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Letter: Current Board Members Not to Blame for High District 308 Taxes

Send your letter to the editor to steven.jack@patch.com

Regarding our tax bills, some may think that the maximum tax rate allowed by the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, (PTELL) is 5 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is less.  I originally thought that too but our government has a different way of applying that law. Go to:  www.revenue.state.il.us.  In Search type PTELL, Select PTAX-1080 Technical Manual and spend a couple of hours  to understand our governments’  thinking.

The PTELL limits individual taxing bodies but does not limit the overall combined tax rate and there are exceptions.  New property value is excluded in the formula used to determine how the CPI will limit the tax rate.    The formula is one that only lawmakers could devise and allows a school  tax rate of 4.848 percent even though last year’s CPI was 1.5 percent. 

Bonds and interest costs are excluded  from the PTELL limit, which is why the District 308 school rate was 6.65728 percent on my tax bill, (others may vary).  The PTELL worksheet for Kendall County revealed that 1.80927 percent of the school tax rate was for bonds and interest because the Levy amount for bonds and interest was 27.2 percent of the School Levy.

The state code has a limit on debt to EAV of 13.8 percent or 15 percent for fast growing districts, but Superintendent Behlow in 2006 managed to convince the Illinois Legislature that District 308 needed a higher limit because 308 would have approximately 25,000 students in 2012. Consequently the legislature took off the limit because a referendum had been passed.  

Note that the 27 percent debt is 12 percent above what is allowed for a fast growing district! The total school enrollment in November 2011 was 17,175, 7,800, (31 percent) less than estimated by Behlow.

The cause for our high tax rate was the building of many schools by the 2006 Referendum, a decline in new construction and decreasing home values.  The Behlow administration using PMA  Financial Advisors projected revenues based on  large EAV increases which would produce revenue, using  the 2006 EAV as a base,  projecting a 15 percent EAV increase in 2007 and then decreasing at 1 percent a year until leveling at a 10 percent increase per year, in 5 years. 

Those projections were overly optimistic and now because of the decreasing EAV, which is now approximately at the 2006 level and still decreasing, thus a higher tax rate is required  for the requested Levy amount.

Taxpayers should understand that the high tax rate now is mainly because of the bonds and interest payments required as a result of the 2006 Referendum.   Current board members, except for Mr. Behrens, were not on the board in 2006, are not responsible for those costs and should not be blamed for the high tax rate.  

Fortunately the new board members stopped the building of a third high school or the tax rate would have been even higher.  The only way now to reduce the tax rate is to reduce expenses by cutting programs that are not absolutely necessary because the bonds and interest still has to be paid. 

If you voted for the 2006 referendum, you gave your OK for these high taxes.

