The mission of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce is to be the representative voice of county for-profit and non-profit businesses
in working to improve the county economy and to address pressing county socioeconomic issues.
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Chamber Board endorses school ballot measures08-29-2016
The Cook County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors strongly supports passage of the two November ballot questions put forward by ISD 166.
One ballot question seeks voter approval for a $6.5 million bond issue that would be used for building repairs and improvements. The other ballot question seeks an additional operating levy that would raise $800 per student. The Chamber Board believes both bonds and levy increase are essential to maintaining strong schools for Cook County.
At a recent meeting, the Chamber board heard a presentation by representatives of the “Vote Yes!” Committee. The committee members made a compelling case for approving the bonds and extra levy.
You can hear that compelling case for yourself this Wednesday: At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts, Steve Pumper, ISD 166 financial manager, will present information and take questions about both ballot measures. The new superintendent, Dr. William Crandall, also will be available to answer questions. More information also is available at http://www.cookcountyschools.org/page/3098 including a tax calculator.
The Chamber Board believes that strong schools are an essential component of a strong community, strong businesses and a strong economy. The young people being educated today by ISD 166 will in 10 years and 20 years be the employers, employees, non-profit board members and volunteers who power our economy forward.
When voters rejected a proposed levy increase last year, the board and staff of ISD 166 acted with great respect for that decision. Because the rejection meant that an existing levy was allowed to expire, the district confronted the need to make $400,000 in cuts, and do it quickly. It very carefully made cuts that minimized the effect on students, families and teachers. Staff and administrative vacancies went unfilled, maintenance was deferred and schedules juggled. You can save money that way in the short term, but over time, such measures sap the strength of a school system and the quality of the education it is able to provide.
That’s why the district this year seeks approval to tax for an additional $800 per student. This smaller amount, the district says, will ensure ISD 166 can maintain its schedule of elective courses, maintain small class sizes in the lowest grades, “offer a full complement of sports and co-curricular activities”; provide “affordable pre-school opportunities”; and begin to build back prudent fund balances.
The district’s request that voters also approve sale of $6.5 million in bonds for essential capital improvements makes brilliant sense for three reasons:
• Fairness: By stretching payments for capital improvements over 20 years, the district ensures that all residents who benefit from these improvements will help pay for them. If the projects were funded with today’s operating levy funds, the entire cost would be loaded onto today’s taxpayers. It is a broadly accepted principle of good fiscal policy that government should bond for capital investments.
• Low interest rates: These investments in capital improvements cannot be avoided for very long. By proposing to make them now, while interest rates are at historic low levels, the district is demonstrating great fiscal prudence.
• Spreading the load: School operating levies are not collected from seasonal rec properties – homes that are occupied occasionally and not homesteaded. Cook County has one of the highest percentages of seasonal rec properties in Minnesota. But those seasonal rec homes do pay levies imposed for debt service on school bonds. So by using bonds for its urgent capital investments, ISD 166 is able to spread and thus lighten the tax burden of repaying those bonds.
The Chamber board strongly believes that failure to pass both the bond and levy ballot measures would leave ISD 166 weakened and much less able to fulfill its mandate to provide an excellent education for Cook County students. Ultimately, that would mean a weaker community, weaker businesses and a weaker economy.
The Chamber board urges all its members to inform themselves on these questions, make up their own minds and vote on Nov. 8. A great opportunity to become better informed will present itself at the ISD 166 information session, 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Arrowhead Center for the Arts.