AMBOY - Voters living in Amboy Community Unit School District 272 will soon have a very important decision to make. A referendum on the March 20 primary ballot will ask for approval of a $15.8 million General Obligation bond for construction of a replacement junior high school building adjacent to Amboy High School.
Speaking at the Jan. 25 board of education meeting, Nicole Jones, board president, read a prepared statement from the board regarding the project. This was followed by a slide presentation showing the approximate property tax increases and a question and answer session with Lee County Treasurer John Fritz.
“At our December 2017 meeting, we, the board of education for the Amboy School District, voted to place a $15.8 million General Obligation bond question on the March 20, 2018 ballot. We believe that investing in infrastructure is necessary to continue to provide high quality education to our students and a good work environment for our teachers and staff.
The Amboy Junior High School was built in 1922 and has served our communities and thousands of families well. Investment in the people, places and things that make education possible for the students of our rural area is our priority.
This decision was not reached without careful consideration of our options:
* To continue basic maintenance of the junior high and make improvements required to meet the standards as outlined by the mandated 10-year health and life safety plan.
* To fully invest in renovation of the junior high.
* To house junior high students at the elementary or high school.
Option one and two are costly. In each case we would be sinking tax payer dollars into an old building. We would achieve nothing more than application of expensive band-aids to reoccurring problems. Unfortunately, the age of the building makes fixing infrastructure issues complex – parts must be custom-made, some manufacturers are no longer in business, and the time and money spent just maintaining leaves nothing for improvement projects like building a secure school entrance, replacing windows or installing air conditioning, to name a few.
Option three seemed to be a good idea until we looked closer at how students move throughout their school day, how many hours in the school day, what is required by teachers to teach and finally, at the environments needed for students of various ages to learn.
Last year a building plan survey was issued to voters both by mail and online. We asked if there would be support for starting over with a new building. We asked if taxpayers would be willing to bear the cost of a new building or the cost of renovating the current structure. We asked for ideas. We asked for concerns. More than 500 people responded with a favorable response to exploring options for a new building.
In October, we held our first town hall meeting and convened a group of parents and community members to further vet our options. In December, that group came to the board with their recommendation . . . to pursue a general obligation bond seeking funds to build a new junior high at the high school and make improvements to the current high school thus freeing school funds to continue health and life safety projects at Central Elementary.
Central was considered briefly as a location for a junior high building extension. However, the elementary school grounds sit on a floodplain and any new structure would most likely take away the playground and recess area.
This decision has not just been about considering a new school, but also about the future of the current junior high building. The Board is committed to developing a solid exit plan that will NOT leave an abandoned building in the community. During construction the junior high will still function and be maintained as a usable school building for grades 5-8 at least through the 2018-19 school year.
The Board of Education has proven its ability to steward the district’s finances wisely. When the state of Illinois held school funding hostage, some districts faced closing their doors. We did not. When our educators saw the tides turning towards technology use, we invested and became early adopters of innovative teaching practices, investing in and utilizing technology that give our students a learning environment that matches the innovation in the world around us.
We urge the voters of the Amboy School District to carefully consider the future of the Amboy Junior High. On the surface, this may seem to be just about brick and mortar. The greater discussion goes much deeper. This is about the future of our communities – our students.”
Following the prepared statement, Jones continued, “The big question is real estate taxes. How are we going to pay for this?”
Using a slide show presentation, Jones gave examples of the expected property tax increases for various home and land values.
Owner occupied home-senior exemption: $60,000 fair cash value; owner occupied exemption, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $77.38.
Owner occupied home: $60,000 fair cash value; owner occupied exemption, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $120.40.
Owner occupied home-senior exemption: $90,000 fair cash value; owner occupied exemption, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $163.40.
Owner occupied home: $100,000 fair cash value; owner occupied exemption, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $235.07.
Non-owner occupied home: $100,000 fair cash value, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $286.67.
Owner occupied home: $150,000 fair cash value; owner occupied exemption, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $378.40.
Owner occupied home: $250,000 fair cash value; owner occupied exemption, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $665.07.
Farmland-40 acres: net taxable value $9,263*, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $79.66.
Farmland-120 acres: net taxable value $18,773*, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $161.45. (*For farmland, the net taxable amount varies, so your tax bill is needed to more closely estimate.)
Farmland: net taxable value $50,000, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $430.
Farmland: net taxable value $100,000, an annual tax increase (20 years) of $860.
The property tax calculator is available on the school district website at www.amboy.net (go to the Building/Grounds Project tab, click District Projects) or link directly at http://www.amboy.net/building--grounds-project.html. Jones noted that the calculator includes an owner-occupied exemption only, not the senior exemption.
Fritz emphasized that anyone with questions about the effect the referendum would have on their property taxes is welcome to contact his office. As for farmland, he noted that farm value is reassessed every year using four criteria, which makes the taxes much more complicated. “If you want to come and talk to us, we’re always open to answer questions, that’s our job,” he said.
The community is invited to learn more about the proposed junior high building project and see first hand the condition of the nearly 100-year-old Amboy Junior High School building at their next open house event on Wednesday, Feb. 21 from 4-6 p.m.