Leland H. Hoffer, Oswego

CRM May 23, 2012 at 03:06 AM
@ Tim...if you refer to my comment, I had said that I was NOTclaiming to understand the teachers pension situation. My husband is a PUBLIC EMPLOYEE...I did not say TEACHER! We have and continue to pay over 15% out of his hourly wage into his pension fund. We also pay a % into a separate investment account to help us prepare for the ever rising cost of health insurance which we will be 100% responsible for upon his retirement (as is generally the norm for anyone in the public sector). It ends up being a grand portion of we would normally be taking home in our paychecks. He does not have summers off, Christmas break, Spring Break, Thanksgiving break. He works 12 hour shifts at a time - at night while the great majority of us are sleeping soundly. There most certainly HAS been hard work AND SACRIFICE by our family. Unless the state would like to refund 20 years worth of the $$ that we have personally contributed to OUR retirement, I absolutely believe that we are entitled to what is, at the bare minimum, OURS!!!
Tim May 23, 2012 at 03:43 AM
Illinois has 5 state pension systems, 1 of them is a teachers pension system. The rest are public pensions. No state pension fund is specified to pay 15% by the employee(11.5% is the max). This is about the state pension system. If yours is just some small town pension system, this has no bearing on the fiscal problems of the state. The state pension system is being misrepresented by the public unions, when they claim the state is not funding their part by law. Which is only partially true. It is left out that the people within these pension systems are only contributing 45% of the needed value, with the state making up the difference. Year by year, the public unions, ALL OF THEM, have been scaling back their 'expectations' for the investment returns of these pension plans, and by law the state has to make up the difference. In 2010, the largest state union cut its growth forecast for its own investments, by a significant margin. Overnight, this move added hundreds of millions of dollars that the state has to make up. I would be more than happy to have you collect only what you paid in. I have to wonder if you know how little that would be, compared to what your pension would pay out. Lets generously say 80K/yr for 20 yrs. 10% 'saved' is 8K/yr for 20yrs = 160K saved up. If your husband made less than 80K 10 years ago, this will be significantly lower, by many tens of thousands of dollars. is 160K enough for you both to 'retire' on? for 10 years? how about 20?
Travis McGee May 23, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Actually, Tim, the S&P 500 Index has returned 8.4% average annual over the last 20 years. So, assuming the $8,000 per year was invested in an S&P 500 Index Fund over 20 years, the amount invested would have compounded to roughly $383k. Assuming one lived for 20 years in retirement and could earn 5% on their retirement nest egg, that would equate to about $30,700 per year before the funds were exhausted. Still, your point is well taken. I think if we all - public and private employees included - looked at what we (and our employers) were putting into government programs for our so called "retirement," we would all realize that we would be much better off contributing to our own accounts. Most corporations figured this out years ago which is why Defined Benefit Plans (Pension Plans) are becoming dinosaurs versus Defined Contribution Plans (401k's and 403b's).
ayar May 23, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Thanks, Robyn - that still leaves me with the question, "why can't administration move into it" ? that's a nice chunk of space that could be classrooms over at Eastview, and the old Traughber has that sort of office space available to it. It wouldn't be that difficult.
Leland H. Hoffer May 23, 2012 at 05:25 PM
ayar, The Behlow administration with Doug Gallois came up with the high estimate for expanding old Traughber and said it was better to build new at over $23 million. They then said it would be used as the administration center but then said that was too costly. They then quickly rented it out, claimed it was now leased and it could not be used for purposes such as possibly a freshman center. My opinion is it was all done to insure building a third high school. The 126 property purchase during Behlow's tenure is rented as Robyn says. The rent is $430/acre for 121 acres = $52,030/year; however the purchase price was $5,300.000, at a nominal 4% bond interest that cost is $212,000/year.That makes the loss $159,070/year. The administration will say that most of the purchase price came from transition fees and land cash money which may be true but those monies could have been used for other projects which then had to be financed by borrowing.
InterestedParent308 May 23, 2012 at 05:32 PM
@ayar-The cost of renovating old Traughber exceeded the price variable to build the new Traughber. According to Kluber Associates, the architecture firm for the district, noted that if the estimate to renovate exceeded 50% to build a new school, you build a new school. In addition, the costs to increase the old Traughber to 900 students, at the time, just didn't make sense, when the district could build a new Junior High to handle 1100 students.
Matthew Lenell May 23, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Governor Walker, is that you? Most teachers get paid far less than their similarly-educated counterparts and by state law 9.4% of their salary must go to the pension system. This money is subtracted from the teacher's paycheck. You may think it is an expense to the school district and coming from your taxes, but it is not: it is earned money kept separate from the paycheck like your Social Security withholding. Since the money from all public employees is paid out of your taxes, you see it directly as a separate expense as a requirement of public budget reporting. Think of it this way: 6.2% of your salary goes to Social Security. Would you rather that 9.4% of your salary go to Social Security instead?
