While state aid increases are all but certain for the village’s four districts, school officials say there are a host of other factors that make the additional money little more than a consolation prize. Rising pension and health insurance costs, diminishing federal stimulus money, the mandatory tax cap and the possibility of having to pay tax refunds are all challenges that must be dealt with this year.
Heidenreich said the additional state aid he is projecting is simply inadequate, especially considering the fact that the district has made spending cuts in each of the past three years. “It’s not enough to maintain all existing programs, and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “What’s dangerous about that is when you get to the fourth year of reductions, a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked. The question is, what do you cut?”
Just maintaining programs as is, Heidenreich said, would mean the district would have to increase the tax levy by 6 percent. Under the tax cap legislation, which is in effect for the second year, that would require that the budget be approved by at least 60 percent of voters. Heidenreich estimates that the allowable increase under the tax cap formula will be closer to 3 percent.
Trying to persuade 60 percent of voters to approve the budget, he said, is too risky. “As people’s take-home pay is going down, are they going to go out and vote for the schools to raise their taxes even more?” he asked. “Even in good years, 6 percent is a very high number.”
Tony Iadevaio, president of the Central High School and District 24 boards of education, agreed that trying to secure a supermajority to pass the budget is both unlikely and irresponsible. With the high rate of unemployment, Iadevaio said, the schools can’t go to the public asking for more. “People are strapped,” he said. “You can’t keep going to the well that’s dry already.”
Next year, a freeze on teacher salaries expires in all four districts. Teachers will get a 1.25 percent raise in September, and then their longevity-based step increment in February 2014, which averages about 2 percent. School officials say those increases are manageable.