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Tremont Schools finish paying off debts, look to replenish education funds with ballot referendum

Tremont Community School District 702

The Tremont Community Unit School District 702 is looking to raise funding for education, as bonds for a 2007 high school addition project expire.

The measure is included as a referendum on the ballot for the Mar. 19 primary.

Superintendent Sean Berry hopes the potential $700,000 revenue source for the education fund will allow the district to bring back electives and programs cut in lean years. Berry says the education fund is 80% of the district’s budget. It has had a deficit for 14 of the last 20 years, some of them six figures.

“Any reserves that we’ve had over the years, we had to spend down and the board knew that we were deficit spending,” Berry said. “With the idea that, if we could get to this point, we can turn that around and not have to experience that anymore.”

Berry says, right now, there are extremely limited or nonexistent options for electives like shop, agriculture and art in the district’s middle school.

“Because that education fund has taken such a beating over the last 20 years, we’ve really had to play it tight just to get through to the time when we can pursue this referendum,” he said.

Berry says the timing of the referendum is very intentional, so taxpayers see as minimal a change as possible.

According to projections provided by the district, the overall school tax payment is going to go down in 2025, whether the referendum passes or not. It’s just a matter of how much of a drop there is.

For example, the owner of a $200,000 home pays an estimated $3,287 in school taxes in 2024. If the referendum passes, that same homeowner pays $3,240 in 2025. If it doesn’t pass, the school portion of taxes would be around $2,920. You can see more of these estimates, as well as the district’s answers to some frequently asked questions about the referendum, here.

Berry says he is concerned the ballot language doesn’t allow for a full explanation of the school’s bond situation.

“I’m concerned that people who just aren’t familiar with the referendum will go to the ballot box and see that it looks like their taxes are going to go up. And they’re going to vote no,” he said. “When really, the taxes are still going to go down, because the overall rate is going to be lower. But there’s no way for us to mention that.”

If the referendum doesn’t pass, Berry says the district may not have to look at eliminating staff or programs right away, but will lose an opportunity to replenish the education fund.

“Hopefully it passes here and then we can start to take the district forward, rather than constantly trying to get by with less,” he said. “That’s kind of the mentality we have right now.”

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.