Tim May 23, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Travis, Your number of 8.4% is not inflation adjusted, the pension plan is however. I know that is the number the unions will make public, but it also is a number that stops the 20yr period in 2008, hiding the worst declines of the financial crisis in order to deceive that the gains were larger than they actually were. The inflation adjusted gains in the S&P over the past 20 years is 5.6%, still almost a full 2 points below the 'revised' expectations set by the public union pension plan. http://allfinancialmatters.com/2009/09/18/sp-20-year-rolling-period-returns-1926-2008/ Every taxpayer in the state is making up the difference between what they 'expected', and what really happened. The union is then running around blaming the state for not paying on this difference, when the union knows full well they were the ones who set the expectation. What bothers me, is the union is knowingly misleading anyone who will listen. They KNOW what they are doing. Your 30K/yr figure is based on the initial assumption that the person was making 80K as a public sector employee in 1992. Odds are this is not the case, it also would need to include medical insurance in there. At retirement age, that could easily eat up well over 33% of that total. Which is why I initially said, I don't think the person making the claim that they want 'all their money back' understands just how little it would be. I can assure you, that it is far less than what their pension will be paying them instead.
Leland H. Hoffer May 23, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Robyn, You have misrepresented my position regarding class size. In our conversation after a recent board meeting, I specifically said I have always been an advocate of small class size in the lower grades but that class sizes can be larger at upper grades, jr.high and high school. East View was empty until this year but you are correct that the all day kindergarten which is a non-mandated program is there now. Regarding your position that administrators and Fire Marshalls should determine the capacity of each building, all buildings are required to be inspected to meet fire codes before occupancy and while in use and administrators would prefer building occupancy to be well below the code capacities. You have stated that nearly all buildings are at capacity which isn't supported by the enrollment numbers using District 308 web site fast facts enrollment numbers for each school level, Elementary, Jr. High and High Schools. Dividing enrollments by the number of schools for each level you would see that there is extra capacity at every level if the boundaries were correct. Over crowding at some schools is due to a management by the administration who you say you trust. Fiscal responsibility prevailed and the remainig $198,917,000 of the referendum was not spent proves that the referendum should have been done in increments. Had the entire amount been spent the tax would have increased an additional .64/100 EAV, for a total rate of 7.30.
Robyn Vickers May 23, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Lee, I didn't misrepresent anything. I simply said we disagree on acceptable sizes. I still maintain that's true. If you'd like to reveal what class sizes are acceptable to you, I'll be happy to admit whether or not I agree. I would expect our educators to have a better idea what the optimal class size is than me, you or the Board. After all, they're the professionals doing the actual educating. I'll concede that the Fire Marshall comment was snarky. In reality, the fire code capacity could be very different from functional capacity of a building. The problem with you saying that we have capacity, is that you're basing it on 100% usage, which is not possible. In elementary, there are always going to be empty rooms when a class is at gym, PE, art or music. When you factor in special ed classrooms, which by law have smaller size limits, that decreases the functional capacity of a building even more. The same issues hold true for JH and HS. It's impossible to have every room filled every period of the day. As far as boundaries, I agree that we need a district-wide overhaul. But I'm already dreading the backlash from the community based on how the most recent process went. Nothing brings out angry parents more than the thought of changing schools.
Leland H. Hoffer May 24, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Robyn, At 4:23 pm on Tuesday May 22, 2012 in your post you stated:: "I know you and I don't agree on class sizes, especially for the lower grades." That was a misrepresentation of what I had said in conversation with you. I had stated that I have always advocated small class sizes for the lower grades. I stated that lower grades class size should be kept in the low 20s; therefore, your statement was a misrepresentation. You have not stated what class sizes should be so what is your position and the basis for it. . Saying there will be empty rooms when elementary students go to gym has nothing to do with the capacity of an elementary school. I am fully aware that their are limists to some class sizes and you cannot expect 100% capacity; however, by 308's reported numbers there is extra capacity at all levels. You certainly have great faith in administrators. I would think that you would have lost some of that faith over the backlash during the recent boundary revision. If the administrators had performed their responsibilities and established logical boudaries earlier there would not have been so much anger. I am beginning to wonder if you work for the school district because many of your statements are almost direct quotes that administrators have used.
InterestedParent308 May 24, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Mr. Hoffer: I feel like I have entered an alternative universe as I read the exchanges between you and those who disagree with you. You are but one man and one opinion and we should leave it at that. Have you visited any of our schools in the last few years? Have you bore witness first hand to the dedicated professionals who educate our children? You preach and preach your prose like it is gospel, the gospel according to Leland Hoffer. This district was the shiny example of what was right about education, THE CHILDREN, yet you have managed to instill a Board that thinks about dollars and cents, about retribution and past indifference. Education is the cornerstone of our society and we should be do for our children better than our parents did for us!
