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Cash-rich D-2 eyes flat levy

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RICHMOND – Nippersink District 2 has been stockpiling money, some of its school board members said at their Wednesday meeting, and they want to give it back.

The school board unanimously gave initial approval to a flat levy, which, if given final approval, means the district will bring in the same amount in property taxes that it did last year.

Even with a flat levy, Nippersink is set to bring in more money than it spends, board member Sue Maurer said.

Its members also discussed a tax abatement to give back some of the money the district has accumulated.

“I think at the end of the day, you need a buffer for the unexpected – but not nuclear war,” board member Mindy Ross said.

As of June 30, the district had nearly $10.4 million in savings, with nearly $7.4 million in its three main funds: education, operations and maintenance, and transportation.

That’s more than $1.7 million more in total savings than it had the year before, according to the district’s audit.

To receive the highest financial designation from the Illinois State Board of Education, school district need to have 180 days’ cash on hand.

Nippersink has just over 388 days, according to its 2013 financial profile.

Board members discussed a tax abatement or several abatements over several years with the intent to bring its cash reserves down to 270 days.

An abatement to do that would be the equivalent of 25 percent of the levy, or $3 million returned to taxpayers, Maurer said.

“I really feel like we’re not in the business of stockpiling [money],” Maurer said. “I think if we can give something back, we’re in the perfect opportunity, and I don’t think there’s a time when taxpayers are hurting more.

“Do I want to send the district backwards? Absolutely not, but these kind of balances, we don’t need them.”

It wasn’t long ago that the district was in the opposite situation, board member Matt Johnson said.

“The history that I have is the poor financial situation we were in, programs that were cut, trying to negotiate contracts with teachers where you feel like you don’t have enough money to give increases, not having air conditioning in the buildings ...” Johnson said. “I just don’t want to get back into a situation where we feel like we can’t provide the best possible education and experience for our kids.”

He would like to see the district better plan its long-term goals with cost estimates.

Because of the way the area school districts were combined, Nippersink is limited on how much debt it can have. At this point, it cannot issue bonds, Maurer said.

An abatement resolution will be presented at the same meeting as the levy, although unlike the levy, it doesn’t face a December deadline, Superintendent Dan Oest said. The amount can be decided at the meeting.

The school board is also considering setting a maximum on how much it can have in reserves. One board member suggested 270 days of cash on hand.

Mauer also suggested setting it as a percentage of expenditures.

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