Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night tentatively approved a property tax levy for taxes to be collected next year in the amount of $3.5 million. A Truth in Taxation hearing is set for the board’s next regular meeting in December, after which the board will officially certify the levy and send it on to the Macoupin County Clerk’s Office. In the meantime, the levy is available for public examination on the district’s website or in the administrative office.
As is standard practice for most school districts, Supt. Shane Owsley told the board the proposed levy is substantially larger than what the district actually expects to receive in property tax revenue during fiscal 2021. State law requires school districts to file tax levies on or before the last Tuesday in December. The district’s total equalized assessed valuation, a critical factor in determining the levy, will not be certified until after Jan. 1, 2022, according to Owsley.
“The tax levy essentially is the amount of money we are requesting,” Owsley explained. “The tax extension (the amount generated by applying the tax rate to the total EAV) is what we actually receive. One of the best explanations I’ve heard is that the levy is like a Christmas list. My daughter may put all kinds of things on her Christmas list, but what she actually receives will be something less. The extension is the amount of money that’s actually provided from taxes. We ask for far more than we can actually get.”
In other action Monday night, the board approved a parent-fund bass fishing program, hired a middle school cross-country coach and running club sponsor and voted to require formal evaluations for certificated and non-certificated employees even though the Illinois State Board of Education has ruled that evaluations may be suspended this academic year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the board voted unanimously to accept the tax levy proposal, Owsley presented a brief PointPower presentation about the details of preparing the levy. The levy amounts to an optimistic “wish list” for the district. The Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, adopted by Macoupin County voters in 1995, limits taxing bodies to increasing the levy by no more than five percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. The CPI essentially is the rate of inflation, which has been set at 1.4 percent this year.
Unusually high inflation during much of the current calendar year may result in a CPI in excess of five percent next year, in which case, the board could raise the levy by the full five percent established under PTELL.
“There’s a possibility we will get the full five percent next year because of a possible increase in the CPI,” Owsley said, “but we won’t know that until next year.”
The limitation imposed by PTELL is one of the primary reasons, school districts overestimate increases in the EAV and inflate their levy requests to the County Clerk. The increased extension resulting from increases in the EAV essentially sets the baseline on which the following year’s levy will be based. It’s the County Clerk’s job to reduce the levy request to align with the actual EAV. If a school district submits a levy based on an underestimated the EAV, the tax revenue it would have realized from the increase is effectively lost forever.
The district’s total EAV has grown from $68,105,288 in 2014 to $82,684,728 last year. The average rate of increase is 2.43 percent per year, but last year the EAV jumped by 10.31 percent over the previous year. Given last year’s substantial increase, CUSD 7 is projecting an 11.8 percent increase in the EAV for 2021 even though the actual increase is unlikely to be that large.
The practice of submitting a levy that is larger than what the extension actually turns out to be is common among school districts. Last year, the district submitted a levy request of $2,499,345 but received $2,297,751 when property taxes actually were extended by the County Clerk.
The County Clerk will determine the actual extension by applying the maximum tax rate to the actual EAV once that number is known.
For the coming year, the district’s proposed levy will be $3,516,979, compared with last year’s extension of $3,142,012. Still, the district currently expects no more than $3,302,673 to be generated from property taxes next year.
At $1,369,880, the Education Fund comprises nearly half of the levy request. The levy requests $354,098 for Operations and Maintenance, $142,102 for Transportation, $33,174 for Working Cash, $95,452 for IMRF, $86,348 for Social Security, $190,159 for Tort, $26,542 for Special Education, and $844,261 for Bond and Interest.
Because the proposed levy exceeds last year’s extension by more than five percent, the district is required to hold a Truth in Taxation hearing during which residents may ask questions or request further clarification. Once the hearing is completed, the board is expected to formally certify the levy and submit it to the County Clerk.
BASS FISHING PROPOSAL
Board members voted unanimously to offer bass fishing as a parent-funded, IHSA-sanctioned activity starting in the spring of 2022. Owsley said IHSA recognized the sport several years ago and now sanctions bass tournaments at the sectional and state levels. Area school districts already offering a bass fishing program for their students include Pana, Pawnee, North-Mac, Vandalia, Litchfield, Greenville and Mount Olive. About 24 local students, both male and female, expressed an interest in participating in such a program if it was available to them.
“A lot of names on the list are kids you don’t think about getting involved in other activities,” Owsley said. “This is an opportunity for students who don’t have an interest in getting into band or other sports.”
Jake Killebrew, who attended Monday night’s meeting, has been an advocate for the program and has worked with Owsley to bring the proposal to the board.
Owsley said when students are fishing, bass boats will be operated by a responsible adult. Only two students per boat will be allowed on the water at a time.
For IHSA tournaments, the team would be limited to two boats and no more than eight anglers. Killebrew said tournament participants probably would be selected in a similar fashion to how track and field athletes are selected for tournament competition. Coaches would select the team’s best anglers and best boats.
Weye Schmidt worried about the number of students waiting onshore while other anglers are fishing with adult boat owners.
“You could have 38 kids onshore with fishing rods,” Schmidt said. “That’s a lot for one person to keep track of.”
Killebrew said volunteers would attempt to have enough available boats to get as many students on the water simultaneously as possible. “I have access to three boats myself,” he said.
In a related matter, the board voted to post vacancies for one volunteer sponsor for the program and at least one volunteer assistant.
In other personnel matters, the board voted unanimously to appoint Jay Weber as Gillespie Middle School cross-country coach and as sponsor for a CUSD 7 Running Club. Both positions were created last month.
Additionally, the board posted a vacancy for a volunteer assistant GMS cross-country coach.
On Owsley’s recommendation, the board voted to continue formal performance evaluations for teachers and non-certificated staff. Last year the State Board of Education waived its mandate for annual teacher evaluations because of the COVID pandemic and left the waiver in place for this year. Owsley said he had met with the district’s Evaluation Committee to discuss the need to continue evaluations.
“My recommendation is that teacher evaluations continue,” he said. “I think it’s important.” Evaluation results could come into play, Owsley said, in the event of a Reduction in Force. In some instances, he noted, seniority alone may not be the determining factor in deciding which employees would be terminated.
During a District Focus segment, Owsley signaled out the district’s three-member Technology Team for recognition, citing their work during the pandemic shutdown last year to facilitate the sudden switch to online learning. Additionally, he said, the team installed and programmed 80 new Prometheus boards, distributed 1,097 new electronic devices, developed WIFI hotspots for students with limited internet access, developed systems to live stream athletic events, created an online registration system, and assisted with installing and programming a new intercom system.
“It’s important to recognize this Department is just three people,” Owsley said. “Anytime I’ve gone to them with any kind of issue, their response is always the same: ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of it.’ I cannot express how fortunate we are to have these three individuals in our district.”
All three Technology Department employees—Mark Carpani, Steve Compton and Stephanie Bray—attended the meeting and were recognized by the board.
“I cannot thank you enough,” Owsley said. “I could not complete my job without your help.”