Homewood schools supporters knocking on doors this weekend sharing referendum message

Volunteers will be going door-to-door this weekend sharing the message of Homewood District 153 schools with the community as the March 15 referendum vote approaches.

Taking the message to registered voters could be the best means of spreading the word after only three people attended an informational forum on the referendum Wednesday.

School board members and members of Citizens for Homewood Schools took questions on administrative salaries, the impact of the village’s tax increment financing districts and the likelihood any positive action will be forthcoming from the Illinois Legislature.

Salaries for teachers and administrators are below the state average and raises are held at the Consumer Price Index. This year staff got a 1 percent raise, said John Gibson, District 153 chief financial officer.

The district works closely with the village recognizing that incentives help stimulate business growth, he said. The village has shared remaining funds in TIFs with District 153 and other taxing bodies.

As for state action, Gibson said it is difficult to predict what Illinois’ elected officials will do to provide more money for schools.

The next public information forum will be 7:30 p.m. on March 1 at Grape & Grain, 18021 Dixie Highway in Homewood.

Turnout on March 15 is expected to be high because of the presidential primary, so school supporters want to make certain registered voters have the information they need to make an informed choice on the district’s request for approval of a $9 million bond issue over seven years.

The district uses the example of a home valued at $100,000. If the referendum is approved, the tax bump will be $70 in 2017 and 2019 after the district conducts two bond sales of $4.5 million each. For the remaining five years of bond payment, the rate would fall back to the current tax rate.

The money will be used over the next seven years to help the district cover expenses. The district has seen a drop in revenues due to a decline in property values compounded by yearly decreases in state funding. Gibson said Homewood schools have lost $2.8 million in state support the past five years.

“We can’t control the state. We can’t control the county. We can have a direct impact in our community,” said board member Deb Havighorst. “This referendum is about Homewood’s children and the community.”

Without the added revenue, major cuts will be made in staffing.  Salaries are more than 80 percent of the district’s budget. Staff reductions will increase class sizes, cut assistance for students needing one-to-one instruction to bring them up to class levels and challenging curriculums for gifted students.

District 153 is known for its daily gym classes and outstanding art and music programs. These also would face cuts, said school board member Jim Schmidt. He urged voters to look at the referendum as a long-term proposition.

“We’re protecting what we have and taking care of our own,” he said.

Making cuts would hurt students in District 153, and eventually Homewood-Flossmoor High School because students will come with less preparation. The community of Homewood also will feel a negative impact, he said, because people move into the community because of the outstanding schools.

“We can cut those supports and guess what: We become just as average as every other school district that’s out there. Let’s fast-forward this. The supports we put in and the extracurriculars, without those programs (students) won’t be at the level to benefit from what we’re offering at the high school,” he said.

As guidance director at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Schmidt said he recognizes that the strong foundation students get in District 153 schools makes it easy for them to transition and take advantage of all H-F has to offer. He said four years ago 93 percent of students from District 153 who graduated from H-F went on to four-year colleges.

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