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December 14, 2019

11/20/2019 11:15:00 AM
Approving levy for Unit 2 is a guessing game
Several questions remain unanswered, but Robinson Unit 2 has a tentative tax levy for the coming year.

Unit 2 board members, meeting at Lincoln Elementary School Monday, approved the tentative 2020 levy.

The levy, which does not include money needed to pay off bonds, is almost $12.4 million, up about $100,000, or 6.22 percent, from this year's tax extension. Including bonds, the total levy is closer to $14.6 million.

A levy is how much a government entity estimates it needs to operate in the coming year. An extension is the actual amount of tax dollars it collected during the past year.

Superintendent Josh Quick said the 2020 extension will be less than the levy and probably only 4 percent higher than last year's collected taxes, or possibly less depending on the district's equalized assess valuation. The EAV won't be known until spring.

"Which is why it is challenging to do this in November," Quick said.

Other questions also remain unanswered. Possibly the biggest unknown with an impact on the EAV is Unit 2's agreement concerning the tax assessment of the Marathon refinery. A multi-year agreement with the company expires Dec. 31 and the district and Marathon are now in negotiations for a new contract.

Several Robinson Enterprise Zone tax abatements ended this year. Previously abated taxes on improvements made on commercial properties inside the district will be going on the tax rolls and that should increase the EAV somewhat.

Unit 2 historically has set its levies higher than it knows it can collect to show how much the district really needs, Quick explained. Whatever the amount, the district can still only collect what is allowed by law.

Under the evidence-based funding system, the state uses statistical data including enrollment to determine how much money a district needs to provide the best possible education to its students. It also determines how much each district should, in theory, be able to provide on its own through property taxes.

Robinson needs about $18.5 million to educate its students and should be able to generate more than $15 million of that locally, according to the state. In fact, Unit 2 can only raise about $10.75 million through property taxes, about $4.5 million less than the state estimate.

To get the full $15 million, Quick said, Unit 2 would have to establish a tax rate of $5.17 per $100 EAV.

"Obviously, we're not doing that," he said. "I don't think our community would appreciate it."

A tax rate is the percentage at which a property is taxed. Unit 2's total rate this year, for example, was $3.88 per $100 EAV. This was 8 cents less than the 2018 rate. Many of Unit 2's rates are limited on how high they can go.

Among the funds with limited rates is the Education Fund. Most expenses, including salaries, are drawn from it.

"It's our biggest fund and our biggest challenge to keep balanced," Quick said. "But we've done it for five years now."

A public Truth in Taxation hearing on the levy will precede the Dec. 16 meeting. The hearing is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. at the central office on North Allen. The final vote on the levy will occur during the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m.

Also at the meeting, school nurses Kim Weber and Cynthia Rehmel urged the board to consider changing from having two part-time nurses to having two full-time ones.

Each nurse splits her time between two schools, helping students and faculty. Each is paid for 5.5 hours per day but, as other employees pointed out, they are at work far longer on a regular basis because of the demands of the job. When they are not available, teachers, aides and even secretaries must step in.

During the past two years, the board has considered personnel changes to reflect the district's improved financial standing. Each year, the idea of making the nurses full time has been "right there at the top of the things we're considering," Quick said.

The board will soon start making personnel plans for the 2020-21 school year and he expects full-time nurses will again be "at the top of the list."

In other personnel matters, the board approved Joe Cunningham, Blake Binder, Mark Hermann and Valerie Hermann as volunteer assistant Robinson High School wrestling coaches and Kasey Redman as an assistant RHS softball coach.

Members also accepted the resignations of Get Set pre-kindergarten aide Julie Daniels, RHS head volleyball coach Eric Dean and Nuttall Middle School lunchroom supervisor Pam Wright.

Board members will gather at the central office at 5:30 tonight to hear a special presentation by Effingham teacher Joe Fatheree.

Quick said he thought it would help the board with its planning to hear from Fatheree, a top 10 finalist for 2016 Global Teacher Prize, 2009 recipient of the National Education Association National Award for Teaching Excellence and 2007 Illinois Teacher of the Year. No action will be taken.

In an update on buildings and grounds, it was announced the new sidewalk in front of RHS is finished. Work on the new, more secure front entrance is expected to be mostly complete during the Christmas break.

Repairs to a drive and parking lot at NMS are completed, but a new top layer of asphalt will not be put on until spring.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the annual Risk Management Plan without change from this year and adopted several policy revisions.

• Learned several Robinson teams participated in a recent Team Quest competition. RHS finished first, while a fifth-grade team from LES placed seventh, high enough to advance to the next level.

• Heard about Veterans Day events at Washington Elementary School and RHS. WES physical education teacher Casey Pinnell was presented with a quilt of honor for his military service, while at RHS, the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club installed a memorial chair outside the school.

• Expressed sympathy for Vandalia. Two Vandalia High School students were killed in a crash on Illinois Route 185 near Coffeen Saturday. RHS sent 500 cupcakes to the school to "share some smiles that they desperately need," principal Victoria McDonald said.

• Was told LES students and their families will have the opportunity to ride a bus to see author/illustrator Jan Brett at Albion Dec. 4.

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