Proviso Mathematics and Science Academy in Forest Park. File photo

During a regular meeting on Nov. 15, the Proviso Township High School District 209 school board voted 5-2 in favor of approving the administration’s recommended 5% tax levy, the maximum the district is allowed to levy under state’s tax cap law. 

The board will officially adopt the levy, which is around half the district’s total revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, at its next meeting on Dec. 13. 

Cedric Lewis, the district’s chief financial officer, said the 5 percent levy would amount to around $67 million in revenue from property taxes. Lewis said if the district doesn’t utilize the full amount it levies, then the administration plans to refund taxpayers. 

“We’re asking for the 5 percent and then we’re going to turn around and refund part of the levy back to the community so we can lower our taxes,” Lewis told board members. “You have to capture the base; otherwise, the district loses the money for perpetuity.” 

Board members Claudia Medina and Amanda Grant voted against the proposed levy, with Grant arguing that the district should be investing the funds in additional services instead of refunding the money. 

“So instead of investing that money, as we have in the past, in infrastructure, teacher services and other educational services for our students, you are going to get the full 5 percent so we capture that tax base and the plan is to refund that money [to families and businesses]?” Grant said. 

Lewis said that if the board decides not to refund the money, then the administration won’t do so. 

Board members who voted in favor of the 5 percent levy said that capturing the full amount makes sense in case the district needs to utilize more funds than it anticipated. School districts in Illinois must abide by the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), which caps their ability to raise property taxes at either the level of the change in the Consumer Price Index or 5 percent, whichever is smaller. 

The school district adopted its budget for the 2022-23 school year on Sept. 27, with budgeted operating expenditures amounting to $101 million. District administrators said there’s an operating surplus of $20 million. 

Medina said that the surplus is largely due to open staffing positions in a district that is bleeding teachers. Many teachers, students and community members have complained about the district’s low staffing and poor morale under Supt. James Henderson, which has resulted in class sizes of more than 40 students in some instances.