Unit 6 talks bond, changes sports eligibility requirements

By GARY HENRY ghenry@prairiepress.net
Posted 11/22/21

CHRISMAN — The Chrisman Board of Education has an opportunity to leverage one tax stream to accomplish a major project, rather than piecemeal it out in sections over time.

David W. …

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Unit 6 talks bond, changes sports eligibility requirements

Posted

CHRISMAN — The Chrisman Board of Education has an opportunity to leverage one tax stream to accomplish a major project, rather than piecemeal it out in sections over time.

David W. Pistorius, senior vice president at First Midstate Investment Bank, attended the Nov. 11 school board meeting, to explain how the school district can sell bonds without a need to raise property taxes by using the 1% sales tax revenue as security. The 1% sales tax was approved approximately four years ago by Edgar County residents, and it places a sales tax on some, but not all retail items, with the revenue to be used for school maintenance needs. Another acceptable use is paying bond debt.

“We have worked with this district before,” said Pistorius, recalling that First MidBank handled the bond sale when Unit 6 added a junior high school wing to the high school building.

He added this is a good time to borrow money as rates remain low. While interest rates started trending up in October 2020, Pistorius noted rates on bonds of 5-to-10-year maturity are still less than two percent.

“We have never been busier,” said Pistorius because several districts and cities are selling bonds while it is still possible to pay low interest to the investors.

The Chrisman school district is currently debt free, and Pistorius said this gives Unit 6 a legal maximum of issuing more than $8 million in general obligation bonds. 

According to Pistorius, there are advantages to using the facilities tax to secure what is known as alternate revenue bonds..

Such action does not apply to the legal bond limit because alternate revenue bonds are not general obligation bonds.   

“You are not raising taxes in this process,” Pistorius said. “This is a non-referendum bond, but it does require a public hearing.”

The school district’s most recent audit confirmed Unit 6 received $118,000 in facilities tax for the audit year and Pistorius said that amount is sufficient to sell $400,000 in alternate revenue bonds with a payback in five years.

“At $400,000 we are looking at asphalting the whole parking lot at one time,” said interim superintendent Jim Acklin.

He added by the time the bond is paid in five years it is likely the junior high portion of the school will need a new roof and another alternate revenue bond can be issued to help with that big expense.

No decisions were made regarding bonds at the meeting.

A major point of discussion for the evening was if the Chrisman academic eligibility requirements are too stringent for athletes.

Brooke Knight spoke during the public comment section of the meeting and said it seems unfair if a student fails a quarter they are prohibited from playing the next quarter. She claimed the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) only requires weekly eligibility tests — not quarterly or by the semester.

She claimed some students are having difficulty keeping grades up if they are quarantined after being exposed to COVID-19.

Acklin reported a parent contacted him to complain Chrisman’s eligibility rules are tougher than those of surrounding school districts.

Junior high and high school principal Cole Huber said most schools he is acquainted with have weekly, quarterly and semester eligibility checks. He added approximately three or four years ago a previous Unit 6 school board wanted a stringent policy to emphasize the importance of doing well in academics.

Board president Karen Webster, who is the only holdover from the previous board, agreed with Huber’s assessment.

“The goal was to get kids to do well all year and not just when they are playing sports,” said Webster. “We want kids to do schoolwork all year.”

She added the message to students is there are consequences for doing poorly and the eligibility requirements apply to all students involved with extracurriculars and not just sports.

The newer board members disagreed saying it seems that benching students for failing academics is punishment for doing poorly.

According to board member John Rogers, Chrisman uses a higher grading standard than other schools so a student doing poorly at Chrisman might be getting passing grades in a different school.

Administrators said they can make any policy work, but Huber asked to retain the weekly eligibility tests so if a student is not passing on Friday, they do not play the following week. Acklin warned there is an IHSA rule the district cannot thwart which is a student taking seven classes must pass five to retain eligibility. Failing two classes, per the IHSA rule, takes a student out of athletics for a semester.

The board approved eliminating the no-play for a quarter rule but did retain the weekly eligibility requirement. Webster voted no. Those supporting the change were Rogers, Jeff Eddy, Cody Denton, Reed Nolen and Denny Tingley. Board member Jim Spesard was absent.

Acklin briefed the board on the audit that confirms Unit 6 is in good financial shape.

He said the supervisor of assessments anticipates the Chrisman school district will experience a 4% increase in the equalized assessed value (EAV) of property in the district.  As a result, he prepared a tentative levy of 4.99% more than the prior fiscal year request.

“You are only going to get what you ask for and if you don’t set the levy high enough, you may get too little,” said Acklin.

Even though EAV is expected to rise, and the extension is increasing, Acklin anticipates the final result will be 2-cent drop in the actual tax rate. He also addressed an often asked question: If the district is doing well, why not cut taxes as a benefit for district residents?

“It would have to be a such a large cut for taxpayers to see anything that it risks hurting the district,” said Acklin.

He explained each penny of the tax rate earns about $6,500 of revenue for the district. Dropping the rate by a penny does not pose much hurt to the district but it is too low for a taxpayer to notice.

“Dropping the tax rate by 10-cents would cost the district $65,000 but the average homeowner would only save about $33 for the year,” said Acklin.