Board reduces taxes by $10 million

December 19, 2013

At its regular monthly meeting tonight, the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education approved a 2013 tax levy of $55,019,413. This represents a $10 million dollar decrease from the 2012 levy (or 15.4%). The reduction will save the owner of a $300,000 home approximately $450 in 2014 based on last year’s property valuations. The Board also voted to abate $2.5 million in taxes from the debt service levy so that for the second straight year no additional taxes will be collected to pay outstanding bonds.

In taking this action, the District 200 Board opted to follow one of the recommendations provided by its Finance Advisory Committee, or FAC. The FAC was created earlier this year to evaluate the appropriateness of the size of District 200’s total fund balance. At $130 million, or 173% of total budgeted expenditures, the district’s fund balance is one of the largest in the state. The Board was concerned that such a high fund balance created unnecessarily high tax levels, interfered with community trust of the District, and would lead to the need for a dangerously high referendum in the future.

The levy reduction will be considered in conjunction with other FAC recommendations and District priorities over the coming months as the Board prepares for future levies, which will return to the 2012 level within two years. At the same meeting, the Board determined that the FAC had fulfilled its purpose and dissolved the committee. The Board also dissolved the budgeting model that had been Board-approved on November 18, 2010. This budgeting model included the Advisory Leadership Team, which made recommendations regarding the district’s long-term financial model and expense controls.

While providing significant tax relief in the District, this levy reduction and abatement are not expected to interfere with the District’s ability to fund current programs or programs anticipated to be implemented as a result of strategic planning. The Board expects to approve a final strategic plan in the coming months.

The FAC’s primary goals were to recommend guidelines to the Board about the target range for the total fund balance, the timing and size of a future operating referendum, and guidelines for this year’s and future tax levies. The FAC included eight community representatives with expertise in school finance, private-sector finance, financial planning, pensions, state finance, public law, economic development, and government leadership. The 15-member committee made recommendations to the Board in early December concerning this year’s tax levy and abatement.

In addition to the recommendations for the 2014 levy and abatement on which the Board acted last evening, the FAC had recommended that the District bring the total fund balance under 100% of expenses within the next two to four years, and between 25 and 40% of expenses within eight to ten years, at which time a referendum would be required. The Board plans to discuss these additional recommendations over the coming months.