Susan Handelsman Spearheads Woodstock School Tax Protest Suit

An email from Woodstock’s Susan Handelsman:

Invitation to join Tax Objection lawsuit against Woodstock D200

Woodstock IL has a property tax rate of 4.6% of total home fair market value.

That is staggering when compared with mortgage interest rates below 3% and tax rates around America and Illinois (national average is 1.4%).

For years I have been attending school board meetings and presenting numbers indicating our community is in an economic crisis due to D200 over-borrowing and overspending.

(D200 spends over 30% more per pupil than neighboring Unit District Huntley 158).

And for years the school board has continued to increase borrowing and spending,  causing our property tax rate to rise to 4.6%.

There seems to be no response to appeals to logic, reason, compassion, or fairness, so finally I decided to formally seek help from the justice system.

The Woodstock District 200 School Board.

The Woodstock District 200 School Board.

When D200 board violated the School Code in the method of posting notice of intent to transfer $2.8 million of excess taxation from Transportation Fund into the Ed Fund and Ops & Maintenance Funds, then deliberately performed ( some portion of) the transfer anyway, I contacted the Regional Superintendent of Schools; she claimed to have no jurisdiction over school board violations of school Code.

ISBE attorney claimed to have no jurisdiction to enforce school board compliance with school Code.

Same with County Clerk (as to propriety of elected officials’ behavior).

I contacted the Attorney General.

The Open Meetings Act division is pursuing a complaint now, but claims to have no ENFORCEMENT powers.

The criminal division was sympathetic but claimed to have no cause of action at present.

Inspector General has indicated pursuing the complaint but will not outline powers of enforcement.

Leslie Schermerhorn

Leslie Schermerhorn

ISBE lawyer and [Regional] Superintendent [of Education] Schermerhorn told me that citizens may institute individual causes of action in civil court (at our own expense).

Several months ago I sought advice from an attorney as to filing a tax objection lawsuit against Woodstock CUSD  200 over the following issues as I understand them:

1. Deliberate over-taxation ( for non-transportation purposes) in the Transportation Fund for the expressed purpose of transferring excess funds from Transportation Fund into the Education Fund or the Operations and Maintenance Fund.

Ed. and Ops & Maintenance Funds are rate-capped by law; schools may only tax a certain maximum percentage rate of Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) of the community’s taxable property in order to pay for defined costs as specified by law in each of these ‘Restricted’ Funds.

D200 published its 2016 Budget Book projecting 4 years out deliberate over-taxation of $3-$4 million in Transportation Fund with $3-$4 million “Transfers Out” as a line item.

Tax rate caps and restricted use of taxpayer money within defined Funds were designed to protect taxpayers from school boards overspending the means of their community.

Schools all over Illinois and America manage to stay within tax rate caps and provide fine educations for children.

2. Special Ed Fund taxation of local population at maximum rate, while receiving Special Ed reimbursement revenues into other (rate-capped) Funds.

This district has expanded Special Ed services by hiring many non-instructional medical providers such as speech pathologists. The medical providers may then bill Medicaid for services.

The school takes these revenues, which I believe should be considered as reimbursements for public fund expenditures from Special Ed Fund, and places them into the Ed Fund which is capped but less restricted as to use of funds contained within (Ed Fund money does not have to be used for Special Ed purposes).

This district has also courted out-of-district tuition students to attend D200. The district uses its own district taxpayers’ money to pay all the expenses for the out-of-district students’ education, but then places tuition revenues from these students into the Ed Fund ( which can be used for other purposes than Special Ed).

These two tactics serve to evade the tax-rate-cap in the Ed Fund, by paying Special Ed expenditures with taxpayers’ dollars and taking revenue derived specifically from Special Ed services into Funds OTHER THAN the Special Ed Fund.

To my understanding, total funding for Special Ed students would not change if the revenues derived from Medicaid reimbursements and out-of-district tuition were deposited into the Special Ed Fund to be spent only for Special Ed purposes.

3. (Possibly) Distribution of PPRT revenue exclusively into rate-capped Funds rather than proportionally distributed between all Funds.

