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District 97 Board Approves Referendum Question

State tax increase leaves room for tweaks.

The  Board of Education unanimously approved its $75 million referendum question, regardless of whether the district will receive money from a state tax hike. 

Voters in the village will decide the issue in April.

Schools across the state are in line to receive close to $300 million from the tax increase, approved by the state legislature late Tuesday. The measure is awaiting the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn, who has unequivocally thrown his support behind the tax hike. 

With the tax increase, District 97 is expected to get its share of $5 million spread over the next eight years, said school board member Bob Spatz at Tuesday's meeting. It was held in the  auditorium to accomodate a larger crowd. 

That amount will neither prevent the need for a referendum, nor will it impact the timing of the ballot question, said Spatz and other board members. 

The influx of tax money, however, might affect some of the referendum's details, like whether the board will continue its plan to make it instead of a more traditional property tax increase.

The board also will likely cut down the amount sought for the referendum. 

The state funds available to the district through the tax increase don't technically represent an increase in money owed to District 97. Rather, they'll provide an assurance that the state will be able to pay its bills to school districts. 

For District 97, that means $2.4 million for fiscal 2011, said district spokesman Chris Jasculca. 

Before Tuesday's 11th-hour wrangling over the tax package in Springfield, the school board approved a list of cuts to be made if referendum fails to win approval on April 5. 

That list from Supt. Al Roberts closes the budget hole by saving $5.7 million annually and includes the elimination of elementary art classes, middle school sports, and the CAST and BRAVO performing arts programs, along with dozens of other cuts and some layoffs.

The core curriculum still would remain largely untouched, however, with classroom teaching positions saved.

Six individual speakers used the public comment time of the meeting to voice support for the CAST and BRAVO programs.

“Cutting arts is not the answer,” said Rick Leary, a parent in the district. He asked the board not to remove the BRAVO and CAST programs from its list of potential cuts, even if a referendum fails.

Roberts responded that he understood the importance of those programs, but saw no better alternative. He called his list of cuts “horrific,” but necessary if a referendum is turned down.

“The most I can say about the list is that it protects the academic core and it meets the charge of balancing the budget,” he said.

The board will meet Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the  to discuss the details of the new information on state funding, and how it will impact the referendum and potential cuts. That might also be followed by a meeting the following night, if necessary.

Kit Kadlec January 17, 2011 at 04:45 AM
Expect an update on the referendum later this week on Patch.com. This is from District 97: Time and Date Change for Special Board Meeting Due to the provision in the Illinois Open Meetings Act that states "a public meeting may not be held on a legal holiday unless the regular meeting day falls on that holiday," the special board meeting scheduled for Monday, January 17 has been changed to Sunday, January 16 at 4 p.m. During this meeting, the board is scheduled to discuss the impact recent developments at the state level may have on the referendum the district will be seeking in April. The board is also tentatively scheduled to meet on Tuesday, January 18 at 7 p.m. to discuss the same issue and, if necessary, take action on any changes to the referendum resolution it adopted on January 11, 2011. Both meetings are open to the public, and will be held in the board room of the administration building (970 Madison Street).

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