District 211 candidates debate taxes, finances
While Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 has faced new challenges related to the pandemic this year, the nine candidates for three open seats on the board of education also discussed some older issues -- including the handling of spending and taxes -- during a joint interview with the Daily Herald.
Anna Klimkowicz, the only incumbent, is joined on the April 6 ballot by first-time candidates Curtis Bradley, Jessica Hinkle, Tim McGowan, Amy Nelson, Kristen Steel, Robi Vollkommer, Denise Wilson and Roxanne Wittkamp.
Though all agreed the district was capable of improving its fiscal responsibility, the main disagreement was over whether large steps or small ones were required.
Steel said she can't fathom why a district with a budget surplus even before a recent $17.7 million land sale would still be raising its tax levy as it did in December.
"It's hard for me to understand why we wouldn't want to put money back in the community's pockets," she said.
Vollkommer agreed that a surplus of over $30 million may be too much.
"I think there are ways that we can either do an abatement or a refund to taxpayers," she said.
Bradley said the refund some candidates are talking about would yield most households only about $28. But if the school district had entered the pandemic without reserves, it would need to take out a loan in five or six years.
"And what that would mean is property taxes would go up even further," he said.
Nelson said that just as people have to cut personal expenses in times of crisis, she was confident the District 211 community could work together to live within its means better without sacrificing any of its stakeholders.
"We have a district that has a little bit of a target on its back because our teachers are highly compensated," she said.
Hinkle said she's responsible for compiling multimillion-dollar budgets for a private-sector firm that undergo greater scrutiny than District 211's seem to. She added that she believes cuts can be made that don't harm either students or teachers.
"We really need to look deeper into these budgets," Hinkle said.
Wilson said other local governments have found ways to get through the pandemic without raising their tax levies and that District 211 could maintain an adequate surplus even if it followed suit.
"To be able to go out and do a levy because you can do it doesn't mean you should do it, especially in the year we've just come from," Wilson said.
Klimkowicz said taxpayers are better off with the current surplus being kept as it keeps the district out of debt and free from having to make interest payments on loans.
"Over the last 10 years, we have been able to abate $33 million, which has an impact on the taxes, which has an impact on the levy," Klimkowicz said. "So that has saved taxpayers. It's either 2018 or 2017 where we had a flat levy, we didn't raise the levy amount. So I think we are working at being fiscally responsible."
McGowan said his own research was leading him to the same conclusions, but that he's committed to improving fiscal responsibility and working with current board members like Pete Dombrowski and Mark Cramer in putting the budget under a magnifying glass.
"But in the big picture, the district is out of debt, it's still producing great human beings, great students, and they're consistently winning awards for how their budgets are prepared," McGowan said.
Wittkamp did not join the Zoom interview due to illness, but sent an email afterward with her thoughts about the district's finances.
She said she supported the district's recent tax levy as a way of keeping it solvent and that the board can make adjustments in coming years based on the impact of new housing developments that will bring in additional tax revenue.
"There are many examples of state school systems that have gone broke and laid off teachers and staff because the boards didn't look into the future for their schools and D211 currently has no debt and it doesn't make sense to go into debt," Wittkamp wrote. "As a business college professor, I teach students how to forecast and budget. It makes sense to keep the district at its excellent level of teaching and in order to do this, the district needs money."
A video of the entire Zoom interview is available at dailyherald.com.
Voters can also watch the candidates at a forum from 2 to 3:30 p.m. March 14. Register at form.jotform.com/210348263686157 to get Zoom link.
District 211 candidate forumWhat: Virtual forum for District 211 candidates
When: 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14
Sponsor: Schaumburg-Hoffman Estates Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and League of Women Voters of the Palatine Area
Registration: Required in advance at form.jotform.com/210348263686157 to get Zoom link