Saturday, September 23, 2006

Many fall tax-increase requests in question

The following article appeared in the Daily Herald September 21, 2006. The follow up article below the first article appeared in the Daily Herald September 22 , 2006.

The best solution solution to the problem is to vote no on the referenda in question and to replace fiscally irresponsible school board members as soon as possible. Members of each community with referenda in question should go to the appropriate courts and ask the ballot questions be removed from the November 7th ballots.

Many fall tax-increase requests in question

Some referendums in November election won’t be giving correct cost estimates

By Jeffrey Gaunt and Catherine Edman
Daily Herald Staff Writers
Posted Thursday, September 21, 2006

Judges — not voters — may cast some of the deciding votes in the November election.

New revisions intended to close loopholes in the state’s property tax cap and make tax-increase costs clearer for voters have been misunderstood or erroneously communicated, and many ballot questions are now in doubt.

A Daily Herald review of 18 fall ballot questions found more than half the requests for tax-rate increases in the suburbs were worded incorrectly.

An attorney with the Illinois State Board of Elections said Wednesday his office has been fielding calls from around the state about ballot errors that may invalidate many fall requests for tax-rate increases.

Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.

“I can see a judicial challenge as to whether the questions can be put in place after the election,” said Steve Sturm, the state election board’s legal counsel. “It will be up to a judge, or perhaps a series of judges.”

State lawmakers rewrote the tax cap law to ensure voters knew the true cost of tax-increase requests. But different interpretations of the revised law mean voters in many taxing districts still won’t have accurate information on the ballot when they head to the polls.

Several ballot questions could face legal challenges this year, including:
•A $1.35 rate-increase request in Big Hollow District 38.
•A 38-cent rate-increase request in Lincolnshire-Prairieview District 103.
•An 85-cent rate-increase request in East Aurora District 131.
•A 20-cent rate-increase request in the Bartlett Fire Protection District.
•And a 13-cent rate-increase request in the Roselle Fire Protection District.

In all five cases, the cost estimates printed on the ballot — as now required by law — are calculated differently than the method used by Chapman and Cutler partner Dan Johnson, who drafted the legislation.

The worst difference the errors would make to owners of $100,000 homes is $500 over four years, in the East Aurora school district case.

Chapman and Cutler is one of the largest law firms in Illinois serving public bodies on tax and finance issues.
Johnson didn’t review the calculations used in those specific cases. But he did say that if the calculations are different, it won’t necessarily invalidate the ballot questions.

“I’m not the law,” Johnson said. “But I’m not sure a $60 difference, that wasn’t intentional, is the sort of thing that invalidates the proposition.

“That’s not to say it’s right,” he said. “Any new law that is highly technical in its nature can lead to different interpretations, without anyone intending to mislead anyone.”

Despite the confusion, advocates of the legislation say when applied correctly, the revisions should still serve to better inform voters and reduce or eliminate the hidden costs of tax-rate increases.

“Any new law will require some back and forth in the implementation to make sure that we get it right,” said state Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat who sponsored the legislation with state Rep. Mike Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican.

“I’m glad that we’re fighting over how best to disclose information to voters, rather than whether to disclose key information to the voters at all.”

A summer seminar on the new ballot measures — led by Chapman and Cutler’s Lynda Given and Lake County Director of Tax Extension Wayne Wasylko — serves as an example of how problems developed.

Officials in Lincolnshire-Prairie View Elementary District 103 attended the seminar to learn about the revamped law and how districts should word their fall ballot questions.

District 103 Superintendent Larry Fleming said it was there he was given a detailed packet of information explaining the data and calculations needed to word ballot questions.

But Wasylko said Wednesday those packets, prepared by Chapman and Cutler, were wrong, although he didn’t find out until later when he saw ballot questions from other school districts.
Fleming didn’t find out at all until asked about the ballot wording this week by the Daily Herald.

“What I find interesting is that my business manager and I, and our law firm — each of us in separate training by Chapman and Cutler — got the same information,” Fleming said.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Chapman and Cutler defended their handling of tax cap law changes.

“Chapman and Cutler is confident that every taxing district that has sought our direct advice on their specific ballot proposition has been provided a consistent and accurate interpretation of the law,” the firm said.

Either way, District 103 officials said they’ll now need to explain to taxpayers why the ballot question doesn’t necessarily mean what it says.

And that obviously presents its own set of challenges, Fleming said.

“I think it’s up to us to describe it,” he said.

Voters’ ballots to stay wrong
Clerk says incorrect wording on tax hikes can’t be stopped
By Lee Filas and Bob Susnjara
Daily Herald Staff Writers
Posted Friday, September 22, 2006

Lake County Clerk Willard Helander said incorrectly worded tax-rate increase questions will remain on the Nov. 7 ballot, despite calls for their removal.

