The District 200 Community Finance Committee (CFC) unanimously reversed its Jan. 18 decision at its reconvened Feb. 3 meeting, withdrawing its support for issuing $20 million in debt certificates. The committee’s vote sends a loud and clear message to the D200 School Board that there is no reason to borrow money.
In January, the board said it wanted input from the CFC on the administration’s borrowing recommendation. The board even postponed its vote on the January 27 debt certificate to February 24 to allow for the replacement CFC meeting on February 3. This was necessary because the first meeting of the new committee on January 18 violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA). D200 did not provide the public with a link to watch the meeting in real time and to make a public comment and did not post an agenda 48 hours before the meeting. All of this made the virtual open meeting a closed meeting.
D200 did not want to hold a new meeting. When community members raised OMA violations with the Superintendent. Greg Johnson first offered to add public comments to the January 18 meeting minutes. This was an inadequate remedy, especially since the trustees and board members failed to provide basic information about finances and debt certificates to community members during the board meeting. January 18. Public comments were needed to fill in the gaping holes of missing information.
The administrators did not provide key financial documents and did not specify that D200 has $96 million in the cash reserve and that more than $70 million is surplus taxpayer dollars, making everything unnecessary borrowing, while pressuring the CFC to back the debt certificates anyway. Moreover, reserve money earns so little interest that the recommendation to borrow is fiscally unsound and ridiculous. D200 wants taxpayers to spend at least $320,000 a year in interest for 20 years to borrow $20 million when he could use the unused money in the reserve for free.
The $20 million in debt certificates would be used to speed up maintenance projects to “beat” inflation, not that they need to be dealt with sooner. Debt certificates represent the biggest funding affront to taxpayers, as debt certificates would allow D200 to bypass taxpayers and even cost more than bonds.
Debt certificates are a parlor game. The administration memo says the loan “maintains an opportunity for the district to approach Project 2 using fund balance reserves and future budgets.” D200 plans to take advantage of inflation and increase the 2022 tax levy to 5% to pay debt certificates, increasing the base for future levies and creating a budget surplus, which it proposes to use to finance Project 2 and its 17-lane swimming pool and 600-seat natatorium, bypassing voters.
Based on the CFC’s unanimous decision, the board is expected to reject the unsound and dishonest borrowing recommendation at its February 24 meeting. Email and encourage the board ([email protected]) to vote ‘No’.
Monica Sheehan is an Oak Park resident.