Friday, February 24, 2006

Don’t keep what wasn’t in the asking

The below editorial appeared in the Daily Herald. The Daily Herald is head and shoulders above all newspapers when it comes to investigating education issues. This article speaks for itself. Until loop holes are closed to protect taxpayers all referenda must be voted down.

Don’t keep what wasn’t in the asking
After Naperville Unit District 203 got what it wanted when it went out with its hat in its hands, it proceeded to pull the wool over the taxpayers’ eyes.
But at least their eyes were protected from a sharp stick yet to be thrust.

In 2002, District 203 got voter approval for a tax hike. But what it told the taxpayers it would need, and what the school district actually collected, are two immensely different things. The district admits it wound up collecting $24 million more than voters were led to expect. This is due to a loophole in the tax cap law, brought to light in an investigative series by the Daily Herald. That analysis actually showed that District 203 received $45.8 million more over four years than if the full tax increase had been collected in one year. We stand by that reporting.

The district should be faithful to what it communicated to the electorate. That means refunding the amount collected beyond what the district said, in 2002, that it needed. That means admitting error — either confusion over the tax cap law or intentionally misleading voters.

Instead, the school board has refused to refund anything, with only board members Mike Davitt and Jim Caulfield voting to lower the district’s property tax levy to allow the district to return the $24 million over time. Even a one-time refund from the district’s $8.9 million surplus, offered by board member Gerry Cassioppi, was refused.

The sharp stick.

The district explains that refunding the over-collection would leave the school program financially vulnerable. Well, if it needed that extra $24 million to eliminate the risk of financial ruin, it should have asked for it openly and honestly.

Board President Dean Reschke has an interesting revisionist view of the referendum campaign. What the district asked for, he said, was merely a projection. Therefore, it presumably is under no obligation to honor what it said.

We could see the tax increase impact, as presented in 2002, being off a few thousand bucks. But $24 million? If the district allows math students to use calculators nowadays, shouldn’t the administration be allowed the same luxury?

And if “projections” are going to be the precedent in pitching tax increases, we would recommend voters be wary of being fooled by such lack of precision in any future District 203 tax increase proposal.

The district can point out that it has agreed to forgo at least $5.3 million it could have asked for this year, courtesy of that loophole. Hold the applause. This is just money taxpayers didn’t expect to have to surrender.

The history of this issue has been one replete with denial and blaming the messengers, whether in the media or public. And it reveals a disconnect that has been revealed, time and time again in this school district, as “lack of trust.” Well, here’s a new trust-buster to deal with.

All this points out the need for the state to impose a directive on school districts in the form of a legislative closure of the tax cap loophole.

And though taxpayers in District 203 aren’t getting their money back, we recommend they deposit the school district’s handling of this matter in their memory bank. There’s a school board election next year.

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