Shelby County voters will be asked once again to support a one percent sales tax increase to help their school districts. The referendum will be on the March ballot.
The county School Facility Occupation Tax increases the amount of sales tax by a penny for each dollar spent. The amount may sound small to the consumer, but the effect on schools would be significant.
Area school districts are faced again with trimming their budgets as the State continues its trend to cut state aid. State aid is used for educating students. Projects such as repairing and improving the school buildings is not funded by state aid and are many times pushed to the bottom of the list.
“We’re trying to make budgets while not knowing what the state aid amount is going to be,” said Shelbyville district superintendent Denise Bence. “We have to make personnel decisions in March but we won’t know the state aid amount for the next school year until May.”
Dr. Kyle VonSchnase, superintendent and Middle School principal at Central A&M, said his district is at “bare bones” now. He has taken on both positions in the district to help save money. Bence added that the position open due to the recent retirement of Karen Miller as Special Education director will not be filled to help save money in the Shelbyville district.
“We’re trying to cut costs and cut costs without having to eliminate programs,” Bence said.
“All district are having to do more with less money without sacrificing student learning,” VonSchnase said.
The county sales tax referendum has failed twice in recent years, but the second time was only by 200 votes. Since then Christian and Macon counties have passed their sales tax referendums and Central A&M is expecting funds as a result.
“We’re expecting $168,000 from the Christian County sales tax and $7,500 from the Macon County sales tax,” said VonSchnase
The amounts from the sales tax is determined by the number of students from the district living in the contributing county. Central A&M has students living in Christian, Macon, and Shelby counties.
VonSchnase said that Shelby County residents in his school district now understand how the sales tax proceeds help and he believes they will vote for the referendum.
VonSchnase said that the funds will be used to tuck point the exteriors of the four buildings in the district. He also hopes to be able replace windows and heater units.
“To maintain the buildings, we have to take care of the outside first and work our way in,” VonSchnase said. “From a distance, at first glance, the buildings look in good shape. But when you really look at them, you can see the deterioration happening.”
Shelbyville schools have the high school heating system high on its wish list. The 60-year-old system has been repaired multiple times and regulating the heat is nearly impossible. Classroom windows are opened during the day, even during the winter, in an effort to bring the temperature to a tolerable level.
“We are literally throwing money out the window,” said Bence. “The pipes are covered in asbestos and wrapped with duct tape. They have been patched over and over.”
Moulton’s geothermal system was installed with the help of grant money and low interest bonds. The high school building does not qualify for that particular monetary help.
“We don’t have $3 million in our budget for a new heating system,” Bence added.
Bence said that the Shelbyville School District is projected to receive approximately $390,000 per year for its buildings.
Other districts are looking at building repairs and upgrades or paying off bonds already taken out for their buildings. Other districts included in Shelby County sales tax benefits are Okaw Valley, Stewardson- Strasburg, Windsor, Cowden-Herrick, and Pana.
The sales tax (also known as a facilities tax) can only be used for school buildings. It cannot be used for educational materials, staff salaries and benefits, or transportation. It eases the burden on property owners and could even lower the property taxes.
“It’s the fairest tax out there. Everyone contributes,” VonSchnase said. “People have told me they buy more locally because the money goes to help their schools.”
He added that when we shop in other counties that have the facilities tax already in place. we pay for their school districts. Macon, Christian, Douglas and Champaign counties are already collecting the tax. Moultrie and Effingham counties are considering the tax at this time.
A YouTube video addressing the Illinois School Facilities Occupation Tax may be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLN9yacb4dE.