BYRON – During a period of record-breaking scores and high achievement, the Byron School District is also facing complex financial issues: Therefore, the Byron Board of Education has taken steps to address the District’s continuing financial concerns while assuring that fees and taxes remain the lowest of any school district in the region.

The Board voted to approve a small increase in the District’s tax rates, which will cost the average District homeowner less than $43 per year. The Board also voted to approve – beginning in Aug. 2016 – small increases in registration fees: However, registration fees will still be lower than they were 2009, due to a 2010 reduction in fees. The Board also voted to bring back extra-curricular participation fees, though at much lower levels than was previously charged.

“All fees combined, Middle School parents will pay just 50 cents more at registration than they paid in 2009,” according to Finance and Policy Committee Chairwoman Kathi Gehrke said. “Mary Morgan parents will pay $15 less. High School parents with students who wish to park will pay $5 more, plus a one-time fee increase of $50 for driver’s ed.”

Byron is the only school district in the region that has no participation fees, Board President Doug Floski said.

“The Board has avoided extra-curricular fees and we reduced registration fees in 2010 to help out families that were heavily impacted by the continuing effects of the recession,” Floski said. “We knew that couldn’t go on forever; therefore, we have raised registration fees from this school year’s levels but they still remain lower than in 2009. In addition, the Board worked closely with coaches, administrators and parents to determine extra-curricular fees that are the lowest in the region.”

Registration fees for Mary Morgan Elementary School will increase next school year from $25 to $35 (compared to $45 in 2009 and to a region-wide average of $107), however the $5 folder fee has been eliminated. Fees at the Middle School will increase from $40 to $50 (compared to $78 in 2009 and to a region-wide average of $124), however the $9 lab fee has been eliminated. Registration fees at the High School will increase from $87.50 to $100 (compared to $145 in 2009 and to a region-wide average of $146.) All school lunch prices ($2 to $2.50) remain unchanged.

A Middle School “activity fee” of $37.50 will allow students to participate in as many extra-curricular activities as they like and to attend District games and events at no additional charge. The High School “activity fee” will be $75 with no limit on the number of sports or activities in which a student participates or attends. (Region-wide fees average $52 and $150 respectively.) The Board voted to freeze activity fees through the 2019-20 school year.

A $25 parking fee at the High School will cover the cost of record-keeping and compliance monitoring (compared to a region-wide average of $52). The Driver’s Education fee will increase from $50 to $100 next year (compared to a region-wide average of $250).

The District’s tax rate for the Fire Prevention/Safety fund was created at 5 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation to cover the cost of legally required life/safety improvements including exhaust systems, fire alarms, lighted exit signs, etc. The tax rate in the Tort Immunity Fund was increased by 3 cents to cover the cost of litigation over the lowered assessment of the Exelon facility. The tax rate in the IMRF/Social Security Funds was increased by .00026 cents to cover increased payroll costs. The tax rate in the Debt Service/Bonds Fund was increased by just over 3 cents to cover costs associated with the back-loading of bonds in 2009 to pay for the elementary school addition.

District officials said the total combined tax increase will be 11 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation, costing the owner of a $100,000 residential property (fair market value) $30.93 per year. The average fair market value of residential property in the Byron CUSD is $138,882; therefore, the average Byron School District homeowner will see an increase in their school taxes of $42.94.

The tax and fee increases are the result of continuing financial challenges faced by most school districts in Illinois – declining property values, loss of state aid, and dramatically increasing employment costs. At Byron, those issues are compounded by a $575,000 increase in employee health insurance costs in just one year. Byron’s finances are complicated further by staffing levels, and employee wages and benefits that have for more than 30 years been significantly higher than those of other area districts, helping to increase overall employment costs by more than $4 million since 2009.

Byron also faces financial problems associated with the recent $27 million reduction in the value of the Exelon nuclear facility, the District’s largest taxpayer. That County-level decision has already resulted in an $810,000 reduction in revenues to Byron schools.

“With modest staffing reductions and spending cuts last year, we were able to eliminate the Education Fund deficit,” Floski said. “Almost immediately though, the lowered valuation of the Exelon facility was announced: So, we – again – have a $616,000 deficit in the Ed Fund; all but $10,000 of that is a direct result of the lowered Exelon assessment.

“Since the Ed Fund is at its maximum levy, we will have no choice but to consider staff, salary and benefit reductions again in the spring. If we don’t, the deficit will balloon to $1.1 million next year. We can’t allow that to happen.”

In addition to staff cuts, Byron has held the line on raises, and reduced expenditures in non-academic areas including legal fees, purchasing and District technology costs.

“All of the District’s costs have gone up and some – like employee health insurance – have gone up dramatically,” Board Member Carol Nauman said.

Saying Byron is still the “best bargain around in public education” Nauman pointed to a string of District successes, including: ACT scores at a 13-year high; recent PARRC scores higher than the state average, and high rankings of the District by educational monitoring groups.

“While no one likes to pay more, we’re confident the District is also giving students more in terms of excellence and achievement,” Nauman said. “Byron remains the highest-spending-per-student District in the region while also remaining the District with the lowest taxes and fees. By any definition, Byron is getting the job done.”

Schools - 2016 fee-levy increases

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