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Taxing Victory

When can a passing rate on the short side of 50 percent be considered at least a modest victory?

How about if you're pushing for more public support for schools, and you've just seen voters across the state approve 44.7 percent of local tax referendums and bond measures? A middling rate of success, perhaps—but not too shabby, some in Illinois say, given the frail economy and the uncertainties of a war raging halfway across the world.

On April 1, voters across Illinois agreed to raise taxes for schools, or support education-centered bond measures, in 51 of 114 local ballot initiatives. In a state where the financial outlook for hundreds of schools ranges from fairly troubling to downright calamitous, education advocates seemed at least slightly heartened by those results.

"We're pleased that many voters seem to be listening to what schools are saying," said Gary W. Atkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Association of School Boards. "It's kind of surprising, with all that's going on in the world right now. There's a lot of uncertainty."

That uncertainty includes the U.S.-led war in Iraq and a stock market that is picking up and falling off like the April winds along Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

Nonetheless, preliminary results showed voters passing 42 out of 92 tax referendums. They approved nine of 22 bond measures. State officials said that the final results for all 136 school-related tax issues on local ballots weren't expected to be known until some time this week.

By comparison, Illinois voters approved only 22 percent of ballot measures for schools last November, and passed zero measures—out of a total of four—in February. Indeed, April 1 saw the greatest number of local school district tax measure the state has had since 1993, said Lee Milner, a spokesman for the state board of education.

"That indicates how desperate things are," said Mr. Milner, who credited school district leaders for launching successful local drives for tax support.

Last month, state board officials released data showing that 100 of Illinois' 893 districts were facing severe financial problems. Another 183 made the "financial early-warning list," which is the next-worst category.

Many districts are still feeling the pain of the state's K-12 budget for fiscal 2003, which was cut by 4 percent, or $176 million, from the previous year.

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 22, Issue 30, Page 22

Published in Print: April 9, 2003, as State Journal

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