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Our view: Push the school district to explain its case for levy increase

In addition to candidates for local, state and national office this fall, the general election ballot residents in the Glencoe-Silver Lake School District will include a request for voters to approve the school district’s request for additional funding to operate its schools. The school board is well within its right and obligation to ask property owners to approve an operating levy increase resulting in a property tax increase.
The GSL School Board is asking voters to replace the $476.88 per pupil unit levy set to expire in June of 2020 with a $300 per pupil unit levy controlled by the school board in five-year increments. The school board also wants voters to consider approving a weighted $460 per pupil unit increase for 10 years, an increase of $283.12 per pupil unit.
The district is scheduling a series of meetings where information on the levy questions and proposed increase will be discussed.
Property owners and voters in the district need to exercise their rights to learn all they can about the proposed increase between now and Election Day. The district’s administration will participate in an information campaign to explain the request for the increase in the levy. Superintendent Chris Sonju and Michelle Sander, the district’s business manager, will explain the need for the increase in a variety of public presentations.
Please participate in and pay attention to these presentations. School funding is painfully complicated. Property owners should not feel bad if they don’t understand details of the request. Residents have the right to ask Sonju and Sander to explain the request in understandable terms.
School finance is not like a household budget. Schools receive basic aid to fund educating students. They are allowed to augment basic aid with additional funding approved through referenda. Schools receive money from bond sales to build buildings. GSL residents generously approved bonds to expand the school in 2015. Now they are asked to OK an increase in the levy to pay for operational costs.
Unlike a person’s home or business budget, the pools of money can’t be mixed. The state doesn’t allow bond sale proceeds to pay for operational costs, most of which are salaries and benefits for staff. Operational money can’t be used to pay debt service on bonds.
The school board wants the money to replenish its fund balance. The board has spent more than it has taken in in recent years, reducing the amount of surplus money in its fund balance. Don’t feel bad about asking the board to explain its practice and the need to replenish its fund balance.
The school board is asking plenty of its residents. The tax impact on a house valued at $200,000 is an additional $85 in property taxes on top of the bump associated with the building bond. Ask board members, Sonju and Sander why the district needs the additional money. They should be happy to provide you with answers.
No matter how much most people would rather avoid a proposed levy increase, GSL deserves credit for including an inflation escalator in the proposed levy increase. The escalator would increase the levy hike annually by the rate of inflation. Back when GSL consolidated with the McLeod West School District in 2009, the levy the district settled on didn’t include an inflation escalator. Inflation is a fact of life that isn’t going away. If this issue is to pass, keeping track of inflation will keep the district from coming back sooner than absolutely necessary.
Whether you support or oppose a levy increase is an individual decision. Our hope is people will vote armed with the most accurate and complete information available.