The Hutsonville-Palestine Committee of Ten got a glimpse of potential public concerns during a special informational meeting of the Palestine Unit 3 Board of Education to hear and answer questions from Unit 3 faculty and staff.
Palestine Interim Superintendent Chris Long opened Monday night's meeting by explaining that he regularly meets with Palestine Education Association, the union that represents Unit 3 faculty, to go over items discussed or decided during board meetings. This month it was decided to make the meeting a special meeting open to the public and invite anyone interested to hear about the progress of the Committee of Ten and answer any questions.
Board President Corie Biggs echoed Long's statement and said 10 or 15 minutes is given to the discussion or progress of the Committee of Ten during regular meetings and believed it was "too important not to have everybody hearing the discussion."
A list of 20 questions was presented to Long prior to the meeting. He tried to group the questions into similar areas of discussion and answer them, or defer to Hutsonville Superintendent Julie Kraemer or Committee of Ten chair Tina Callaway.
The first group of four questions concerned equalized assessed valuation, how existing debts will be paid off, the new tax rate and can a new district function on a lower tax rate. Long eplained EAV is roughly one-third of the assessed valuation of your property. "If a property is worth $90,000, the EAV is $30,000, and taxes are calculated on that number," he explained.
Palestine's current EAV is $31,409,677, and Hutsonville's is $21,099,693, for a combined EAV of $52,509,370. Kraemer also pointed out Hutsonville receives $353,108 in Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax, and Palestine received $48,544, for a total of $401,652 in additional revenue.
Traditionally, the district in which a debt is incurred is responsible for paying back that debt, explained Long. There is the possibility for the new district to assume all debt and payments, but the current recommendation is for the debts to remain separate. It was also noted all bond debts for both districts should be paid up in 2023.
In calculating the tax rate for the new district, both Long and Kraemer evaluated the expected expenses for the two districts and what they would be if combined, then assigned existing tax levy rates based what was allowed by law and calculated what was needed to provide equivalent funds. Because the total EAV was larger the tax levy rate can be smaller.
Palestine's current levy rate is 5.30, and Hutsonville's is 4.99. The new estimated tax levy rate would be 4.5398, which is lower than both existing rates. Both Kraemer and Long said the savings in expenses by consolidating the two districts would help keep the overall tax rate down.
For teachers, the main questions are, "Will I still have a job," "What will I teach," "What will my pay and benefits be" and "How will I be evaluated?"
For the first year of a consolidation, by law, all teachers must be retained. After that teaching assignments, pay, benefits and evaluations will be negotiated with the new district board, something Biggs was quick to point out.
Many of the final decisions made in establishing a new district will have to be made by the newly elected board of education, a point Biggs wants everyone to understand. While the Committee of Ten can make recommendations based on its work and opinion, many of the final details will have to be agreed upon and set by the new board.
Biggs emphasized that the existing board members or committee cannot say "yes you will have a job," because that will be a decision for the new board.
Long did say both districts are "cut to the bone" when it comes to faculty and staff. Kraemer also noted existing teacher shortages, and said they need everyone they've got. It was also noted that with current staff and the increased overall enrollment they estimate more than 20 new or annual class offerings for students could be realized through a consolidation.
Other questions focused on dual credit, weighted grading, will the junior high be 6-7-8 or just 7-8, tax abatement, graduation and retention rates, and the current Palestine High School building. All good questions, and cause for concern, confusion and conflict.
The Palestine Unit 3 board has long been detail-oriented when it comes to decision-making. Board Chair Corie Biggs has often said he needs more information before making a final decision, on many board issues as have other board members. But the work of the Committee of Ten is viewed as more strategic in nature.
Committee chair and Hutsonville Unit 1 board chair Tina Callaway has stated she has tried to limit the focus of the committee and subcommittees to the information needed to make a recommendation on the petition to go before the two school boards, Regional Office of Education, Illinois State Board of Education and the voters of the two districts.
While the answers to many of those and other questions were answered, and will be answered again at the May 8 Committee of Ten meeting in Palestine, many, as Biggs pointed out, will ultimately have to be made by the newly elected board if consolidation is approved, and those answers to questions need to be regarded as recommendations for now.
The Palestine Unit 3 Board, Hutsonville Unit 1 Board, Committee of Ten, as well as administrators and staff want to hear and answer all questions they can from the public, faculty, staff, students and concerned or interested citizens. The next meeting of the Committee of Ten is scheduled as an informational meeting welcoming questions and providing answers on Monday, May 8, at the Palestine Grade School.