D159 Consultant Suggests Fourth Referendum Try: VIDEO

A consultant hired by Mokena 159 said recent cuts will eliminate the district's deficit, but that a referendum could let the district undo its reductions.

A strategic consultant hired by said the word that divided the town three times before—referendum.

"My only personal point of view is if—if—you want to return to some of the previous standards, the only way you can get there from here is with a referendum of some sort," Larry Heidemann of StratPlan Consulting told the board during a special meeting Thursday night.

If the board follows Heidemann's suggestion, it would be .

This brings back a familiar, emotionally charged and some say false divide in Mokena: "What about the children?" versus "What about the taxpayers?"

"I'm sorry if I was too much of an advocate for the kids," Heidemann said at one point while fielding board questions after his presentation.

"We're all for the kids. Don't go there," board member Pat Markham replied.

District Heading Into Black

This time the threat wouldn't be financial insolvency, Heidemann said. District cuts put a deficit that once reached $2.7 million down to less than $200,000. The consultant's figures put the district back in the black next year.

"To achieve that, we're not doing any technology upgrade, we're not doing any textbook replacement we’re not doing any capital upgrades," board member Joe Spalla said.

Heidemann said referendum money could let the district bring back services while staying deficit-free.

"Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to push an agenda here," Heidemann said. "I'm offering my heartfelt opinion that if you want to return to some of the previous parameters, you can't get there from here by nibbling around the edges."

L-Way Feeders Raised Taxes, Still Hurting

At $2.10, Mokena has by far the lowest tax rate of the five Lincoln-Way feeder districts. The other four range between New Lenox at $2.85 and Manhattan at $3.34.

"Mokena is the only district that has managed to work its way through the last two decades without any tax increase," Heidemann said.

But board President John Troy said those referenda didn't save other districts from the current financial crisis. He alluded to , despite Summit Hill's 33-percent higher 2008 tax rate.

"The surrounding districts that are at a higher tax rate are also in this financial shift," Troy said.

State Rules Change

In addition to , Mokena was also hit by the fact it got wealthier in the Illinois' eyes, Heidemann said.

Each school district in Illinois fall in one of three categories based on how rich it is. The richer a district, the less state money it gets per student.

The value of homes in Mokena 159 recently moved the district to the second-highest category.

This and several other factors meant the district's general state aid dropped to $952,000 last school year from $1.9 million the year before.

Heidemann estimated changes in how the state pays Mokena cut about $3 million over the last three to five years.

"You've lost $3 million through no fault of your own, through no fault of previous boards or previous administrations," Heidemann said.

According to the most recently available ISBE records, the state provided 17.3 percent ($3.2 million) of the district's revenues during the 2009-10 school year.

By Heidemann's figures, the state is providing 9.1 percent ($1.6 million) of Mokena's money this year. Figures for last school year weren't readily available Thursday night.

Not Asked for Recommendation

Heidemann has been a consultant with the district on and off for seven years, since he was first hired to make a strategic plan, Troy said.

Troy said the board asked Heidemann to update the plan after . He said Heidemann was paid for a financial snapshot of the district in its new situation, not to make recommendations about referenda.

"We've had a lot of things change," Troy said.

Meeting minutes show an $8,000 contract for Heidemann to update the strat plan software used for this report was approved at the Nov. 10, 2011, board meeting. The new teacher contract was approved Jan. 21, 2012.

"There were some preliminary discussions," Superintendent Steve Stein said.

Heidemann said he is often called in to consult by school districts seeking referenda, but in this case offered the referendum idea as his personal opinion.

"Typically what happens is, when (school districts) need a referendum, they contact me," Heidemann said. "(The districts say) 'We think we have some trouble. We need a referendum; help us with the timing and amount.'"

john Q Adams February 25, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Dear M P Humor is the best medicine. Your post surely was hilarious. "This board is NOT for the kids". Now that’s funny! This board is for the kids, no question. In fact, I believe it was even the bellows guy MARKHAM that raised the interest and yes, even money, gift certificates for the MES Stars program among other things (DARE etc). You say the “consultant” was paid to give “facts” Let’s talk about “facts”, I guess you can call it bellowing by Mr. Markham as he asked why the “facts” were different from one page to another , the “consultant” had no answer but , hmmm I don’t know I will have to get back to you. Yep, good bellowing I guess. You go on to say: “Kathy Moore seems to be the only one who understands the proper procedures for running a Baord meeting”. I cannot disagree! Given whatever a Baord meeting is. I did get a great chuckle (thanks) from your statement “But do NOT kid yourself Miokena, this Board is not going to make things better”. Bless wherever Miokena is, but I think this Board has done fantastic at making things better, “morale” for one and even opened the Board meetings up to more input allowed from the community, oh there goes that bellowing Mr. Markham again. Now please, give (the Board) credit placing a great new superintendent and the many other efforts they have volunteered to take on. Not to mention the ability to survive the, as “consultant” says; “perfect storm” without needing a tax increase!
Mike February 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I certainly don't have a problem with Board members voicing their opinions. I realize that they don't speak for the Board when they comment on forums such as Patch. However, I think it is much better for the Board member to speak at Board meetings and leave the fight there. To take sometimes confidential info (i'm not saying that confidential info is being discussed in this case) to public forums like this can show a lack of willingness to be a team player. All we don't need is 7 Board members giving their views on Patch. Markham needs to work within the Board framework and allow the Board President and the Supt be the official spokesman for the Board and the District. As a person who voted 3 times against the referenda, I am open to change my mind and I hope the 159 community feels the same way. I have confidence in this Board.
patrick markham February 27, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Mike , thanks for noting you have confidence in this board. Thank you. However, with that being said, you further note that I should only discuss matters with the board and let Supt, pres , be spokesperson. Mike, my notes on here are mine alone. You mention team player. Mike, I did not separate myself from the voters and join a team when I ran for this position. My team are the people that need good representation. Mike you mentioned what we don’t need is seven board members voicing opinion here. Why not? They are there to represent the community not rule over it or make decisions for it with little or no interaction with the public. I am sure you are not aware that the so called “framework” of the board actually prevents us from discussing issues. We are left to making decisions within the few minutes of discussion when a motion is put. In that vein, perhaps more members should put their views out. I don’t seem to recall any complaints when Mr. Ventura spoke on this as you say “forum such as the patch”. Thanks your comments are noted. I will stand for transparency, community interaction and information. Your humble representative Patrick
nick February 29, 2012 at 01:45 AM
DR- Many economist claim that the high value of your home only benefits you on the day that you sell. The rest of the time you own a home, a high value just benefits the TAX man. When I moved to Mokena my first years tax bill was $810. Now I pay over $6,000 for the privilege of living in my home.
nick February 29, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Dist 159 still has extra cash. See Mokena Messenger, Dec 2, 2010, page 4 (Superintendent Perry said the District currently has about $11 MILLION in reserves)


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