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Oswego District 308 Planning for $49 Million Due from State Grant

Jan 27, 2015 05:33PM ● By Steven Jack

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

Members of the Oswego School District 308 board are eyeing nearly $50 million in grant money administrators say is due to the district from the state Capital Development Board.

How the district would use that money was a matter of discussion by board members at their meeting Monday night with a consensus that taxpayer relief should be a top priority. 

While currently there is no indication the district will receive the grant money soon, the CDB has been working through a 10-year backlog of grant applications. District 308 applied for a $49.375 million grant in 2004 during a period of rapid construction, and is on a distribution list along with 51 other school districts. 

Due to a lack of funding, the state stopped funding the grants in 2002, but in recent years has again funded the program. Grants applied for in 2003 were fulfilled in August 2013. However, there is no timeline or priority list for grants from 2004.

Superintendent Matthew Wendt encouraged board members to adopt a resolution to outline how the district would use the money if granted. Doing so may make distribution of the $49 million more attractive to state lawmakers who control the funding.

“We are the eighth largest school district in Illinois; you should have a voice, and have that voice heard,” he said. 

Assistant Superintendent Paul O’Malley said the district could use the money in any number of ways, including tax abatements, debt reduction or reducing student fees.

Putting the bulk of the money toward reducing the district’s $33 million annual bond and interest payments over four years could save the owner of a $250,000 home $365 in year one, $529 in year two, $589 in year three and  $681 in year four.

One bump in the road to tax relief could come if the Legislature should decide to force the reallocation of the grant money toward school technology costs, which has been discussed in Springfield, according to Wendt. The superintendent urged board members to reach out to local legislators to stop that reallocation effort. 

“This is not the time to reallocate the dollars for technology,” he said. 

Board members also discussed using the funds for a four-year elimination or reduction in student fees. While most agreed that fee reduction would be welcome by parents, Wendt urged tax relief for all district taxpayers.  Further, the reappearance of fees after a four-year reduction could also be a difficult adjustment for parents, said board member Greg O’Neil.

"How much of the community do you want behind this?” Wendt asked. “One of the advantages of tax relief is you gather the support of residents who don’t have children in the district today. When I visit with senior citizens, I think this is a resolution they could get behind.”

As for next steps, the board’s Legislative Committee will work to craft a resolution in the coming weeks stating the intended purpose of the funds, and the board will likely vote on that resolution at its second meeting in February.

Education Sales Tax 

In addition to the $49 million in possible grant funding, the board heard more information on a Kendall County School Facilities Sales Tax originally discussed by its Finance and Advisory Committee in December.

The tax, which has a maximum of 1 percent, could generate an estimated $5 million annually for the district if approved by voters from across the county. Other Kendall County school districts would also receive proceeds.

Items exempt from the tax include cars, trucks, ATVs  boats & RVs, mobile homes, unprepared food, drugs (including over-the-counter and vitamins), farm equipment and parts, and farm inputs 

According to Assistant Superintendent Paul O'Malley, the tax proceeds could not be used for instructional or operating costs, text books, buses, computers or salaries and overhead. However, the money could be used to help reduce the district's $33 million annual bond and interest payment, lessening the property tax burden.

"This is just letting the genie out of the bottle," said O'Neil. "… We do not pay for education through sales tax and never have … This is just taxing the same people who are already paying property tax. ... I don't support it." 

The tax appeared to have little support from other board members, as administrators were given no instruction to move forward with an official proposal.