At the last of four budget work sessions Tuesday, Iroquois School Superintendent Douglas Scofield explained why even a fairly moderate tax levy, like the 2.24 percent increase he’s proposing for 2013-14, is not guaranteed to be approved by voters in May. The outcome could hinge on turnout.
To an audience of less than a dozen people, some of them district employees, the superintendent said only 45 percent of registered parents voted last year, which was more than double the year before. Of staff members who live in the district, only 57 percent voted, a 10 percent increase from the prior year.
“My goal is 3,500 voters this year. The more people that vote, the greater it is for everyone,” Scoffield said.
In a district where a budget failed by a hundred votes just two years ago, it’s not surprising that voter demographics are part of the budget presentation. Turnout in the district has typically been lackluster.
In 2010 and 2011, only about 13 percent – or 1,700 of 13,000 registered voters – came out to vote on the school budget. In 2012, when a grass-roots campaign urged resident to come out and vote, that number jumped to 3,000, or 21 percent.
About 2,000 eligible residents are not registered.
“The budget passed by over 1,000 votes last year,” the superintendent said, “but it wasn’t just parents voting in favor of it. That shows that a number of people without kids recognized the value-added effect of education in the community.”
Also, board members debated what should be cut if the budget is defeated and a contingency budget has to be adopted. Scofield proposed increased class sizes, cuts in athletics and clubs and using $97,923 in additional reserve funds.
School Board President David Lowrey said that because the district is already using $815,579 in reserves to keep taxes low next year, the district has to draw the line.
“If parents don’t come out and support the budget, then we should cut programs. Don’t use more reserves,” Lowrey said.
Business Administrator Joanne George echoed those sentiments. “Fund balance is a one-shot revenue. You have to have a very thought-out plan using them or you wind up in trouble,” she said.