Robyn Vickers May 24, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Lee, in the conversation you're referencing, you said that the district should not have hired the additional teachers and that class sizes should increase. I must have been so surprised by that statement (how are we supposed to staff a new school without new hires?) that I missed your comment about the lower grades. Sounds like we agree, low 20s would be great for the lower elementary grades. Unfortunately, some schools are well over that. I sincerely apologize for saying that we disagree about lower elementary. (For the record, I still think we probably disagree about JH and HS, but really, who cares?) You have no idea about my faith in administrators. I have respect for their knowledge as educators. I admire their dedication to children. When I disagree with an administrator, I tell them directly; I don't post about it on the Patch. I do not work for the district. I have never worked for this or any school district. I do not intend to work for any district in the future. I'm just a parent who happens to disagree with you on some issues. C'est la vie.
Tim May 24, 2012 at 04:07 AM
I'm self employed. I pay 13% to Social Security. A whole 9% you say they pay... well I must be so lucky to pay almost 50% more than they do, to end up getting less benefits. Lets also ignore the union contracts that negotiated that the local districts pay some or all of this required 9%. Check the contracts for your district, before you recite half-truths from a union pamphlet. You may be surprised at what you find.
Rachael B. May 25, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Gater, we as a society share the costs of children's educations. I am 64 and chose not to have kids, and I've help pay to put everyone else's children through school. What I ask for is that our schools get down to business and truly educate the students.
Rachael B. May 25, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Dedicated professionals?? Maybe 1 in 10. It's time for a teachers' dress code, after all they're going to WORK and should serve as examples to the children. Drop the jeans, flip-flops, and gum. Stick around past 3:45. Teach the students something. Test scores are not pretty in most of the buildings. The ACT score is laughable.
Leland H. Hoffer May 28, 2012 at 03:12 AM
@ Robyn, The district simply cannot afford to keep hiring additional personnel. They continually operate in the red and cannot afford the programs and personnel they currently have. EAV will decrease for the next few years reducing revenues and drive up taxes further causing more foreclosures. Tribune articlel on under water mortgages quoted ,Zillow,s negative equity report, saying that Kendall County in the Chicago area had the greatest share of underwater homeowners at 55.6% with a dollar value of $1 Billion. That is a reason the expenses should not be increased. @ InterestedParent308, I have great respect for the teachers of our district for they are the individuals who educate students. My criticism has been toward the high level administrators who have made decisions to continue spending money that the district did not and will not have. If the district was a shiny example as you contend, explain the declining ACT scores which is indicates how well education is doing. My letter was an explanation of why there was such a large tax increase and what caused the increase. The letter should not have caused such an angry responce from you. There was no preaching it was simply relating facts. The voting public selected the school board members because they were disatisfied with the direction of the previous board. Perhaps you have been living in an Alternative Universe for some time and didn't realize the real world facts especially the problems of the economy.
Jean May 28, 2012 at 03:37 AM
" My criticism has been toward the high level administrators who have made decisions to continue spending money that the district did not and will not have" Yes, Leland H. Hoffer I totally agree & also have been told that is why a lot of the High level administrators are leaving.
ayar May 29, 2012 at 05:16 PM
@Rachael B. : which building are you talking about ? You've got me curious. The buildings I know of won't let teachers or staff wear jeans any day of the week except certain Fridays, and gum popping isn't acceptable in those buildings. flip-flops ? I wonder which qualiity leadership is allowing that ? most lock down on that pretty tightly. Test scores ? check what programs the teachers are *allowed* to teach from, Administration sets the tone, picks the programs and tells the teachers to implement it.
InterestedParent308 May 30, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Mr. Hoffer, this is a perfect example of you taking your spin on issues and not providing the full picture. The ACT is mandated by law, that all students, both those bound for higher education and those who seek alternate paths take this test. I would wonder what the scores would be if only those students who pursued a college prepatory curriculum would be benchmarked? Further, last week at OHS and OEHS, the Senior Class Awards events were held and at OHS, Principal Mike Wayne announced that $5.7 million dollars in scholarships were awarded to our students with some of the top schools in the US represented, including Drake University, Northwestern, University of Illinois and an appointment to the US Airforce Academy. Not bad for them, or us, for that matter. Finally, your rant regarding the choice to build versus remodel Old Traughber Jr High was based upon the professional opinions of your friends, the Klubers! The same Klubers' who have been awarded the remodels at both HS in lieu of the third HS at a cost exceeding $1 million dollars of our tax dollars over the more economical, fiscally responsible bids by Kluber and ATS&R for each individual school. Your hipocrisy is unrelenting!
Rachael B. May 31, 2012 at 06:01 PM
To InterestedParent308, the ACT score is the accepted comparison educational metric among high schools. Yes, all of our students take it -- that works the same way in ALL districts. So the scores of all 308 students establish the district ACT score, which can be compared to all other districts. The ACT score in 308 for 2011 was a lowly 21.0, up just the slightest from the state average of 20.6, which also includes Chicago Public Schools. Naperville Central's score was 25.4, and New Trier's was 27.5. District 308 has a long way to go in its efforts to improve the sub-par levels and to educate our kids. Really, how many of this year's graduates are headed for top schools? A handful at best.
Leland H. Hoffer May 31, 2012 at 06:14 PM
