Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2012, 8:40 pm

RI-Milan school board votes to raise property tax rates

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By Nicole Lauer,

Saying they saw no alternative, Rock Island-Milan School Board members on Tuesday approved increasing the tax rate, with the levy projected to bring in $28 million.

The board approved a tax rate of $5.25, a 3 percent increase from 2011 when the rate was $5.12. Although the rate is going up and property taxpayers will pay more, the district's actual levy is about $27,500 less than the 2011 levy because of a decrease in equalized assessed value.

District administrators said the total value of properties within the district subject to property taxes is expected to drop about $11 million compared to last year. This is due, in large part, to the state adjusting the multiplier, or the method used to achieve property assessments, school officials said.

"Obviously the reason we're put in this position to raise the (rate) is because the state of Illinois reduces our property evaluations because they can," said board member Dave Rockwell.

Mr. Rockwell said he would support the rate increase, but with reservations for the future.

"I will tell everybody, if we're going to do this again next year, if we are in the same position as we are this year, it will be very difficult for me to support any further increases," he said.

Board president Bill Cleaver agreed that the board is "backed up into a corner" by a lack of alternatives. Board member Jim Bishop, who was absent from the meeting but phoned in for the vote, echoed their feelings.

"I don't like it, but I don't see any other option, and therefore I support it," he said.

The tax rate hike passed unanimously; Paula Rummels was not at the meeting.

In other business, board members heard school improvement plans from the principals of Edison and Washington junior high schools and Rock Island High School. All three said they are adopting common core standards, implementing the new teacher evaluation system, increasing performance on standardized testing and analyzing the data that comes with it. All three also said they are working on increasing respect.

— Edison principal Gary Flecker said students at the school did not meet targeted goals in language and arts and math, but the majority did show growth in the subject areas based on Acuity testing data. He said the school hosted a Golden Eagle breakfast to celebrate deserving students and is planning a career day with nearly 30 different presenters.

— Ken Jaecke, temporary Washington principal, said eighth-grade students there are now taking the Explore test typically given to ninth-grade students to analyze growth. Washington administrators are "alarmed" by student responses on the district respect survey, he said, noting only 24 percent of students reported feeling respected by other students. He said extensive professional development is planned for staff members.

— High school principal Tom Wernentin said students there demonstrated growth in every subject on standardized tests, although numbers still are not where administrators want them. Staff continues to work for improvement, he said, with all departments developing common unit assessments.

Also on Tuesday, salary increases were approved for administrators, technology staff and other staff members not part of the district's unions. The raises are consistent with those granted to teachers and unionized employees.