Tuesday, February 21, 2006

District 181 investigates tax mistake

The Daily Herald
has another great story relating to public education issues. Are the school board member and the administrator in the story below incompetent or purposely trying to cheat the public. Decide for yourself.

District 181 investigates tax mistake
By Catherine Edman
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Tuesday, February 21, 2006

School board members in Hinsdale Elementary District 181 want to know why an extra $5 million wound up in the district’s property tax request this year despite their explicit orders to the contrary.

Monday night the board discussed who was responsible, meeting behind closed doors for several hours to talk about “personnel.”

“On the surface it appears to be an innocent mistake; however, it’s a serious one,” board member Kevin Hanrahan said.

Last week, the board learned that despite its direction to the administration, officials requested $43.6 million, not $38.6 million, from the property tax rolls in 2005.

Board Vice President Bill Moucka refused to comment on the results of the investigation into the multimillion-dollar gaffe, saying the board would release a statement at next Monday’s board meeting. The investigation remains ongoing, he said, adding that the board was assured by the district attorney, as well as by the DuPage and Cook county clerks, the error can be corrected with “no difference to the taxpayer.”

Other board members said they are concerned, though, about how the mistake will play to residents already skeptical of the district’s fiscal management.

In December, the board voted 4-3 to drop the 2005 property tax request by $5 million after residents pointed out the district took far more money from a 2002 tax rate increase than it promised voters four years ago. Before the vote, the administration presented three financial options ranging from $38.6 million to $43.6 million and argued strongly in favor of the largest amount.

The board, amid much controversy, opted for $38.6 million.

At last week’s meeting, though, former Glen Ellyn resident Michael Lynch presented copies of the county tax levy documents to the board, showing the district requested the $43.6 million.

“I was surprised, disappointed and concerned,” said Hanrahan, who was among those who had voted for the $38.6 million request.

Officials, who could not be reached Monday, had said at last week’s meeting the documents were submitted in error, board members said.

Catherine Delany, a board member whose signature appears on several of the forms, she said she did not notice the amount was wrong when they were presented for her to sign.

Delany was among the members who voted to drop the levy request in December because it was clear the district exceeded the amount it told voters to expect when it asked them to approve a 31-cent increase in the education fund. The district said the cost would be an additional $605 per year for the owner of a $600,000 house, but then it used a portion of the property tax cap law that allows it to continue taking more money for up to five years.

A Daily Herald analysis last year of 25 school districts, of which District 181 was not included, showed they took $263 million more than voters likely expected over a span of five years using the same portion of the law.

“We told them it was going to cost $605 additional a year,” said Delany, a seven-year board member in District 181. “We lied — it cost hundreds more than that. I felt we should have taken the amount we asked for.”

Asking for less money than the district was legally entitled to this year, or only $38.6 million in property taxes, was “the only way we could stop overtaxing,” she said.

Click here to view the rest of the story in the Daily Herald.

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