District 76 to Give Penny-Wise Accounting of Tax-Increase Needs

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Byline: Robin Mohr Daily Herald Staff Writer

Most educators agree voters are more open-minded when it comes to tax increases for new school additions than they are for upgrading or maintaining a district's educational program.

Parents can see when schools are overcrowded. Deciphering budget shortfalls and assessing the quality of a child's education are another matter.

But officials in Diamond Lake Elementary District 76 plan to make the district's educational needs as real as brick and mortar as they prepare for a tax increase for the education fund next March.

Before voters head to the polls, they'll have an accounting of how every penny increase in the tax rate would be spent.

Voters would then be asked for the corresponding tax revenue to cover the cost.

"There's a perception out there that whenever there's an increase in the education fund, it all goes to salaries," District 76 Superintendent Gary Clair said.

The district's strategic planning committee is now conducting a financial needs analysis, with the school board expected to vote in December on how much to ask voters for in the proposed tax referendum.

In addition to the amount spent on salaries, the penny-by-penny breakout will show voters how much will be spent to improve technology and upgrade materials, like copy machines and textbooks.

Too often school districts go to voters with a request for a tax increase, only to come back with a lower proposed increase if the measure fails, Clair said.

"The community really builds up a lot of distrust" against the school district under those circumstances, Clair said.

Breaking out how the money will be used should eliminate the distrust because voters will be able to weigh the benefits of each penny increase, he said.

The breakout has proven to be successful for other districts.

Hawthorn Elementary District 73 lost two referendums for the education fund in November 1994, but saw them pass the next April after officials came back with an itemized account of the programs that would be slashed if the measures failed again, Associate Superintendent Jess Porres said.

"I think what happened is people said, 'Oh, boy, I really don't like this,'" Porres added. …