Helander said unless a judge issues an injunction, voters will have to decide whether to support tax increase requests in Big Hollow Elementary District 38 and Lincolnshire-Prairie View Elementary District 103.

“We have no authority to stop the ballots,” she said. “The ballots are printed and we are starting absentee voting, so short of a judge telling me to (remove the questions), we don’t have the authority to do it.”

At issue are legislative revisions intended to close loopholes in the state property tax cap referendum law and clarify costs to voters. But different interpretations of that law caused incorrect formulas to be released to school districts before filing referendum questions with the Lake County Clerk.

The formula was later clarified by Chapman and Cutler, the law firm that helped write the legislation, but not in time to prevent districts from listing incorrect cost figures in their ballot questions.

Chapman and Cutler is one of Illinois’ largest law firms serving public bodies on tax and finance issues.
Attorneys at the state board of elections speculate that should incorrectly worded questions pass, they could be challenged in court and possibly overturned.

Political activist Jack Martin of Libertyville, who’s fighting tax hike proposals in districts 38 and 103, said Helander
shouldn’t allow erroneous ballots to go before voters in November if she is aware of problems now.

“I’m surprised,” said Martin, who heads Taxpayers for Good Government. “Who’s at fault? Who made the mistake? The individual school districts?”

Among the incorrectly worded questions in Lake County are those on the ballot in districts 38 and 103.

Mundelein High School District 120 has a 24-cent tax-rate increase on the ballot, but that question is worded correctly, officials said.

District 38 is asking voters to approve a tax-rate increase of $1.35 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. According to the ballot, the owner of a $100,000 home would see an increase of $450 in the first year, if approved.

But wording that follows is incorrect. It states the owner of the same home, who receives an average 6.1 percent increase in market value, would pay increases of $477 in 2007, $506 in 2008 and $537 in 2009.

The corrected calculations show that the homeowner would see the tax rise $514 in 2007, $582 in 2008 and $655 in 2009.

District 38 Superintendent Ron Pazanin and board President Vicki Gallechio did not return phone calls Thursday.

The same situation occurred at District 103.

That ballot question states the district wants a 38-cent tax-rate increase. In the first year, the owner of a $100,000 home would — correctly — see an increase of $127.

But the question states the owner of the same home with a 5.2 percent increase in home values would see their property taxes rise $133 in 2007, $140 in 2008 and $148 in 2009. The correct figures should be $163 in 2007, $201 in 2008 and $241 in 2009.

Helander said dollar totals on the ballots should not be considered etched in stone, especially three years down the road.

“If you talk about the approximate impact on future years, those are nothing but educated guesses anyway,” she said.
“It’s just there for an example. It’s all guestimated.”

District 103 Superintendent Larry Fleming said he believes the referendum figures were correct as of Thursday, and the issue will be studied further.

Larry Rivkin, co-chairman of the pro-tax increase group Residents to Preserve 103, said he’s confident all will be OK by Election Day.

“This is obviously a new (referendum) law and very complicated,” Rivkin said, “and people will need to work through it.”

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Sad Day In Illinois

To all of my Friends, Family and Neighbors in Illinois,

Today is a sad day for those of us who live in Illinois. Today is the day that Judge Lois Bell made me lose my faith in the judicial system in our state. She took an overwhelming case, with legal implications that effect Billions of YOUR state tax money, and she dismissed it. Why, you ask? She dismissed it because, she said, we waited to long. We waited to long, to seek justice. She said we did nothing for the last 40+ months. If she had only looked at the facts, at the evidence that we presented, she would have seen that we didn't wait. Jeff Ferguson started this battle over 40 months ago. More than 40 months of contacting state, federal and local agencies that all fell upon deaf ears. He had to spend months doing this, because he had to wait for replies that he was told he would get. He didn't get any replies though, all he got was silence. A silence that shouted, YOU DON'T MATTER! That is what our government thinks of us. All we are to them is a tax bill and a vote. If you don't vote, they will still get your taxes and you will have NO say in what they do with them. In Jersey County, though, the voters said NO. They said it to the tune of a 71% (NO) to 29%(YES) vote. The voters should have had their say that day, but they were denied. The school district sought to acquire Fire Prevention and Safety Bonds to repair our old high school, at least that is what they said they were going to do. Instead, they took that money and used it to get matching state grant money and built 2 new schools. One of which that wasn't even voted on. After all, they were going to go against the will of the voters on one schools, so why even give them an opinion on the other. Hundreds of other schools in this state were build against the will of the voters and it seems that they had it down to a science. Not only does it not matter if you say NO, it doesn't matter if you take it to court, as they will use their corrupt system to beat you down. All I can say is this, do all of you out there in Illinois want to pay for the GREED of a few? Do you like paying taxes toward projects you didn't approve, or didn't even take place in your county?

