The "flat" or "zero" levy for Hinsdale Township High School District 86 a tragic mistake that, if allowed to happen, would inflict irreparable harm on the quality and reputation of our public high schools. If the board majority must have their historically low levy, they should at least keep up with the current CPI of 1.7 percent. It’s simple arithmetic that something must be sacrificed if revenue falls below the level of inflation.
To understand the gravity of the situation, it is important to recognize that District 86 is already fiscally conservative, with per pupil expenditures and financial reserve levels substantially lower than our academic peer group, including New Trier Township.
The flat levy makes District 86 an extreme outlier among area high school and unit (K-12) districts, and not in a good way. The following districts (reported to date) have decided on a prudent levy under the tax cap, that is, some variation on CPI-plus-new-growth: New Trier Township, Deerfield-Highland Park High School District 113, Downers Grove High School District 99, Glenbard High School District 87, Glenbrook High School District 225, Plainfield District 202, Indian Prairie School District 204, Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, and Wheaton-Warrenville District 200. These districts are preparing for the cost to local government of Illinois state pension reform, among other foreseeable expenditures. There is NO other flat levy to be found among other Chicago-area high school and unit (K-12) districts.
Something will need to be sacrificed under a flat levy, and the board majority (Richard Skoda, Claudia Manley, Victor Casini, and Ed Corcoran) have been less than transparent on what that might be. This doesn’t mean they haven’t given any clues. We can expect their pet priorities to be funded, including Dianne Barrett’s legal bill, unspecified "capital improvements" repeatedly cited by Corcoran, and up to FIVE highly compensated new administrators. No, all evidence indicates that this group intends for the budgetary ax to fall on our TEACHERS, or as Corcoran expresses it in his public comments and in propaganda fliers distributed by his group: "civil servants" (i.e. teachers) should not expect their income to keep up with the CPI; we need to get rid of "excessive personnel"; our teachers’ current benefits are too good and "have nothing to do with education." If teachers have "nothing to do with education," then what does? The priorities of this group are exactly backwards.
This is a plan to force a crisis on our schools—but there is time at least to make our voices heard. The vote on the levy isn’t final until Dec. 16.
Check out other letters to the editor on the District 86 flat levy: