Local News

Flossmoor School Board revisits concerns on tax levy, class size

Flossmoor District 161 school board members Monday began deliberations on whether to approve a 2.1 percent increase in the property tax levy that will fund next year’s budget.
Board members asked Associate Superintendent Frances LaBella to bring back estimated levy figures based on a flat rate and one that rises 2.1 percent with the Consumer Price Index. The percentage increase would be the same as last year and raise about $470,000 in additional tax dollars.
If approved, a 2.1 percent increase in the levy would also increase expenditures by 1.3 percent over the current year, LaBella said.
The board is scheduled to vote on a tentative levy during its Oct. 29 meeting and a final levy during its Dec. 10 meeting. 
Board member Merle Huckabee echoed concerns she raised at the Aug. 27 meeting about asking residents to pay more in property taxes while the district has about $26.9 million in reserves. 
“Even though that’s for a rainy day, I just want to know why are we continuing to levy when we have money in reserves,” Huckabee said.
Board member Misha Blackman said the fact that school districts must rely on tax revenue to operate is a broader, systemic problem, and board members should remember that they cannot obtain money later when unforeseen expenses arise. 
“Because we’re not a revenue generating business, if you don’t get (tax money) now that means that you lose it,” Blackman said.
Board member Stephen Paredes said members should pretend the reserves do not exist when determining the need to levy, especially with an expected rise of $520,000 in teacher salaries and benefits next school year.
“Back in colonial days houses cost $5; now they’re $500,000 because costs go up relative to the economy, and that’s what the CPI is,” Paredes said. “If you don’t keep up with that, then what happens is you’re going to get behind, and your operating costs are going to keep increasing.”
LaBella also suggested looking at the reserve level and levy increase as two separate issues.
“You need to be able to support the level of expenses that you want to spend on a regular basis with money you have coming in, not with your reserve balances because eventually you will run dry,” she said. 
Board members also weighed in on staffing needs for next school year based on parents’ concerns that some teachers may be overwhelmed by their class sizes this year. 
Western Avenue has a full kindergarten class of 25 students and a nearly full class of 24, down from 25 at the beginning of the year. Heather Hill has two full fifth grade classes of 28 students each.

Targeted class sizes are determined by five-year averages that anticipate the number of students entering each grade level. For next year, targeted class sizes are 20 students for grades kindergarten through second and 25 students for grades third through fifth.

Parker Junior High estimates were not yet available.
Superintendent Dana Smith said based on projected enrollment numbers for next school year, an additional six full time teachers could be needed at the elementary level, which would cost the district about $420,000.
He asked board members to consider their tolerance level for class sizes, as the number of full time teachers needed could potentially decrease.
“I recommend that the class sizes are appropriate,” Smith said. “If people on the board think not, we can change that. I can bring you options if the board thinks the numbers are not manageable.” 
Board President Michelle Hoereth asked Smith to gather more feedback from teachers on how well they feel supported with their current class sizes. She added that board members should make decisions based on whether or not teachers and students are being supported while also being mindful that “everything has a price tag to it.”
“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support teachers and students this year,” she said. “We want to make sure we are not looking at a $420,000 cost tag as our reason for not making sure we are doing what we should be doing as a board.”

News by email

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Free weekly newsletter

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Most read stories this week

Community Calendar