Millburn school district seeks $1 a day tax hike
By Jim Newton Special to The News-Sun March 22, 2013 6:46PM
Millburn West School students walk around the school. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 22, 2013 2:42AM
As the only district in its area seeking referendum approval of a tax increase on the April 9 ballot, Millburn Consolidated School District 24 officials are very aware of the challenge they face.
“It’s a tough sell in these times. It’s a tough sell in good times,” Superintendent Jason Lind said. “It’s the only choice we have.”
But Lind said officials and backers of the proposal are confident they have done a good job of educating district residents on what is at stake for the well-regarded district, and in demonstrated fiscal leadership by passing a balanced budget during each of the past four years and stressing transparency by the School Board and administration.
Now it’s up to homeowners to decide whether an average tax increase of a dollar a day is worth preserving relatively small class sizes in the two-school district, an efficient common core curriculum, current staffing levels and programs such as gifted instructional services.
“We’re desperately trying to protect and preserve what we have,” said Deborah Pineau, chair of the Citizens for Millburn District 24 Committee, which is backing the referendum proposal. “We’re in the top 10 schools in Lake County in terms of academics. People moved here for the schools.”
Pineau said committee members are receiving a positive response from the community as they speak and meet with homeowners’ associations, focus groups and individuals.
“We’ve answered a lot of questions,” she said.
The referendum asks residents to approve a tax increase that will add an estimated $114 per $100,000 of market value annually, an increase that would bring the school district about $850,000 per year. Officials said it would cost the average homeowner in the district about $365 annually — a dollar a day.
Lind said after the 2013 levy year, the increase will average 5 percent or less. The ballot language for the 2013 year is a bit more complicated, asking approval of “the lesser of 5 percent or the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index over the prior levy to 12 percent.”
That dollar per day, Lind said, will likely mean the difference between average class sizes of 19 or an increase in class size to 30.
“That’s a big difference,” he said. “Class size is vital to the success of our school district. At some point, it gets difficult for students to get the help they need on an individual basis.”
Lind said the district would also have to cut up to 10 staff members a year if the proposal fails, and both core curriculum and special programs would be impacted. The district has already had to increase fees for extracurricular activities, he said.
The district was unsuccessful in passing a larger increase through referendum in the November 2010 general election, when it sought an increase that would have provided an additional $2 million per year.
In a series of public hearings for residents on the current proposal, School Board members noted that they have worked hard on budget issues and cost reductions to pare the new proposal down to less than half of the 2010 proposal.
The district has no reserve fund, however, and Lind said that with continuing drops in federal and state funding, if the proposal is not passed, the impacts will be felt by students, parents and the community as a whole.
“A failure to increase revenues not only affects families with children in our schools,” Lind said. “In the short run it has the potential to drop market values for everyone. In the long run, it has the potential to no longer make Millburn the destination of choice for families seeking the best education for their children.”
The Millburn district includes an elementary school in Wadsworth and a middle school in Lindenhurst.