A fair compromise has been reached between Community Unit School District 300 and Sears. A minimum of $50 million dollars has been secured by the school district over the next fifteen years which will ensure that the schools will have an additional $3.3 million to work with each year in their annual budgets staving off devastating cuts.
The legislation also has some teeth in it. Should Sears leave before the fifteen years, the school district would receive an additional $11 million a year in tax revenue. It also has provisions that the village of Hoffman Estates can no longer “double dip” into the Economic Development Area (EDA) as they had been under the previous plan, and they cannot use any of the revenue to support their ailing Sears Centre. Other provisions will require Hoffman Estates to be subjected to regular audits, something that was not required in the previous agreement. If Sears leaves, Hoffman Estates would no longer be needed as administrators and this would garner an additional $400k in revenue to the school district.
A year ago, legislation had been drawn up with the help of the Village of Hoffman Estates and Representative Fred Crespo, a former Hoffman Estates council member, to continue the EDA as it was for another 15 years. The school District had been told for years that when the 23 year EDA ended that they would see an extra $14 million dollars in revenue each year. The school district has been cut severely during the economic downturn. Class sizes have increased to as much as 47 students in some classes and the area has been considered one of the fastest growing in the State. Had the Senate not run out of time last spring, the legislation would have passed without the District’s knowledge and they would have been unable to do anything about it for the next fifteen years.
Instead, they were given another opportunity and took full advantage of it. At first they weren’t invited to the table. Leadership from the D300 attended the Hoffman Estate Board Meetings and then parents and children attended. Petitions were circulated acquiring over 10,000 signatures asking for the removal of Amendment 3 from SB540. Students, teachers, parents, and community advocates held rallies in Springfield and at the Thompson Center in Chicago. E-mails, phone calls, and letters were written to legislators stating their disapproval of the legislation. Journalists covered the story giving a wider audience to the story, and awareness grew. Finally, they were granted a seat at the table.
District 300, Sears, Hoffman Estates, and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan sat down and hashed out a compromise. It was not an end to the EDA, but it was far better than Amendment 3 in SB540. They have a guarantee that they will have some additional revenue for the next 15 years, and if Sears does decide to leave the school tax revenue will go to the school and not to other things.
This is what Democracy looks like. When the people’s voice comes together like this it makes a mighty roar. A community does not have to put up with crony capitalism or the machinations of the 1%. If the cause is a just one, it is worth fighting for. Being able to collect 37% of their tax revenue every year is better than 17.6%. It would have been better if it was more equitable. Perhaps a 45/55 split, but considering what they were looking at before going into this they have done well.
Sears has come out well in all this. They have their tax break and their bluff wasn’t called. Picking up and moving their headquarters would have been very expensive. With sales revenues being underwhelming and the recent announcement that it is closing approximately 100 of its Kmart stores, moving its headquarters wasn’t an expense they needed. The educated guess would say they held off announcing the closures until they were sure they were going to receive the tax break.
Everyone has won with this deal except for one, the Village of Hoffman Estates. Now they will have to make sure they keep meticulous records and be subjected to audits, just like every other entity that have arrangements of this nature. They will also have to find another way to fund the Sears Centre which has become a severe money drain on the village.
Then there is State Representative Fred Crespo. Hopefully voters will remember what he attempted to do and vote accordingly. There is something unseemly about a man who would use his connections to give an unfair advantage to one particular city. That is not a man of integrity. If he is willing to do this, what else is he willing to do and what else has he done?
This story should end with the kids, the next generation. They have seen Democracy in action and have been emboldened. That is the shining light in these dark days. They are seeing the lessons they are learning in school applied in life, standing up for what is right, utilizing the inalienable rights stated in our Constitution, and having the discipline to see things through. This is what it means to be American.