After several months of organization and evaluation, the Hutsonville-Palestine Committee of Ten in now ready to hear and answer questions from the public.
Since forming, the Committee of Ten has defined what type of consolidation it is looking at, heard the pros and cons of an at-large versus district board of education election, and directed subcommittees to evaluate the other vital parts of the overall equation. During Monday night's meeting the committee looked at, and approved for recommendation, a proposed tax levy.
The committee approved to recommend a tax levy rate of 4.5398 (or about $4.54 per $100 equalized assessed property valuation). That number reflects an overall reduction in the tax rate of .2274 for the Hutsonville district, and .1024 for the Palestine district. This does not include the tax rate for the existing bonds, which all come due in both districts in 2023.
The rate breaks down to 2.60 for education, 0.5 for operation and maintenance, 0.2 for transportation, 0.27 for IMRF, .05 for health and life safety, .2676 for Social Security, .5536 for tort, .04 for special education, and .05 for working cash, for a total of 4.5398. Based on the current EVA, this would estimate out to $2,460,223.
The only question committee members had, which resulted in an 8-2 vote, was the amount assessed for transportation, which some believe needs to be higher. Committee member Damien Tingley said, "I want to make sure we have enough to fund it."
The curriculum and personnel committee evaluated existing class offerings and personnel needs. They found that by consolidating they could offer some classes on a yearly basis and not every other year. It would also allow overworked teachers to go back to teach their primary subjects.
Other classes could also be added and extracurriculars such as junior-high softball, golf, speech and debate, and other programs could be made available.
"There is a teacher shortage," Unit 1 Superintendent Julie Kraemer said. She went on to explain the days of having 200 to 500 applicants for a teaching position are gone. Now, if a district has one suitable applicant for a position, an offer needs to be made to the applicant immediately.
Committee Chair Tina Callaway said she believes the committee has enough information to form the petition for the Regional Office of Education, but knows there are questions the public needs answers to, and wants to address as many of those as possible. She also believes it is time to start educating the public through meetings and establish an information campaign and schedule.
While all of the committee's meetings are open to the public, the Monday, May 8, meeting in Palestine will be a public question-and-answer meeting to address any questions the public may have, or to dispel any rumors.
Some rumors have included building a new school, building a swimming pool, two-hour bus rides, laying off of teachers and staff, closing Palestine schools completely, how long the new district can last, what about colors and mascots, and whether individual taxpayers' taxes will go up.
Moving forward, neither the committee nor either school district can campaign for or against consolidation, and can't spend money on informing the public; any funding would have to be provided by a third party. But committee members and administrators can talk to taxpayers to educate them on the issues.
"I will come talk to anybody who wants me to," Kraemer said. "Organizations, coffee clubs, churches, anybody who wants more information to make an informed decision come March 2018."
The next meeting will be Monday, May 8, at 7 p.m. at the Palestine Grade School. The committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. briefly before holding the public meeting.