Home rule proposal in Homewood discussed by District 161 board

Flossmoor District 161 Board of Education members made no decision on whether to endorse a proposal for home rule status in the Village of Homewood.

At the board’s Nov. 13 meeting there was no indication of what action, if any, the board will take on a possible home rule referendum. Homewood trustees are expected to approve a March referendum on home rule at their Dec. 12 meeting. 
 
Superintendent Dana Smith said 454 students, about 20 percent of the district’s enrollment, reside in Homewood. Smith told the board that District 161 would receive $100,000 of Homewood’s expected revenue of $1.2 million that would be generated by implementation of a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to be created under home rule.
 
“Homewood is looking for our support in a resolution,” Smith stated.
 
Board member Cameron Nelson said, “I don’t know why we are considering this. I’d like to see the legal basis for all of this.”
 
President Michelle Hoereth asked about how sustainable the district’s income would be in the future.  
 
“What happens when the Homewood board changes?” Hoereth asked. “There have been discussions along these lines. They need the support of the taxing bodies.”
 
Vice President Stephen Paredes remarked, “We shouldn’t ignore the struggles of our neighbors.”
 
Smith said the district’s counsel will be asked for his opinion on the issue.
 
With the home rule designation, Homewood would implement the sales tax with revenues divided between District 161, Homewood District 153, Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233, the Homewood Public Library and the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District.
 
Also at the meeting, the District 161 board approved issuing an official public notice of its intent to impose a property tax levy which includes a cost of living increase of 2.1 percent based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The total increase will be 3.25 percent from the previous year, a total levy of $23,726,821. This levy amount was included in the district’s budget, which was approved several weeks ago. Final adoption of the levy is scheduled for a December vote.
 
Lengthy conversations on the levy have occurred over the last two months but the board had little to say about the issue at its Nov. 13 meeting. The debate has been centered on what is most desirable for district residents. The CPI increase in the levy will add an average of about $60 to tax bills paid by homeowners. However, a levy freeze would have cost the district more than $2 million in lost revenues over the next three years.
 
Board member Merle Huckabee, who has been the most vocal proponent for providing tax relief to residents, was the lone dissenting vote as the measure was approved by a 6-1 vote.
 
Improving communication with district stakeholders has become a priority since the new board was sworn-in in May.  A new Community Engagement Committee has been appointed and is working on three priorities, including consistent communication, relationship development and district identity.
 
Smith said that the committee has expressed the need “to audit our current communication methods with our stakeholders.” The audit would include assessments of how the district communicates, if all stakeholders are being reached and what steps are needed for improved communications.
 
Smith presented the board with two options that would provide the committee with a School Communication (o) Performance Evaluation, or SCoPE, survey.
 
The survey would target three audiences, including faculty and staff members, parents and families and the community.
 
Survey topics would include communication coming from the district, schools and classrooms.  The audiences’ reliance on each type of communication, and the value and trustworthiness of the communications, would be measured.  Also included would be crisis communication, message effectiveness and the district’s overall image and brand recognition.
 
Smith said, “People are looking at our brand.”
 
One option is to have the survey conducted with a quantitative analysis included. The cost for these services would be $1,840.
 
The other option is to spend $9,427 for the survey and analysis as well as a qualitative analysis, review of website and district communication materials, on-site focus groups, a written report and recommendations.
 
Smith said he will bring the options back Nov. 27 for board direction.

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