Guest Column: Vote NO on District 205 tax referendum
By Barb Dent
Vote NO on the District 205 tax referendum. The school district does NOT need to pass this referendum NOW. The tax rate remains the same in 2003, even if the referendum fails. District 205 will receive MORE MONEY next year because the 2001 levy increase doesnt expire until December 2003.
The previous board and voters passed the current levy for three years, for a reasonto see if the district would control its budget. It has NOT! The accumulated deficit has tripled since the six-year plan was initiated despite the fact that their revenues have increased by $28 million since 2001. While the district has allegedly cut $12 million in programs in 2001 and 2002, their expenses have increased from $146 million to $157 million for this school year. The accumulated deficit has increased from $13 million to $39 million in the last two years, and is projected to be $46 million next year! The district has FAILED to stop their overspending and continues to operate as if the illegal tort tax is still in their budget. The district is NOT underfunded, it simply overspends.
The district is overspending its budget by $13 million annually, although revenues have increased each of those years. The district is spending 60-65 cents above the current levy, at a rate of $4.30-$4.35. That is above the legal limit set for the Education Fund by the state, even with voters approval.
Special Education costs have been singled out. It is expensive, and its mandates are not fully funded by the state and federal governments, but Special Education expenditures by themselves are not the only fiscal problems within the district. The district is overspending in all of its EDUCATION FUNDS. The districts Education rate is the 2nd highest in the Boone-Winnebago area. When you combine their high tax rate with their overspending, District 205 spends $2,000 more per student than Elgin does and $4,000 more per student than Belvidere does. Because the district wastes precious tax dollars on programs and personnel that are NOT educationally sound, we have 23 schools on the State Academic Watch List for Poor Performance.
Even if the referendum passes, the district needs to cut millions this year to eliminate, over the next four years, the projected accumulated deficit of $46 million. Remember, they promised voters this spring that they would ELIMINATE the deficit in four years. Instead, the district increased personnel costs by $50 million over the next four years with huge salary increases and have INCREASED, not decreased, the deficit. This board and administration lacks the capability to control spending, to be fiscally responsible, and to keep their promises.
The Chamber of Commerce, Council of 100 and Rockford Area Association of Realtors wouldnt run their businesses this way, but expect the voters to support the continued increase in their tax dollars, without the district ever being held accountable for their expenditures. Rockford businesses, Mayor Doug Scott and Terry Ingrassia need to pressure the district to be fiscally responsible, not serve as willing accomplices in further overextending the districts credit cards. Hard financial decisions have to be made, and made now, or the state will do it for us. In our present economy, there are no bottomless wells from which to draw tax dollars.
The voters should reject this referendum until the district receives the results of their October 2002 and October 2003 independent financial audits. The scandals MUST STOP happening, too. This information is needed to make an informed decision. It is the fiscally responsible thing to do. The school district must prove they have what it takes to get their financial house in order. Send a message on Nov. 5th, Raise Achievement, Not Taxes. Vote NO on District 205s referendum. Check out www.r-e-a-ch.org for thetruthful facts about the referendum.
Barb Dent is the president of R.E.A.CH. Rockford Educating All Children.