The attorney, Tim Dwyer, agreed to take this case on contingency fee arrangement of half the recovery. He recently recovered on a tax objection suit against another McHenry County school district for excess accumulation in their Transportation Fund. That school has now ceased the practice, saving taxpayers money going forward.

(Yes, it will cost taxpayer money to pay the attorney half the recovery, and to pay for attorney for the school board to fight the tax objection. It is expected to be a recovery per homeowner of around 3.5% of total property tax bill (10% of 70%, cut in half). We are paying this premium, in my opinion, in order to force our school board to limit its spending to within the means of our community at least to the extent required by law).

The attorney needs a minimum critical mass of potential tax payment recovery potential in order to commit to spend the necessary time on this case.

If my analyses are wrong, please let me know anything which you believe to be in error.

The attorney will have more information for us all at a meeting of seriously interested participants, when I can get such a tally and arrange the meeting.

Please contact me anytime, email preferred but if you’d rather call, if I’m not able to talk leave a message and I’ll call you back soon as possible. I will answer any questions I can, and if I don’t know answers I will try to find out answers.

My objective is to force D200 board to restrict its spending to within the means of its community, and to determine and enforce the law in regard to taxpayer rate caps and Restricted Fund expenditure guidelines.

Thanks, hope to hear from you,

Susan Handelsman
4513 Sunnyside Rd.
Woodstock IL 60098


Susan Handelsman Spearheads Woodstock School Tax Protest Suit — 8 Comments

  1. If you are a District 200 taxpayer concerned about property taxes, might as well get in touch with Susan to see how you can help watch, investigate, and report about the school district.

    The district 200 Board does not tape board meetings (thus does not post the taped board meetings indefinitely on its website), and does not post board agenda packets (thus there are no searchable board packets that allow find and copy & paste).

    The District 200 Board does not post collective bargaining change documents, which would indicate changes from the previous collective bargaining agreements, for example underline text for additions and stricken text for deletions, akin to the process used in the Illinois General Assembly.

    Those are three transparency must haves.

    The taxpayer is at a huge disadvantage without those three items.

    An organized group of taxpayers asking for such items has more power than just one or two citizens providing a request.

  2. Good luck Susan !

    Always appreciate the info
    You share on the blog & about
    Woodstock issues .

    Keep us informed on your progress,
    I am believing for your best possible

  3. Count me in!

    Thanks for getting this rolling.

    Perhaps we can convince them to end this charade of tax caps and get to making the hard decisions needed.

  4. I commend you Susan, but all the other school taxing districts need to also come down they are killing the common tax paying man!, so you may be should think about opening the district lines up to include more districts i.e. 155, 47, etc you may get more responses and tax payers willing to sign a petition.

  5. Since each district’s funds and fund transfers would need to be looked at individually, people from other districts should look into that and join Susan’s effort.

    Searchable board agenda packets that allow copy and paste, along with Boards videotaping their meetings and posting the taped meetings indefinitely on the district website for the public, would to a long way in assisting that effort.

    It should be clear by now that citizens have get organized if they want to have adequate transparency and reign in school district costs for many reasons.

    The District employees get paid to do their job and are incented to hike taxes to hike their pay and benefits.

    The District employees are paid to do their job, and the taxpayers receive only a small fraction off their property tax bill to fight the school district hikes.

    The District employees work together as part of their job, whereas the tax fighters do not.

    There are many more reasons.

  6. A petition is not the answer.

    Running for school board is the answer.

    If you live in District 200 and would be willing to run, please contact Susan Handelsman at 815-540-7526.

  7. 1. I have asked Superintendent of D200 formally to place the issue of making agenda packet (searchable) available to public online (rather than requiring citizens to go to District offices to obtain a copy—as was the case for next year’s budget–).
    By Statute he has 60 days to respond formally why this request for consideration will be denied.

  8. This is a Tax Objection Lawsuit.
    Plaintiffs will be charged nothing unless the suit prevails.
    If the suit prevails, each plaintiff will recover half his prorated share of overpaid taxes deemed to have been taxed improperly.
    (Attorney gets half as his contingency fee).

    If the school is improperly taxing in one account so as to evade tax rate caps in another account, this suit will make them cease that practice…which will presumably force them to lower spending, thus the levy, thus the property tax rate.

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