ASHTON – Some candidates for Ashton-Franklin-Center School Board say the district’s buildings need repairs, and they would support a 1 percentage-point increase in the sales tax to pay for them.
In November, 58.9 percent of Lee County voters rejected the tax. They will vote again on the issue Tuesday.
If the referendum again does not pass, the new school board likely will try again, candidate Chad Murphy said.
“I think that’s probably what the elected board would try to do, is try to see if we could get it through again,” he said.
Four candidates are vying for three open seats. Incumbents Michael Gittleson, 48, and David Meurer are running, along with Murphy, 39, and Galen Hart, 51.
The sales tax increase was not advertised the right way, and many people have misunderstood what the money would be used for, Murphy said.
People do not understand that the money cannot be used for teacher pay, or that the sales tax does not apply to food, he said.
All three buildings in the school district need some major work, especially the middle school, Murphy said.
The middle school needs work on the roof and windows, some of which allow snow into the classrooms when there are strong winter winds, he said, and the school’s boiler is expected to break down any time.
Upping the sales tax would be better than increasing property taxes, Murphy said.
Gittleson also favors the sales tax increase as an alternative to raising property tax rates, he said.
“Our buildings are in need of repair because they’re fairly old,” he said.
Hart said he, too, favors the sales tax increase and agrees that the middle school needs work on its roof and windows.
Hart said he is concerned about the district’s budget. The education fund has a deficit this year of $419,386 while the education fund has a deficit of $262,366.
Hart said he would look for grants and try to find ways to run the district more efficiently. He has been looking at other districts’ budgets to get ideas, he said.
“Along with the taxpayers, it’s all a team venture,” he said.
The state’s failure to send some payments, and its prorating of payments, has hurt the district, Hart said.
Murphy agrees, and said the transportation fund has been greatly affected.
The district also faces declining enrollment, Murphy said, which is hurting the district’s budget.
“I want to get families moving into the district instead of moving out,” he said.
The uncertainty of state payments has made it very hard for the district to even create budgets, Gittleson said.
“Not knowing if the district is getting paid, and how much and when, is probably the hardest part of it,” he said. “You can’t make a budget because you don’t know if you’ll get the funds from the state. It’s kind of a blind budget.”
The state cuts forced the district to make difficult cuts in its budget a few years ago, Gittleson said.
“Because of that, we’re holding our own,” he said. “Where other districts are having to make massive cuts, we’ve been lucky that we had to go through it a few years earlier.”
The district cut some staff and made cuts on some extracurricular activities, he said. For a year, the district completely cut the lunch program except for students who were eligible for free or reduced lunches, he said.
Meurer did not return calls for comment.
Family: wife, Debbie Hart, a fourth-grade teacher in Ashton-Franklin-Center school district; son Adam, 13; daughter Emily, 20, student at Eastern Illinois University
Education: Ashton High School, 1980
Government experience: 9 years on AFC and Lee Center school boards
Family: wife, Traci Gittleson, 45; sons, Bret, 15, Bryce, 13
Education: University of Illinois, bachelor's degree in agriculture business administration, 1987; Ashton High School, 1983
Government experience: AFC school board for 12 years
Family: wife. Kristy; two children, Zane, 8, Sawyer, 12
Experience: Operating Engineers Local 150, various positions from 1996 to present, currently maintenance foreman
Education: Ashton High School, 1991
Government experience: Trustee on the Franklin Grove Village Board, 2009 to present