committee for The Garlands of Barrington, Mr. Banfield shared with me the concerns of Garland residents over the escalation of real estate taxes as they apply to Barrington School District #220.
The Garlands of Barrington
September 17, 2013
My name is Thomas Banfield. I am a resident of the Garlands Retirement Community and I am the Chairman of the Garlands Members Advisory Committee.
I would like to preface my comments by stating that we at The Garlands understand the benefits of the fine Barrington school system. We are proud of it. As taxpayers we pay for the cost – which is fine—as long as we think that the expenses are cost efficient and that the tax is fairly distributed.
When we received our real estate tax bill this year we saw that it was about 15% higher than last year. In looking into the reasons, we found that it was because the Lake Co. Tax Rate went up 15.3 %. So we examined the tax bill to see how much of the Lake Co. increase was attributed to each of the taxing bodies. We found that the tax rate for the Barrington 220 School District went up 17.2 %.
This caused us great concern, so we met with the Superintendent of Schools and the President of the Board of Education. They were very helpful in explaining the multiple elements making up the tax calculations and how the Board operates in preparing the budgets.
We found that School Districts are allowed to increase the Tax Levy each year by the amount of the CPI-U and new growth. This then allows the Board to increase costs by similar amounts each year.
The planned increases in total expenditures as detailed in the 220 District 2012-2013 Final Budget as of 4/13/2013 are: FY 2012 $2.0 million, up 1.6%; FY 2013 $4.7 million, up 3.7%; FY 2014 $5.5 million, up 4.2%; FY 2015 $5.8 million, up 4.2%; and FY 2016 $6.7 million, up 4.7%.
This brings me to the main thrust of our comments. Being able to increase costs each year creates what we call a “mindset” that it is OK to increase costs each year by 1, 2 or 3 %. This is an inflationary mindset that, in view of the troubling overall forecasts of assessment evaluations and government funding, is not a sustainable mindset.
The total assessed valuation in Lake County decreased last year by as much as 10% in some areas. One out of seven households in the area suffered loss of employment or under-employment in recent years. School District 220 did not reflect any recognition of these two facts. According to the US Government, wages and salaries increased by 1.7% last year. Thus the income of our citizens is not keeping pace with inflation and is not able to afford the rate of increase in taxes of School District 220.
We believe that instead of increasing costs each year by 1, 2 or 3 %, the School Board should be looking to decrease costs each year by 1, 2 or 3 %. How can the Board bring this about?
Changing the mindset:
1. When someone wants to adopt a new and necessary program costing $1,000, $10,000 or $50,000, they need to eliminate an existing program(s) that is no longer vital to the school that costs $1,000, $10,000 or $50,000.
2. When the Board first meets to work on next year’s budget, ask each Board member to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.
3. Ask the Superintendant to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.
4. Ask the PTO to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.
5. Ask the teachers’ union to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.
6. Ask the teachers to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.
7. Ask the Student Advisory Council to come up with 5 ways to cut costs.
8. Put out a suggestion box asking the students to come up with ways to cut costs.
If carried out, these suggestions have the further benefit of stimulating all the named parties to become more cost-conscious than before.
In summary, we are concerned that the current mindset of the School Board is inflationary and unsustainable. While we have presented ways in which the private sector would try to cut costs, we ask the School Board at least to hold expenditure increases below the cost-of-living.
This concludes my comments. Thank you for your consideration.