SUGAR GROVE – Kaneland School District 302 officials approved a tentative tax levy increase Monday night, after a debate that lasted more than an hour and after two “no” votes from school board members.
And in public comments after the approval, a pair of taxpayers voiced opposition to the increases.
Julie-Ann Fuchs, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, presented a plan she called “strategic,” in which the district would fund increases in areas to compensate for a potential shortage in the education fund.
Since the district has reached its maximum tax cap, she said, the amount designated for the education fund can go no higher than $27.7 million, $2 million below what was received last year.
In that case, there would need to be significant cuts, she said.
To make up for it, she is increasing funding in two categories – transportation and special education.
She said the district would be allowed to transfer transportation funding into the education fund.
And the special education fund, she said, already uses money from the education fund.
The result will be a tax increase for homeowners, though Fuchs produced two sets of “bottom line” impacts.
One provided the following increases – $425 for an owner of a $200,000 home, $638 for the owner of a $300,000 home, $850 for the owner of a $400,000 home and $1,063 for the owner of a $500,000 home.
She also listed smaller impact amounts for those who might see their homes reassessed by a 7 percent decrease in home value.
For instance, the owner of a $200,000 home would now be the owner of a $186,000 home, and the increase would be $82 instead of $425. Other increases were $123 ($279,000 home), $164 ($372,000 home) and $205 ($465,000 home).
The next step is a levy update in November and a potential hearing and final approval of the levy in December.
Board members Pedro Rivas and Tony Valente voted against the levy.
Rivas said he couldn’t support the levy because “people’s salaries have been stagnant for the last five years.”
Asked after the meeting how he would have made adjustments, he said he would have liked to have explored other options to determine that.
Valente said the impact on the taxpayers was too high.
“It’s hard for me to go for that,” he said. “We need to tighten our belts and limit the potential increase.”
Board member Peter Lopatin, however, asked Valente how he could say that when, earlier in the meeting, Valente was commenting about how the district needed to aim higher than the state average and be more like surrounding districts.
“You like to compare us to Geneva and Batavia and Naperville,” Lopatin said.
Fuchs said those districts spend much more per pupil than Kaneland does.
Board member Gale Pavlak stressed that other districts have more commercial and industrial development than the Kaneland district.
Board member Teresa Witt pointed out that the board is obligated to reopen negotiations with teachers, who have been operating under a pay freeze.
“There are consequences to decisions,” Fuchs said.
Cheryl Krauspe, the board’s president, said that there have been cuts in the past and “it’s not like we’ve not been there.”
She said board members do take a pledge to taxpayers, but that they also are tasked with protecting their assets, meaning the students.
Sugar Grove Township residents Jerry Elliott and Dan Nagle spoke in public comment about the levy. Elliott, who sought appointment to the school board seat eventually filled by Lopatin, pointed out the increases in transportation and special education.
In a letter he distributed to the board and media, he wrote that the district needs to explain specifically why it needs the increases.
“This levy is increasing just because the board says it wants to ‘tax-to-the-max’ while neglecting to disclose the requirements for such increases,” Elliott wrote.
In remarks to the board, Elliott said it “doesn’t make sense to me” that taxes go up while the value of his house goes down.
Nagle said board members must know how difficult it is for taxpayers because “you’ve got neighbors telling you.”
He said taxpayers “have had it up to here” with the higher taxes, and he feared that the taxes might have builders reconsidering plans in the area.
And Elliott said taxpayers have little choice in the matter.
“The only choice I have is to leave,” Elliott said.
• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.