Deciding how a school district should use the money it receives from taxpayers is a topic that gives birth to a whole range of discussions. There are teachers to pay, books to buy and buildings to maintain.
There are also rainy day funds to protect and homeowners who can hardly afford to have someone reaching any deeper into their wallets. Weighing the public good against the public budget can be a heartbreaking and rewarding experience in the same breath.
For years, the fiscal priorities of District 91 have drawn little interest from residents and for the life of us we can’t understand why. Sure, when held up against the other public school system that collects property taxes in Forest Park, our K-8 schools look like a shining example of responsible governance. But there’s a lot more that comes with living in a democracy than electing board members who won’t raid your pockets for insurance contracts and PR firms.
Under a new superintendent and new leadership at the board level, District 91 has outlined a list of goals that are overwhelmingly focused on the classrooms. In and of itself, it’s a refreshing change to see such worthwhile initiatives coming from this board. But the heavy lifting is yet to begin.
All of these projects will be funded with money collected from you, the residents. How aggressively everyone begins paying into the pool is yet to be decided, and there are several approaches that can be taken. The bottom line to any of these methods is that an increase in spending hastens the day that the district seeks a referendum.
One school of thought tells us that the reserve funds should be used to introduce new programs. This money has already been collected from taxpayers and doesn’t do anything for student achievement while it sits in the bank. In the meantime, taxpayers can enjoy seeing their schools improve while they pay less in taxes over the short term.
Once that money runs out though, property owners will see spikes in their tax bills as the district begins levying for what wasn’t collected or to rebuild its reserves.
Another approach would be to stay the course and shuffle whatever new revenues would normally be collected each year between the various projects. Increases to the tax rate stay even and the reserves remain in tact, but it will be slow going before that list of projects is checked off.
There are, of course, other ways to fund improvements to the district but all of them involve drawing largely on the same pool of resources. (It’s likely that some grant funding can be applied, but this will not provide the bulk of the money.) Parents and residents should be thrilled to see their school board attempting to tackle new challenges. We suspect the school board would be equally pleased to see you at the table.