MAHOMET — Taxpayers in the Mahomet-Seymour district in November again will be asked to approve a tax hike proposal.
The request — pared down from the one floated in June — will ask for a tax increase of $59.4 million.
The money would be used to build a new junior high school on an approximately 30-acre site south of Middletown Prairie Elementary in southeast Mahomet.
If passed, the owner of a $300,000 home would pay $504 more per year in property taxes.
That compares to a $97.9 million proposal voted down 3,511 to 1,714 in June that would have raised taxes on a $300,000 home by $1,053 a year. That program would have resulted in the building of a new junior high school, new bus barn and additions/upgrades to Middletown Prairie, Lincoln Trail and Mahomet-Seymour High School.
After the June proposal failed, the school board sent out surveys asking parents for their thoughts on why it was defeated and what could be changed. About 900 survey responses were received.
“It told us the ask was too much,” Superintendent Kenny Lee said, adding that the board wasn’t able to get the surveys out to as many people as it would have liked due to time constraints.
The board had until Aug. 22 to make the decision to have the proposal placed on the November ballot.
Board President Max McComb said the surveys also told the board that people understand the district has space issues.
McComb said it was also bad timing for the district.
“June was about the worst economic month,” he said. “We had 16 days of record gas price increases consecutively in June. It was clear we needed to address our needs in smaller pieces in order of priority.”
McComb also said the proposal might also have fared better just a few months earlier when the economy hadn’t turned south quite as bad. Illinois primaries aren’t normally held as late as June.
McComb said that in addition to overcrowding, the junior high doesn’t suit today’s needs with its narrow hallways, poor layout and insufficient number of bathrooms.
“It was built as a high school,” he said. “That’s not how you do a junior high anymore.”
According to Lee, some other common statements on the survey included, “We heard a lot about the proposal being more than what was needed right now,” Lee said, “and the uncertainty of the economy.
“Some people thought there was a better way to address increasing enrollment.”
He said most respondents agree the junior high needs to be replaced.
Just since the end of the 2021-22 school year, junior high enrollment has climbed by 21 students from 795 to 816 to start the current school year.
Since 1990-91, junior high enrollment has increased by about 300 students, Lee said earlier, and staff has been doubled.
The increasing student enrollment is also a concern for M-S employees and a factor in negotiations for a new four-year contract. Mahomet-Seymour Education Association spokesperson Cameron Zindars said on Tuesday that educators are facing increasing work loads every year as the student population grows.
Fellow bargaining team member Rachel Roberts said the student-population growth makes adequate plan time for teachers “more important than ever.”
A portable building with two classrooms has been added to the junior high site, and some rooms in the main building are shared by two classes.
Lee said a higher enrollment and the resulting space problems can be taxing on students and staff, but he said the atmosphere has remained amicable.
Student numbers are also rising in other Mahomet-Seymour schools — Lee saying Lincoln Trail Elementary faces the most imminent problem behind the junior high, and then Middletown Prairie Elementary and the high school.
“Lincoln Trail is stressed but not as bad right now as the junior high,” Lee said.
The school board voted 4-2 to put the tax increase proposal on the ballot. Board members Meghan Hennesy and Colleen Schultz cast the no votes.
The board also considered two other options.
One included a new building for grades seven and eight built on the Middletown Prairie property at a cost of $48.4 million. That plan would also have resulted in renovating the current junior high to house grades five and six for $9.9 million and keeping grades three and four at Lincoln Trail.
The other was for a new building for grades three and four at the Middletown Prairie site for $30.8 million. The current junior high would have been renovated for grades seven and eight for $20.9 million, and Lincoln Trail would have been used for grades five and six.
Lee said the board will hold two open houses in October for public questions and discussion about the tax hike proposal. Dates will be announced.