Lake Bluff D-65 reserves top Oct. 9 agenda
Sam Pasquesi, left, and Emmet Winter are Lake Bluff Middle School seventh-graders. The school's district may see a major shift on the board after the April 9 election. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
WHAT: District 65 board meetings
WHEN: 6:45 p.m. Oct. 9, Nov. 6
WHERE: Lake Bluff Village Hall, 40 E. Center Ave.
HOT TOPICS: multimillion dollar surplus; tax levy
Updated: October 4, 2012 8:20AM
LAKE BLUFF — Residents of Lake Bluff School District 65 will learn what options the Board of Education has for reducing more than $15 million in reserves, including a possible tax rebate, at its first 2012 tax levy meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9.
“We’ll present the board with information on possible ways to ease tax bills,” Director of Business Services Jane Lair said.
The school board will meet at 6:45 p.m. in Lake Bluff Village Hall, 40 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff, and again on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The levy will be voted on in December.
The 2011 tax levy rate was $2.508 per $100 of equalized assessed valuation. The reserves will top $15 million at the end of the current fiscal year, Lair said.
While Lair would not discuss details of the options before Tuesday’s meeting, she said a tax rebate to district taxpayers and paying down the $24.4 million in bonds voters approved in 2007 to build the new Lake Bluff Elementary School are possibilities.
Should the Board of Education rebate a portion of the reserve, it will be a first for District 65, which was on state financial watch list 10 years ago. Voters passed an education rate referendum in 2002 to rectify the situation.
“Now we have the exact opposite challenge. We’re taking too much money,” Lair said.
Tuesday’s discussion will come exactly two weeks after nearly 50 residents packed the Board of Education meeting to voice their concerns about the district’s reserve fund amidst declining enrollment and increasing taxes.
Those who addressed the board said to audience applause that the reserves should be used to pay debt and expenses, returned to taxpayers and that future construction and maintenance be postponed until a strategic plan is completed.
“The reserve level is increasing to an amount we believe is excessive,” John Marozsan of Lake Bluff said. “At the same time, young families are not moving to Lake Bluff.”
Marozsan blamed high property taxes for the lack of families with young children buying homes in Lake Bluff and a resulting decline in enrollment. Enrollment in the district peaked at 1,137 in the 2001-02 academic year. Today, district enrollment stands at 869 students, a 24 percent decline in 11 years.
Ed Holstein of Lake Bluff said he is “alarmed” that property taxes for his home on Ravine Avenue have increased more than 64 percent between 2001 and 2011, while the amount he has paid toward District 65 — minus pensions — has mushroomed nearly 95 percent.
“School District 65 taxes increased approximately two times the rate of all other taxing bodies, including Lake Forest High School District 115,” he said. “All of this while enrollment was dropping.”
Eric Grenier of Lake Bluff encouraged the board to use the reserves to pay for expenses and reduce future tax levies.
“Many people in this community need tax relief,” Grenier said.
“Return it to the taxpayers,” Bob Swee of Lake Bluff agreed. “That’s our money.”
School Board President Mary Jane Brady told the audience that the board “consciously made the decision to increase its operating funds” after the state put the district on financial watch in 2001-02. Voters approved an operating rate increase through a 2002 referendum.
Brady said the board will look at putting a cap on its fund reserves.
Board member Mark Barry thanked the residents for coming forward and voicing their concerns.
“We really listened,” he said.