Residents were greeted by uniformed Skokie officers carrying metal-detecting wands prior to entering District 219's board meeting on Monday night. Attendees were also subjected to a bag search.
“District 219 received a threat of violence in connection with tonight’s meeting,” District 219 board president Robert Silverman said prior to the meeting. “In response and in consultation with the Skokie Police Department we put in place some extra security just as we do in our schools.”
The threat was received after property tax bills were sent out last week. While the amount of property tax revenue the district is receiving this year is set to grow by 3.13 percent, some homeowners saw the amount they are paying to the district jump by 13 percent or more.
Morton Grove resident Ron Nash, who has lived in the district for 45 years, addressed the board about the property tax bills, but started his remarks by saying, “I am not a terrorist. You guys are over sensitive.”
In a brief interview after making his statement, Nash, a senior citizen who uses a cane to get around, said he knows the added security was for him. He called the district more than once to talk about his tax bill, and was told each time that he could attend the meeting July 9. In one of those phone calls, he said, he asked if they would have someone using a security wand to make sure no one got hurt.
“I thought that was a reasonable thing,” he said.
But it was enough to draw a visit to his home from the Skokie Police, and to have two Skokie police officers in the lobby of the district office at the beginning of the meeting. The officers politely declined to comment or to be photographed.
“All this is for me,” he said. “It’s an overreaction.”
When he spoke, Nash told the board they should be cutting back, not expanding programs in these hard times. He also asked how to fire the school board and how to get the elementary and high school districts combined to eliminate duplicated administrative costs.
Administrators at District 219 are among the highest paid in the state, with an average salary of $143,720. The district also has the second highest cost per pupil in the state - about $24,000. In comparison, the Illinois average is half that, coming in at $11,197. Meanwhile, Skokie has a total of seven school districts.
Silverman said he was “shocked” to see the amount he is paying to District 219 after it jumped 13 percent this year. He asked the district’s business office to explain why individuals’ bills went up when the amount of property taxes collected is capped at the increase in the consumer price index plus new growth. Last year’s CPI increase was 1.5 percent.
“What’s going on is a massive shift in our equalized assessed valuation from industrial to residential,” Silverman said.
In 2000, 44 percent of the property taxes were paid by individual residential taxpayers and the rest was paid by industrial and commercial property owners. By 2006, 50 percent of the tax base was residential, and in the latest assessment, it was 59 percent.
That means while the district is not collecting much more than before, a much bigger share is coming from homeowners. In January of this year, the school board hired a law firm to fight owners seeking a property tax reduction.
“This is a huge shift,” Silverman said. “We’re doing everything we can, but we cannot control the shift of the tax base. Who do you go to complain about this? I don’t know.”
In response to Nash’s comment about the need to cut programs, Silverman noted that the district’s tentative 2012-2013 budget cuts the operating expenditure per pupil.
“The district has been very prudent in how much we’re levying and how we’re spending,” Silverman said.