District 65 Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday.

Property owners in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 will probably have to shell out more money to operate the school system next year.

A presentation to the district’s Finance Committee on Wednesday recommended a 5% property tax hike, which translates to about $262 per year for the owner of a $400,000 home.

Under state law, a school board can raise taxes by up to 5%, or by the annual rate of increase in the consumer price index, whichever is smaller, without going to the voters.

The most recent CPI, explained financial consultant Robert Grossi, was 6.5%, so the highest possible tax increase without a referendum is 5%.

The 5% hike helps bring in a total levy amount of $131.5 million, according to district projections.

Grossi explained that while some funding comes from the state and federal government, “essentially, revenue growth in the district, whether we like it or not, is dependent on real estate taxes.”

District 65 revenue sources.

Despite getting more property tax money, however, Business Manager Kathy Zalewski said District 65 will still need to cut the budget by $4 million in the next school year, to help offset rising expenses.

The district also plans to trim cost overruns to the 5th Ward School by about $20 million.

Finance Committee Chair Joey Hailpern said, “We’re raising taxes with declining enrollment, building a new school, and closing a school,” so the public has to feel confident that they are getting their money’s worth.

“The people we’re losing to private schools,” Hailpern added, “are not leaving because taxes are too high.”

Even though schools make up the largest component of a homeowner’s property tax bill, Hailpern said, “People don’t mind the schools being the most expensive thing in the community if they feel they’re great.”

The full school board will vote on the tax levy and rate increase on Dec. 18, following a public hearing.

There was a bit of good financial news regarding the 5th Ward School.

Interim Superintendent Angel Turner reported that she met with officials of Northwestern University, and “NU does want to provide us with a program grant for the 5th Ward School,” although no amount was mentioned.

Turner also said other organizations may provide grants as well.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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