McHenry County Board chairman reflects on meeting with schools about tax levy cuts

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks invited officials from several area school districts to an open discussion about what districts can do to lower their property tax levies. The discussion came on the heels of the County Board reducing its levy by 11.2 percent.

Franks, D-Marengo, released a statement about the meeting, which took place June 6:

“Last week, county staff and I met with representatives from 10 local school districts to talk about how they can follow our example and reduce their property tax levies by at least
10 percent,” he said. “Our two-hour meeting was frank and candid, and we learned a lot about the challenges that McHenry County school districts face.

“However, the challenges that our overtaxed homeowners face are just as important, if not more so. While school administrators hear from parents who are passionate about their children’s education, we hear from frustrated homeowners who can no longer afford to live in their homes because of their property tax bills, of which public schools by far make up the largest percentage. School districts typically only make major cuts when they are in crisis and their financial backs are against the wall, but I submit that McHenry County taxpayers are the ones in crisis.

“We were encouraged that many of the districts at the meeting have already explored or currently participate in cost-sharing programs with one another, from sharing vendors and transportation to two districts sharing a superintendent.

“But as voters last March declared by a 3-1 margin in an advisory referendum regarding their school taxes, more has to be done. The property tax burden in McHenry County has become unsustainable – it is forcing out people on fixed incomes, it is deterring young people from settling down here to start families and businesses, and it is deterring employers from creating jobs here.

“The superintendents, school board presidents and other administrative staff who attended the meeting assured us that they are aware of this.

“We urge them, and other districts, to explore every avenue they can to explore new opportunities for cost savings and levy reduction, such as diligently scrutinizing fund balance surpluses, further exploring shared services and examining reducing the size of their administrative staffs.

“We also urge school districts with facilities that are significantly underutilized because of enrollment decreases to explore or revisit closing them, or to share them with other school districts.

“Rather than holding a subsequent meeting with these and other school districts, we have decided that the best way that the county can help districts find cost savings would be for county staff to meet individually with their superintendents, school boards and chief financial officers.

“While we as a county government have no authority over school districts, we encourage them to meet with us one on one.

“We would like to thank Nippersink School District 2, Johnsburg School District 12, Cary School District 26, Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47, Community High School District 155, McHenry High School District 156, Richmond-Burton Community High School District 157, Huntley School District 158, Marengo-Union Elementary School District 165 and Woodstock School District 200 for attending.”