@ InterestedParent308, I agree that now all students in the state take the ACT and there has beenl a overall decline; however, before block scheduling, Oswego's ACT scores were a couple of points above the state average. In the latest years Oswego's ACT scores have been barely above the state average in fact one year the score was only .1% above state average. It is wonderful that many of our students recieved scholarships but scholarships are awarded based on the accomplishments of the individual student, not on the schools' ACT score.. Teachers should also be commended and credited for their part in educating the scholarship winners. Your response regarding Old Traughber sayilng it was a rant is really a spin. I checked with several persons involved with past building decisions and the 50% decision to build new or remodel you referred to was in regard to Boulder Hill Elementary not Traughber. The final cost of both HS additions is less than the separate bids by Kluber and AST&R making your inferrence, that awarding both projects to Kluber Inc. costs taxpayers $1 million, baseless. Kluber Inc. has a historical record of building quality schools for District 308 at lower costs than buildings built by other architects in the area. The previous board and administration spent $30 million remodeling OHS by AST&R without increasing the student capacity 1 student. Were you part of that decision? Tell us your name?
Richard R May 31, 2012 at 06:20 PM
You say they are not to blame. Ok I get that point, but they are the ones taking recommendations from consulting firms, that tell them they will need to up the ante or they will get a low level person to run the school district for which said taxes have increased every year. All they had to do is say "NOPE" sorry consulting firm this is the pay so find us someone for that money, or we can go find another consulting firm. But the current board did not do this, They followed the recommendations of someone they hired with the tax payers dollars. If this board was what some of them were about why they got on the board in the first place for reform, then they would have not upped the ante on the next top person in charge, they would have stood pat and not caved into to some one they hired to tell them what they needed and for how more more that need was So for that they are to blame and will take the fall when this over-paid person does not pan out to the money spent.
Leland H. Hoffer May 31, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Rachael B. , You beat me by 13 minutes with your comment. Schools in the southern part of the state, who have low ACT scores, are also in the state average making the state score low. Thanks for listing the scores of schools that are well above the state average so the public can see a comparison.
Jane Enviere May 31, 2012 at 07:14 PM
The thing that no one ever wants to talk about relative to test scores is that a huge part of it is the raw material (i.e., the student in the seat) --- even the best teachers, with the top resources, can only work with the student in front of them. There is a reason why schools like New Trier and some of our neighboring districts have high test scores - these kids are coming from educated, advantaged families where there is a high priority set on acheivement and success is very much the norm for a large proportion of those kids. Every child does not have the same potential. That's not a popular statement (though most teachers absolutely understand it to be true), but it it's reality. Every school district is not going to be New Trier, and it's an apples and oranges comparison, in my opinion. When you look at school districts that take in a more diverse population in terms of education, income, etc., you are probably going to see that reflected in the almighty test score. lol ACT scores are just not that upsetting to me. I know my kids' potential, our willingness to be actively involved in their learning, the family culture that we have developed relative to the importance of education, and our own backgrounds. They'll be fine.
Rachael B. June 01, 2012 at 05:28 AM
Jane, it seems that you're saying that many of our students have limited potential. Do parents in this district not set a high priority on achievement and success? Yes, Naperville and Winnetka are at higher socio-economic levels than Oswego. In terms of diversity, Naperville high schools have a 69% white student population compared with Oswego's 63%. Pretty close. It does not require special circumstances or a lot of money to educate a child. It takes parents and teachers to provide basic resources and challenging learning environments.
Leland H. Hoffer June 02, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Richard R. I have criticized the BOE in public session for the salary they gave to the Asst. Sup. for Finance and have criticizised them for the salary offered for Superintendent. I advised against using search firms before they started the process so I too blame the BOE for unnecessary salary spending. My letter though delt with the major reason for the tax increase and that was the building costs as a result lof the 2006 referendum which was before this boards tenure.
Rachael B. June 03, 2012 at 08:45 PM
@InterestedParent308 -- Many students worked hard this year. Congratulations to those who earned scholarships! Extremely few of our students are going to top schools. Not to take anything away from their accomplishments, but the OEHS valedictorian and salutatorian are going to U of Kentucky and U of Iowa, with college rankings of 124 and 71 respectively.
Rachael B. June 03, 2012 at 08:55 PM
@ayar -- Walk through any of the elementary buildings (I can't speak for the high schools.). Even substitute teachers have jumped on the jeans band wagon. There's some sort of a donate-a-dollar-to-charity-and-you-get-to-wear-jeans program. $1??? Make it $25 for it to matter. Better yet, drop the program all together and expect teachers to dress as adults and professionals. As for test scores, teachers are to cover the curriculum topics laid out for their grade levels. They have a great deal of freedom and flexibility and should be augmenting the textbook material. Their jobs are to educate, whatever it takes. Teachers have a great deal of
Steven January 08, 2013 at 07:41 PM
If the product of this brilliantly engineered education system results in educated kids, hopefully they'll be smart enough not to settle down in this cespool of oppressively high property taxes! I believe in Karma, and feel the folks responsible will be getting a hefty dose of humble pie sooner than they think. I hope I can be there to enjoy watching them writhe in their self-inflicted misery. They have certainly earned it!

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