Folks, I don't need to go into detail. The details are on our website, as they always have been. So this time, when you get this email, don't ignore it. Don't go back to watching this evening's TV shows. If you ignore someone stealing from you, they won't ever stop. They will come up with new ways to take your money and hide it in tax bills, bond issues and other legislation, that you know nothing about. This is all because they know that you are busy living your own life. All I am asking, is that you take a few minutes and find out what they are doing behind your backs. This issue effects the WHOLE state, because the MATCHING GRANT MONEY that ALL of those school construction projects received, is paid by the WHOLE STATE. So, when our school district sold bonds for schools we didn't want, you helped buy them.

This is not some cheesy chain letter that you get every day. This is a WARNING. This is something you need to pass onto anyone , that you know, that lives in this state. If you hit the delete key, they win again. How many times should we let them win before we've had enough? How many times will you let them take money out of your pocket that you could have used for your children's future?

I'm asking you to forward this on to everyone. If you know someone that doesn't have the Internet, get out an envelope and a stamp and mail it to them. Go to our website ( ) and see for yourself what they have done. Additionally, I have attached a copy of a letter written by Jeff Ferguson, this evening, after our case was dismissed today in court. A copy of the email I received from him is also pasted below. Jeff has given countless hours to fight a cause you may not have known even existed. He has sacrificed personally and financially to do this. If you want to help, send the CFPA a small donation. Anything helps and your support goes a long way to keep things like this from happening again. We plan to appeal the judges ruling, such as it was, but we need your support. Though we appreciate all the thanks and praise and "good luck" we've received, but it doesn't help pay the legal fees necessary to fight this cause. If you have questions, please email me with them and I'll do my best to answer them.

Please send all donations to:
Coalition for Public Awareness
P.O. Box 177
Jerseyville, IL. 62052
All requests to remain anonymous will be honored.

Warmest Regards,

Keith Steinacher

Hi all,
Well, we've been passed around the ENTIRE system now. I had hoped and prayed that Judge Lois Bell would allow this suit to move forward, but as we all saw today, there is no justice for the taxpayers at any level. I have written my thoughts as I ponder next steps and have attached the resulting letter. I do not blame anyone who wants to give up at this point but I would encourage you not to. To do so would be to admit defeat and to invite our elected officials to walk all over us anytime they desire. I am too deep into this to stop now and I will continue to pursue it through any avenues I can find. Frank will work up an estimate on what he anticipates it will cost to appeal and we can make a decision at that time if the "justice" system is our best way to move forward. At this point in time, I don't see that we have any option but to continue with the "legal" process, regardless of how flawed it obviously is. Please distribute this letter to everyone you know and ask that they forward it with a vengeance. WE MUST LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THE JUSTICE SYSTEM DID TO US TODAY!!!


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bob Shelstrom's Guest Column to the Daily Southtown

