I saw a yard sign that made this argument about a proposed tax rate increase for a nearby school district: voting yes to the increase means you are protecting your property values.
This is a circular argument fit for the suburbs. Property values are partly dependent on the perceived status of a community. Generally, higher status suburbs have better performing schools. Thus, paying more in taxes means the property values are likely to increase. For the average suburbanite, this means they should expect a bigger payoff in the end when they sell their home. In other words, vote to hand over some money starting now to guarantee a bigger amount of money later.
There are other reasons a school district and its supporters could give in order to support a tax increase. Provide a better education for the children of the district. Support the important work of teachers. Invest in the community’s future.
But, given the difficulty of asking many suburbanites for higher property taxes, perhaps these abstract notions do not work. Many districts work hard to develop support for a referendum way before it comes to a vote. In this case:
The Board’s vote comes after months of community-engagement work. In January 2018, CCSD 89 Superintendent Dr. Emily K. Tammaru convened a Superintendent’s Finance Committee to examine the district’s financial status and priorities. The committee looked at the nearly $3 million in cuts the district has made since 2009, and examined how rising enrollment and increasing costs have affected the district’s budget.
The members of the Finance Committee eventually recommended two options to the Board of Education:
- Option A: Increase revenues in order to maintain comprehensive, high-quality educational programming. Increasing revenues would allow the district to avoid cuts to programs that directly impact students.
- Option B: Reduce programs and increase fees. The district would need to make about $1.2 million in cuts during the 2019-20 school year. These cuts could include reductions of: gifted services, band and orchestra, social work services, library staff, and full-day kindergarten. The cuts could also result in larger class sizes. The cuts could be more significant in subsequent years.
The district then hosted three community meetings to share financial data and gather feedback. Community members who attended those meetings said they valued fiscal responsibility, but did not want cuts that would affect programming and potentially property values.
At the community meetings, 84.7 percent of the people in attendance said they supported increasing the tax rate rather than cutting programs to balance the budget. When the district conducted phone surveys this summer of all residents (parents and non parents), 56.9 percent of residents said they would support a 40-cent referendum.
Even with this supposed support (note the drop-off in support in those who attended the meetings versus those who answered the phone survey; plus, who answered their phone?), the bottom line appeal here is money. Some parts of the district will pay more than others – the referendum page uses a $300,000 value as a baseline while Glen Ellyn has a median housing value of just over $400,000 and Lombard has a median value of $240,000 – but the money will come eventually. Pay us now so you can gain later.
If suburbanites value property values above all, perhaps this is the only way to build support for local tax increases.