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Tax cap dispute threatens schools' funding

Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Medill
by Sri Raman

As the tug-of-war over property tax relief legislation continues in Springfield between the House and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, public school administrators across Cook County are bracing for the impact.
The bulk of school funding comes from property taxes, and the schools don’t receive the money until homeowners pay their taxes to the county.  Property tax bills were scheduled to go out in August, but won’t be mailed until the dispute in Springfield is settled.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and the governor are tusseling over the size and duration of a cap on property tax increases for homeowners. Madigan favors a smaller cap that would phase out, while the governor is seeking a higher cap that would be permanent.
The longer the squabbling over the Cook County property tax cap continues, the longer the school districts and municipalities wait for their money.
The amount of distress at a school district seems to depend on its financial situation.
“We are a large district so we keep a sizeable amount of reserve funds for situations like this,” said Mike Vaughn, spokesman for the Chicago Public Schools. He said they have dipped into those funds as a result of the delay.
Others are equipped for the delay, but are nonetheless uncomfortable with the situation.
“There is a level of concern,” said Bill Stafford, chief financial officer of Evanston Township High School District 202.  “About 80 percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes.”
Stafford said that he doesn’t anticipate any school programs being affected, but does worry about cash flow problems if the delay lingers.
Stafford also said that his immediate level of concern isn’t as high at other districts, because he feels comfortable with his district’s cash balance.  However, he said some school districts may be forced to borrow in order to fulfill bond obligations.
Thornton Township High School District 205 is in that situation, facing a bond payment Dec. 1.  John Blakey, director of business operations for the district, said he is preparing to borrow $20 million, pending school board approval Wednesday night.
Blakey said the district, which comprises Thornton, Thornwood and Thornridge High Schools, will use a Tax Anticipation Warrant, which allows school districts to borrow against future tax receipts.
“This is childish behavior on the part of the politicians,” Stafford said of the bickering in Springfield.
As the tug-of-war over property tax relief legislation continues in Springfield between the House and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, public school administrators across Cook County are bracing for the impact.
The bulk of school funding comes from property taxes, and the schools don’t receive the money until homeowners pay their taxes to the county.  Property tax bills were scheduled to go out in August, but won’t be mailed until the dispute in Springfield is settled.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and the governor are tusseling over the size and duration of a cap on property tax increases for homeowners. Madigan favors a smaller cap that would phase out, while the governor is seeking a higher cap that would be permanent.
The longer the squabbling over the Cook County property tax cap continues, the longer the school districts and municipalities wait for their money.
The amount of distress at a school district seems to depend on its financial situation.
“We are a large district so we keep a sizeable amount of reserve funds for situations like this,” said Mike Vaughn, spokesman for the Chicago Public Schools. He said they have dipped into those funds as a result of the delay.
Others are equipped for the delay, but are nonetheless uncomfortable with the situation.
“There is a level of concern,” said Bill Stafford, chief financial officer of Evanston Township High School District 202.  “About 80 percent of the district’s revenue comes from property taxes.”
Stafford said that he doesn’t anticipate any school programs being affected, but does worry about cash flow problems if the delay lingers.
Stafford also said that his immediate level of concern isn’t as high at other districts, because he feels comfortable with his district’s cash balance.  However, he said some school districts may be forced to borrow in order to fulfill bond obligations.
Thornton Township High School District 205 is in that situation, facing a bond payment Dec. 1.  John Blakey, director of business operations for the district, said he is preparing to borrow $20 million, pending school board approval Wednesday night.
Blakey said the district, which comprises Thornton, Thornwood and Thornridge High Schools, will use a Tax Anticipation Warrant, which allows school districts to borrow against future tax receipts.
“This is childish behavior on the part of the politicians,” Stafford said of the bickering in Springfield.


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