By Bill Beard
The Committee of 10 concluded during their Monday, August 22, meeting that consolidation with the PORTA School District could lower property tax rates for A-C Central School District residents by approximately 25%. The tax rate for PORTA residents would not be affected. The committee voted 8-0, with two members absent, to set the tax rate for A-C Central residents at $4.12 per $100 of equalized assessed value (EAV); making it closer to what PORTA residents currently pay. A-C Central taxpayers are currently affixed a school tax rate of $5.48 per $100 EAV. That figure includes funding to pay bonds. If consolidation passed, neither district would pay a penny on the other’s bonds. PORTA voters will retire PORTA’s bonds in 2019, and A-C voters will retire A-C Central’s in 2019 or 2020. Once the bonds are retired, any future borrowing would be shared and the bond and interest tax would be the same in all areas of the new district.
A-C, with an enrollment of 435, is one of the smaller area school districts, thus it has one of the highest tax rates. According to 2011 data from the Illinois State Board of Education, of 79 unit school districts in west-central Illinois, A-C has the sixth highest rate, lower only than Virginia (with the highest tax rate at $6.28), Fulton County, Illini Central, Astoria and Waverly. PORTA ranks 29th, at $4.83, on the tax rate list. Of the other Cass County school units, Beardstown ranks 28, at $4.86, and Triopia at 54, with $4.30, among the west-central units.
The committee believes that consolidation of the A-C school district with PORTA would save an estimated $1 million through position reductions and other efficiencies.
How many dollars might A-C homeowners save with a 25% decrease in property taxes? Owners of a $200,000 home would save approximately $909; $150,000 -- $681; $120,000 -- $545; $100,000 -- $454; $90,000 -- $409; $75,000 -- $341; $60,000 -- $273; $50,000 -- $227; $40,000 -- $182.
Establishing the new property tax rate for A-C residents is important because of the significant difference in the tax bases of the two school districts -- $146 million for PORTA and $42 million for A-C. Property taxes are even more important now that the state is in such drastic financial arrears. Committee of 10 co-chair Allen Grosboll, Petersburg resident and former deputy chief of staff for Governor Jim Edgar, acknowledged, “Small rural school districts in Illinois are in trouble today, primarily because of poor state funding. We are all in the same boat. It is important that downstate Illinois communities stick together and help each other find ways to provide our children the best possible education.”
Committee of 10 member Laura Richard stated, “I was born and raised in Ashland and have lived in Chandlerville for 18 years and one thing residents know is that we cannot keep raising people’s taxes. Consolidation would expand academic classes and still allow us to lower taxes for the A-C taxpayers.”
Terri Devlin, an Ashland representative on the Committee of 10, agreed, adding, “My family farms north of Ashland, and everyone understands property taxes are too high, especially for farm-land owners. Consolidation would lower area taxes, and a bigger school district could offer more classroom opportunities for our students.”
Setting the tax rate for the consolidated district is one of three primary Committee of 10 responsibilities as defined by state statute. The committee must also determine the process of electing the new school board, and then decide if consolidation should be placed on the April 2014 ballot.
The committee is expected to meet next week to consider whether to put the question to voters. If affirmed for electoral decision, a majority in each school district must approve the consolidation proposal for it to pass.
Meeting in Chandlerville on Monday, August 26, the committee discussed mapping the consolidated district. They must determine whether to elect new school board members from an at-large district or divide the new district into seven areas and elect a board member from each sub-district. The thinking among A-C residents, according to co-chair Karen Hoffman, of Ashland, is that the seven sub-districts would be better than electing seven at-large members. The committee believes it is important to settle the mapping question before voting on the issue of consolidation itself.
The Committee of 10 believes consolidation of the two districts, with 1,035 PORTA students and 435 at A-C, can offer more for students than two smaller districts. Karen Hoffman stated: “A-C and PORTA have so much in common. Students in both districts are bright and score well on state testing. Many students do well on technical training and vocational education, and they find good jobs after high school. Many students go to college and excel. We need to assure that in the future, our children are provided strong technical training, expanded vocational education and more Advanced Placement classes for college-bound students. As a consolidated district, A-C and PORTA would be stronger and better able to meet student needs.”