QUINCY — The Quincy School Board will ask voters in March to increase the tax rate in the education fund.
Board members Wednesday night adopted a resolution placing a proposed 53-cent tax increase on the March 17, 2020, ballot to generate an estimated $5.3 million in additional annual revenue in the school district's largest operating fund.
The education fund, by law, cannot exceed $1.84 per $100 in assessed value without voter approval.
Quincy voters never have approved an increase in the fund, set at $1.84 by the state in 1988, but district officials say an increase is needed now to meet needs of both students and community and new state mandates boosting the minimum wage and minimum teacher salary.
“I don't think there's ever a perfect time, but if we wait until the full impact of the minimum wage and minimum salary for teachers fully hit at 100% and we try to do a referendum, we're going to be a year too late,” board member Mike Troup said. “Those are huge dollars that we have to absorb somehow. We just don't have the cash to do that and maintain any kind of reserve.”
The education fund tax rate in Quincy Public Schools ranks 49th out of the 49 Large Unit District Association districts, and the district is the only one still using the state-imposed rate in the fund. Even with the increase, Quincy still would rank within the bottom four of the LUDA districts in education fund tax rates.
Chief of Business Operations Ryan Whicker said the referendum, if approved, will add 53 cents per $100 in assessed value, or about $200 for every $100,000 in home value, to the tax bill.
Meeting the $15 per hour minimum wage and $40,000 minimum teacher salary requirements is expected to cost at least $1.3 million through the 2024-25 school year in the education fund not counting another nearly $4 million in student needs ranging from technology to personnel — and projections show the district will face a deficit in the fund by the 2020-21 year even without those additional expenses.
“As a community, we have two different options. The first is to have patience and faith in Illinois. The state owes us $22 million to be considered fully funded. Even if they said education would be the number one priority moving forward, I don't think we have confidence our students down here in Quincy would be a priority,” Board President Sayeed Ali said. “The other option is to make education a community decision so we don't have to say I hope Chicago and Springfield allow our students to have an awesome education.”
Voters supported an $89 million building referendum in 2014 which allowed the district to build an addition at the high school and five new K-5 elementary schools, with the final two opening in August, which Ali said was tremendous for the school district.
“It's not a situation where we built new buildings and now we need more funds to operate those buildings. It's the opposite of that. Our new buildings have increased our efficiency and reduced district cost substantially,” Ali said.
“Now we're looking for resources to build the world-class education that goes into the buildings,” Superintendent Roy Webb said.
Webb sees the referendum as a way to continue the school district's momentum to become even better.
“This district has come a long way in the last three or four years. We have world-class facilities. We have great teachers, an outstanding leadership team, but without the referendum we would be taking a step back,” Webb said.
Meeting the minimum wage and salary requirements along with paying teachers a competitive wage to avoid turnover is going to take this referendum, Webb said.
“If we don't pass this referendum, we have to figure out how to do those things with existing resources,” he said. “As some of these things occur, we would have a budget shortfall, then as a superintendent, you start looking at how do I make these mandates occur, these requirements from the state, and in order to do that, the only thing I can do is cut.”
With the referendum, Ali sees the school district not only competing against other districts but winning — both for students and staff.
“We're ready to make the educational system one of those flagship programs here for the community, for our employers, for our taxpayers and most importantly for our students and their chances of success,” Ali said.
Webb said the referendum also shifts the district's financial picture which “has always been a bit right on the edge” based on state funding.
“When the state sends the money it's in pretty good shape, and when the state doesn't, it's in pretty bad shape. It's always doing just enough to get by financially,” he said. “This would allow us to start moving forward and making plans on how to take the district forward instead of constantly how to maintain a balanced budget.”