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In a few days, the Homewood District 153 school board will decide what it will ask of voters in a March referendum.

 At its Monday, Nov. 16, meeting the board will announce its plan for future funding, and whether District 153 may soon have three schools. Closing Millennium School and assigning fifth graders to Churchill School and moving sixth graders to Hart School would reduce staff costs and transportation expenses.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Hart School.

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“Education is a local issue. Decisions about our schools are made locally,” Board president Shelly Marks told about 50 parents at a special board meeting Monday, adding that finding the best way to finance the schools is also a local issue. The board presented its case for why another referendum is needed by sharing information on enrollment, spending and future needs. 

A drop in property values from the 2008 recession, repeated shortchanges in state funding and Illinois’ tax caps are forcing the district to run a yearly deficit of about $2.5 million. The shortfall has been covered by $7.5 million in funds from a 2011 referendum that extended for seven years.

The money has enabled the district to keep its outstanding academic programs; maintain special offerings including daily gym and weekly music, art and technology; and offer intervention programs to keep struggling students on track.

The pot of referendum money is running out and the district’s financial situation has not improved, so the school board will be asking residents to agree to a second referendum to help keep Homewood schools functioning on an even keel.

Steve Anderson, chair of the board’s finance committee, said the district has four options:

  1. Do nothing; let the referendum lapse.
  2. Ask voters to extend the current 25 cents per $100 assessed 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 at $100 tax increase for a house with a $150,000 assessment.
  3. Ask voters to extend the current 25-cent rate and close Millennium School.
  4. Ask voters to extend the current rate, agree to the additional 25-cent increase for three years and close Millennium School.

Anderson said the district cannot ask for the additional 25-cent jump in the rate beyond the three years because of restrictions on how much debt it can take on.

In 2011, the district decided to sell bonds, rather than increase the tax rate. Looking back now, district officials say that option gave them the most money it could collect. If taxpayers agree, the district will sell bonds again.

“We looked like a wealthy district until 2008,” Anderson said, but the state used the pre-2008 assessments to calculate the state aid payment. “We lost so much because of our drop in EAV (equalized assessed valuation).”

Parents asked about possible staff cuts if Millennium closes, but Superintendent Dale Mitchell said he hopes layoffs can be avoided because of future retirements in the district. There was concern that keeping the fifth grade class at Millennium would mean changes to the choral and band programs for fifth through eighth graders. Mitchell said there may be changes in location, but not in the programs themselves.

And there was concern that minority children were not performing as well as other students. Marks said this is an ongoing concern of the board’s and one of the reasons the district has teams of teachers working on intervention services to help students keep up with classwork.

District 153 residents can get information and explanatory graphs on the district’s website at www.hsd153.org  Frequently asked questions from the two information sessions will also be posted on the site.

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