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home : insight & opinion : letters to the editor April 28, 2016

4/9/2013 2:22:00 PM
Sorting fact from emotion on school referendum


It has been often said that you don't miss what you have always had until it is taken away. I have been reading with great interest all of the discussion concerning the upcoming 1 percent sales tax referendum. As a member of the Unit 2 School Board, my freedom to express my opinion is legally constrained - a condition I have found to be quite frustrating. I am, however, allowed to explain the facts and address any misinformation that may be circulating as it pertains to the proposal before the voters.

We have all received postcards in the mail, read advertising in the local paper, and probably taken a few phone calls concerning this issue. I have talked with more than a few individuals face-to-face, listening to what they have to say. There have also been various posting on Facebook about the referendum as well. I have noted some common themes that I feel need to be clarified. Let me emphasize that in no way am I endorsing or opposing this referendum. I am merely trying sort fact from emotion.

There seems to be a great deal of concern as to whether Crawford County will be the beneficiary of this 1 percent sales tax. Some have raised doubt whether Springfield will actually return these funds or just keep it and "fritter it away." It is a matter of law that this sales tax must be returned to Crawford County. It is not put into the general fund. It is kept separate and returned to each taxing entity to which it is due. Yes, the state keeps 2 percent as an administrative fee. That is nothing new and it is not just for this tax. Frankly, a 2 percent "handling" fee is quite reasonable. Charities such as Relay for Life, March of Dimes and United Way have fees much higher than 2 percent and we don't bat an eye. The fact is that the 1 percent sales tax is a local tax and will only benefit local school districts. To clear up any confusion, let me also note that this proposed referendum will, if passed, take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Sales taxes for January would not be due to the state until Feb. 20, 2014, and they would be distributed the following month and monthly thereafter. This is not an endorsement or an opposition to the referendum. It is only a statement of fact.

There has been a great deal of discussion as to who is to blame for the fiscal dilemma. Many point to Springfield. Some point to the local school administrators, board members and even teachers. The finger-pointing is entirely correct, although not complete. I have yet to hear any voice say, "Look in the mirror." and recognize that we, as voters, share equally in the blame. We keep sending the same people to Springfield and Washington, but expect different results. But the issue at hand is not "what has been done." The pressing matter at hand is "What will we do?" Keeping that in mind, let's look at the facts.

It is true that the vast majority of school districts in Illinois, especially smaller, rural districts, are in dire financial straits. It is also true that their survival will not be assured by simply slashing fat from bloated budgets. Ever-increasing unfunded mandates from Springfield and Washington, combined with rising operating costs (including energy, transportation and insurance) have long since eliminated bloated budgets from small taxing bodies. Counties, townships and schools have been streamlining for many years and/or living on working capital in an effort to minimize the impact on the taxpayers and the students. It is a statement of fact, however, that there comes a time when that impact can no longer be minimized. When the money is gone - the services are gone. Unfortunately, that time is now. Unlike Springfield and Washington, local taxing bodies are facing this reality and are making the difficult decisions that do impact services and education. Staffing is being cut. Extracurriculars, including sports, are being curtailed or eliminated. Classroom sizes are growing. Fees for books, meals and activities are increasing. I don't pretend to have the answers to all these predicaments, but it is reality. This is not an endorsement or an opposition to the referendum. It is just facing the facts.

It has been often said that you don't miss what you have always had until it is taken away. Do your homework, dig for the facts, and vote on Tuesday.

Bill Ecton


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