Elementary School Board: 8 percent tax levy increase proposed
Possible county schools facilities sales tax discussed
ROCHELLE — At its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Rochelle Elementary School District Board of Education heard a presentation by District Business Manager Kevin Dale on its 2024 fiscal year tax levy proposal.
The district will need to host a truth in taxation hearing next month due to its proposed tax levy increase being higher than five percent. Dale said the district plans on an 8.07 percent ($799,000) increase due to planned facility improvement expenses and COVID-19 schools relief money drying up.
Dale said the district is not asking for the maximum levy rate in any of its funds. The property tax increase from the levy will be about $41 for the owner of a $100,000 home. The levy will be up for approval in December, Dale said. The district's equalized assessed value (EAV) saw a 9.7 percent increase in the past year, Dale said.
"What we're asking for actually falls under what some other districts are asking for," Dale said. "We sent out a survey and some are asking for 11-15 percent increases. We looked at ours and said we won't be asking for that max rate that we could ask for in every fund. We stayed under that to try to keep the tax burden down a little bit and still being able to handle what we need to do to take care of the needs of the district."
The board heard a presentation by Anne Noble of Stifel Financial on the idea of a county schools facilities sales tax.
A law passed in 2007 to allow for a county-wide sales tax in Illinois to benefit schools for expenses including facilities, security, mental health services and school resource officers. The sales tax must pass in a county by referendum during an election. That has not taken place in Ogle County, and the measure failed on the ballot back locally in 2013. There are 57 counties in Illinois that have the county schools facilities sales tax.
District Superintendent Jason Harper said the district is looking at passing a resolution in support of placing a county schools facilities sales tax referendum on the ballot for a future election. Other county school boards are considering passing resolutions in favor of it as well. To get onto the ballot, school boards representing more than 50 percent of students must pass resolutions. The referendum would only have to pass on the ballot county-wide.
The elementary school district is considering the positives of a county schools facilities sales tax due to recent expenses in upkeep of its aging buildings. The sales tax can be a maximum of one percent in quarter-percent increments.
Harper said there is "strong support" for the county schools facilities sales tax among Ogle County schools and boards have been weighing the idea of putting it on the ballot.
"There have been several other boards that have publicly stated their support for this," Harper said. "Nobody has passed a resolution yet. Most boards are having this as an agenda item to discuss right now. You might see some action in November or December from others. There has historically been strong support for this concept in Ogle County. In conversations with other superintendents, that support remains."
A county schools facilities sales tax would be worth around $813,000 a year to the district based on last year's sales tax data, which it could leverage into about $8.8 million in projects.
Harper stressed that the issue will be up to voters if it gets on the ballot, and Ogle County school boards can simply only place it on the ballot for a vote.
"I just want to emphasize to our board that you don't have the ability to just pass this yourselves," Harper said. "It goes back to the voters and they vote on it directly."
If the district and other county school districts wanted the sales tax issue on the next election in March, the deadline is Jan. 2. The elementary school board has one more meeting before that deadline.
Dale presented an update to the board on the status of upcoming Tilton School renovations. The board plans to pursue $14-16 million worth of needed renovations at the school after finding in a health life safety evaluation that an estimated $7.8 million worth of work is required at the school for those issues. Health life safety concerns the physical safety of the building for students and staff to occupy. The district plans to issue bonds for that money in the coming months and wants to utilize an additional $6-8 million from its reserves for other improvements involving security and spatial concerns including its pick up and drop off areas. The work will be done in a three-year plan, which would begin in the coming summer.
Dale said Tuesday that bidders are interested in the work, and bids will be brought for approval at coming meetings.
On Tuesday the board unanimously approved an application for an ISBE School Maintenance Grant, which will allow it to use the $50,000 matching grant to help pay for costs associated with Tilton School.
The board unanimously approved a Rochelle Middle School extracurricular transportation waiver. The move was made due to the district continuing to experience a bus driver shortage, which is primarily impacting extracurricular activity routes immediately after school. The waiver of liability will now allow parents to drive their own students to extracurricular activities, if necessary. Harper said the measure is temporary.
"We still prefer each and every time for our buses to transport the kids," Harper said. "But if faced with a cancellation like we saw several times in the fall, we'd like to open it up to see if we can get enough parents to help us out. Kids will not be penalized in any way if they don't have transportation. We would like to work together and try to get through this shortage as best we can together."
Assistant Superintendent Tony Doyle made a presentation to the board on ESSA Summative Designations for each school in the district.
ESSA summative designations include exemplary, commendable, targeted, and comprehensive & intensive support. All Rochelle elementary schools were rated as commendable this year. At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, Lincoln School was rated as targeted, but Doyle said that was found to be a mistake in the ESSA system.
"We're happy about being commendable, but obviously we know we have a lot of work to do," Doyle said.