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Champaign County school considers asking voters to raise taxes

Graham Local School leaders continue to discuss putting a levy on November’s ballot to pay for operating costs.

Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said the district has slashed its budget as much as it can and will eventually face cuts that will hurt the education of its students.

GRAHAM: Champaign County community rallies for boy with rare cancer

“This district went through a financial upheaval in 2011 and in 2012,” Koennecke said. “The district has had to cut a lot of money in its budget. That has put us in a tight spot.”

Graham’s five-year forecast says by 2019, the won’t be able to sustain it current operations without additional funding, he said. That’s because of the rising costs of school supplies, personnel and anticipated cuts in state aid, according to that forecast.

The district took in almost $3 million more than it spent in the fiscal year of 2014, according to its forecast, and $350,000 more in 2015. However, the five-year forecast shows that the the school district’s expenditures rose nearly $700,000 this fiscal year and are projected to rise in the next five years.

The five-year forecast is required by law and designed so leaders get a sense of where the district is financially. The forecast often projects worst-case scenarios but are important so schools can anticipate future issues.

READ: Champaign County students learning to fly, real-world skills

The district assembled a group of community leaders to come up with a plan and called it Graham 2020. In that plan, getting the school back on good financial footing is one of the top goals. One of the ways of doing so is asking voters for more funds, Koennecke said.

He and the board members are confident that a levy on November’s ballot would have a chance at passing. A random phone survey that was conducted in November 2016 asked 310 voters if they would support a levy over further school cuts.

“One of the questions was when should we go to seek operating funds, now or later,” he said. “We got a clear response this was better timing to do this now.”

He also said the sample of voters said they would prefer an income tax over a property tax.

The Graham Local School Board has until June to decide if they wish to go on the ballot in November, however Koennecke said he expects them to make a decision before the deadline.

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