- Editor's note: This is an open letter from Bob McQuillan of Geneva, who is a member of the TaxFACTS group.
Dear Board and Geneva Community:
Several School Board members have stated that we are facing extraordinary times and various challenges need to be addressed. Recent public response has clearly shown we have reached a point where property taxes are a burden to many homeowners.
While there are many things that the board can’t control, it is imperative that the board develops an "extraordinary" plan for at least the next four years. I urge the board to consider the following:
- Decreasing home assessments—While the board has absolutely no control over the home assessments, this has a direct affect on the amount of revenue available to the district. Assessments will continue to decline at least through the 2014 tax year. Every year the real estate market declines, lower assessments will continue for at least three more years. It is widely believed that the market will not turn until 2013, and even then, not at historical increases.
- Budget—Lower assessments mean that the budget must be developed with the goal of reducing costs. Even if costs are maintained at the previous year's level, taxes will increase because of the lower EAV. Because of the board's fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers, it must review the budget line-by-line looking to reduce spending. Nothing should be exempt from consideration for cost reduction. The following non-educational expenses must be controlled:
- Communication costs—Land line phone, district paid cell phones, paper sent to homes from all schools
- Energy—Reduce electric use when the school day is over
- Transportation—Reduce the number of bus routes to save gas and employment costs
- Number of p-cards—Reduce the number of employees that have access to these cards and require pre-approval from department head for all spending
- Association memberships—Eliminate membership in associations that don’t provide educational support
- Salaries & Benefits—Since this area is upwards of 80 percent of the budget, it must be addressed immediately. From the 2011 preliminary budget presentation, benefit expenses will increase 5.9 percent and teacher salary will increase 3.5 percent. While I realize the district is currently starting the final year of a teachers contract, I do not think the district can afford the costs related to that contract. Based on the economic changes since the contract was signed and the fact that increases were given the last two years, I believe the board should ask the teachers union to negate the 3.5 percent increase scheduled for the 2011-2012 school year. While this is an "extraordinary" measure, neighboring districts have frozen salaries. Please keep in mind; this is an absolute zero increase. Bottom line, every teacher makes the same salary that they made in the 2010-2011 school year. The attached spreadsheet compares teacher salaries for the last two years. While these salaries have not been verified by the administration, the administration did supply the data used. I believe the community would be outraged to find that 60 teachers received more than a 10 percent salary increase in the last year. This increase was "communicated" to the community as a 2.96 percent average increase.
- Next teachers contract—Negotiations for the 2013 contract should start immediately. Again, the focus should be on reducing costs. Several current benefits are not sustainable long term. Key issues are:
- Medical and dental premiums for family members
- Step-and-lane categories providing automatic yearly increases
- Retirement enhancements should be eliminated at the conclusion of this contract. These serve no purpose except inflating pension payments
- Long-term debt—The district should communicate the current repayment schedule to the community immediately. Look to restructure the repayment wherever possible. Use current reserves for repayment as it comes due.
One last point. With the recent increase in property taxes, I believe the board has lost some level of credibility with the public. I believe presenting and passing a budget in 30 days will send a bad signal to the community.
While I understand the reasoning behind approval before the end of the fiscal year, it is more important that the community believes the best, most economical budget has been approved. I do not think the board can adequately review, ask questions and tear the budget inside out in 30 days.
In these extraordinary times, the priorities must include reduction of costs leading to elimination of tax levy increases and increased emphasis on effective educational programs. I urge the board to postpone the vote on budget acceptance until sometime in September. This will allow adequate time for the board and community to review the budget.