Guest Column                                                                      September 14, 2007
RE: Response to “Rising School Fees Tax Bills Stem from States Failure to Act”/”School Funding Mess Main Cause of Big Property Tax Hikes”
The Southtown’s recent editorials blaming “The State” for high student fees and taxes clearly missed the real problem.
High taxes and fees are due more to school system “greed” than student “need”.
Consider the fees in High School District 230..
Last year, District 230 had a budget SURPLUS of about $3.5 million, yet still burdened parents with minimum fees of $286 per student, among the highest in the Southland.
Such high fees clearly were not needed to fund the students’ educational costs, but it was in the staff’s interest to save the money for future raises.
Guess who won?
Perhaps the biggest abuse of fees this year is in Palatine High School District 211.
The Palatine Superintendent claims a whopping $44.5 million surplus this year..
They still charge students a minimum $140 fee for enrollment, among other high "use" fees.
High real estate taxes also are often due to student unfriendly decisions by school boards, not "inadequate state funding".
Thornton High School District 205 illustrates this point well.
Thornton 205  has among the highest tax rates in the state.
Its operating expenses are over $12,000 per student. This is about $4,000 more than Lincoln Way District 210, a district known for providing quality education at fair cost.
Average teacher salaries in Thornton are about $81,000 for nine months work, around $25,000 above state average. By comparison, the average civil engineer in the Chicago area makes only about $67,000 for 12 months work.
Over 100 of the Thornton staff had six figure annual compensation according to recent Teacher Retirement System data. The highest paid teacher in Thornton made over $137,000.
With such highly paid teachers and staff, and spending 50% higher than the top high school district in the Southland, Thornton students should be extremely successful, right?
Report Cards show that Thornton students meet or exceed state overall testing requirements at less than 40% of the state average, despite having the same percentage of low income students.
It was the Thornton school board that decided paying teachers $25,000 above state average was more important than providing the courses, extracurriculars, and tutoring necessary for student success, not the state.
It was District 230 President Dennis Cook and the school board that decided creating a surplus for future raises and “pork” spending was more important than fair fees, not the state.
I won’t dispute the fact that our school funding from Springfield is unfair.
Roundout District 72 in the North Suburbs spends over $24,000 per student each year from local funding. This is about triple the state average. Despite this local “overfunding”, Roundout still receives over $600 per student in state aid.
Property rich Palatine Elementary District 15, which spends around $10,000 per student, receives about $1,100 per student in state aid.
I believe it is unconscionable that taxpayers in Harvey, Matteson, and Robbins are subsidizing Palatine and Roundout with their state income tax dollars, while their own school taxes and fees are oppressively high.
Raising income taxes, while increasing unnecessary aid to the “rich” schools, will only make this unfairness worse.
There are many things Springfield can do to reduce property taxes and student fees without raising income  taxes.
It could prohibit fees and truly protect “free’ public education for families.
It could address funding inequity by improving “means testing” in the state formula without raising taxes. We can take care of the underfunded schools, special education needs, and disadvantaged students before distributing state funds to the wealthy.
Springfield can abolish the costly “early retirement” benefits and “end of career” raises which are bankrupting our pension system and creating school budget deficits.
They could also standardize and cap school salaries and benefits, which make up about 80% of school spending.
In the end, however, only parents and taxpayers can protect themselves from excessive taxes and fees regardless of what's done in  Springfield .
Study your school report cards ( and hold your board accountable for excessive and “student unfriendly” spending.
Check your school staff pay at You’ll be amazed how much many districts can afford to pay staff while the students’ programs are being threatened.
Vote in school Board elections and find out which candidates are for the students and taxpayers, and which ones have the Big Ed “network” as their priority.
Better yet, run for the school Board. It only takes fifty petition signatures, some time, a little money, and really thick skin if you criticize school spending or performance.
Remember, the greatest fear of those abusing taxpayers and parents in the “Big Ed” bureaucracy is a well informed and active community.
Student need will only beat Big Ed greed when parents and taxpayers diligently work together to make student success our schools’ top priority.
Bob Shelstrom

Bob Shelstrom is a former High School and College Math and Science Teacher and a Professional Engineer, and has three children in Southland public schools. He may be reached at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

School Choice: 2006 Progress Report

The following is from the Heritage Foundation's 2006 Progress Report for school choice. Be sure to visit the Heritage Foundation's website to read the full report.

School Choice: 2006 Progress Report
by Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg
Backgrounder #1970

September 18, 2006

Reforms that give parents greater ability to choose their children’s schools continue to expand across the nation. Just a decade ago, only a few school choice programs existed. Today, a dozen states and the District of Columbia have private school choice programs. In 2006, eight states— Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin—enacted new school choice programs or expanded existing programs. By 2007, as many as 150,000 students will be par?ticipating in publicly funded tuition scholarship programs.[1]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

N.Y. School Official Sentenced for Theft

Associated Press Writer

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) - One of two administrators behind the theft of as much as $11 million from a school district was sentenced Tuesday to up to 9 years in prison.

To view the rest of the story go to the Federal News Radio website or read a series on the topic on The New York Times website.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Class Size Reduction... the Detroit Way

The following piece appears on the Education Intelligence Agency website. Be sure to visit the EIA website to view the links. Another example of the greed of our public school employees.

Class Size Reduction... the Detroit Way

Detroit school officials are in a panic because next Wednesday is the day the state counts the number of students enrolled to determine the amount of state funding each district gets. And, due to the illegal 16-day teachers' strike, enrollment is roughly 25,000 students below projections.

It's a measure of just how much of a mess Detroit is in that people can't decide whether this is actually true, or a manipulation of the numbers by various players in order to apply political pressure.

Daniel Howes of the Detroit News nails it with his assessment. After noting that since 1994, Detroit's enrollment dropped 23 percent, but its per-pupil revenue increased 94 percent, Howes spells it out for everyone involved:

"No work means fewer students. Fewer students beget less money. Less money
promises fewer jobs. Those are pretty powerful economics, which overwhelm all
the picket signs, finger-pointing and administrative begging now under way, just
days from the dreaded 'count day' that determines state funding."
UPDATE: Something is rotten in the state of Michigan. Where did the 25,000 students go?