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Fieldcrest asking voters to approve tax referendum

Tuesday, March 18, 2003 Posted 3:30 p.m.
The Fieldcrest Board of Education is asking voters to approve an increase of $.90 in their education fund tax rate on April 1 to alleviate te financial crisis for more than just the short term. "A school district can seek temporary relief by issuing working cash bonds or tax anticipation warrants," said Fieldcrest Board President Joe Knapp. "We would prefer to find a more long term and economically prudent solution to the current budget crisis." He explained that issuing working cash bonds to cover current budget deficits can result in taxes that remain on local property tax bills long after the borrowing money is spent. In addition, the cost uncurred by taxpayers is compounded by the interest charges on the bonds. Although tax anticipation warrants allow school districts to use next year's taxes to pay current outstanding bills, Knapp said that this practice could push the district into an even more critical financial situation in subsequent years, which can result in placement on the state's financial watch list.

Although home values have continued to rise, farmland values in Illinois have been constant or dropping over the past few years. As a result, the Estimated Assessed Valuation (EAV) on which property taxes are based and upon which school revenues depend, has begun to level off. Coupled with increasing education costs and a decrease in the financial help supplied to local districts by the state through the General State Aid Fund, Fieldcrest is feeling the pinch. Fieldcrest is not alone; over 80% of Illinois schools will deficit spend during the next school year.

"Conservative spending has allowed Fieldcrest to operate with the lowest overall tax rate and the second lowest education fund rate in the Midstate Conference," said Knapp. Fieldcrest's education fund, which accounts for almost 80% of the district's expenses, pays for teachers, books, and most of the direct educational costs. The Fieldcrest district has an operating expenditure of $6,574 per student, compared to the Illinois average of $7,926, a difference of over $1,350 per pupil. Knapp said these figures illustrate Fieldcrest's history of fiscal restraint and further demonstrate the need for a tax rate increase.

The Fieldcrest Board of Education is also looking at a long list of spending cuts and fee increases to help offset the widening gap between revenues and expenses. "The proposed tax rate increase is a maximum rate," Knapp explained. "If EAV's rise or the State of Illinois fully funds education, the Fieldcrest Board does not have to levy at the full rate." Since the formation of the Fieldcrest district in 1992, the Board of Education has levied below Fieldcrest's maximum allowable rate 9 out of 12 years.

The current education fund rate was set 12 years ago and has provided adequate revenue for the district longer than anticipated. Dr. Michael Stagliano, Fieldcrest Superintendent, said that receipt of the last two state aid payments for the current year are rumored to be reduced or even withheld. "This would result in a loss of revenue in excess of $185,000 for the district. Even the district's sound financial practices over the last 12 years can not continue to offset general state aid losses of this magnitude."