Homewood voters will have referendum question on March ballot

The District 153 school board agreed to ask Homewood voters to approve a referendum tax hike in March, but the board put off a decision on what the amount will be.

At its Monday meeting, the board made its first move at reducing expenses for the 2016-17 school year by agreeing to close Millennium School. That move will eliminate several administrative and staff positions and reduce the number of bus routes. The cost savings is estimated at $600,000.

The district will operate three grade centers: Willow School as pre-kindergarten through second grade; Churchill School will be third, fourth and fifth grades; and Hart School will be sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

The final decision on how much voters will be asked to approve through a referendum will be made at the board’s Dec. 7 meeting.

“We want to get all the facts we can before we have to file” the legal documents to have the question on the March 15 ballot, said Board President Shelly Marks.

The board, noting that the situation in the Illinois Legislature is still fluid, said it will use the extra weeks to learn as much as it can about proposals that may change the state’s school funding mechanism.

The board also is cautious because Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed a property tax freeze which will reduce the district’s revenues even further, said Steve Anderson, chair of the board’s finance committee.

In 2011, the board asked taxpayers to approve an increase of 25-cents per $100 assessed valuation to support the district for seven years. The district raised $7.5 million through the sale of working cash bonds.

Since that referendum passed, District 153 has lost approximately $2 million in state funding. Declining property values due to the 2008 housing recession reduced tax revenues, and a continuing drop in state aid has had a direct impact on district finances. That revenue loss to the District 153 budget has been covered by the money raised through the 2011 referendum.

Now the money from the tax increase is about to run out. The board is going to ask voters for another seven-year tax hike.

Anderson said the board is considering asking for an extension of the current 25-cent rate, or asking voters to extend the current 25 cents rate, but increase that rate by an additional 25 cents for the first three years of the tax increase. He estimates the option would result in a $100 tax increase for a house with a $150,000 assessment.



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