RANTOUL — Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons said he will continue to return to Rantoul City Schools board meetings until he receives a public apology from Superintendent Michelle Ramage about comments she made about him in May.
Ammons asked for the apology at last week’s RCS board meeting. She did not comment.
The county clerk said Ramage made “grossly false” comments about Ammons and his office regarding whether Rantoul’s Tax Increment Financing District 1 would come off the tax rolls this year or next year. Because RCS and Rantoul Township High School officials thought it wouldn’t come off until next year, it meant they did not levy for the additional money. RCS lost nearly $700,000 in property tax money this year. It will not be able to levy for that amount in years to come either.
Ammons said it is not his or his office’s responsibility to oversee such matters. But RCS and RTHS officials said the county clerk’s office had provided such information in the past.
The state’s attorney’s office advised Ammons that he should “in no way advise, guide or track TIFs for any district,” he said. “My office was being blamed for not doing its job when they are not responsible for doing it.”
He said it is similar to historical accusations made by White females against Black males when there is no evidence to support such an accusation.
Ammons said a joint annual review board meeting is held at which RTHS and RCS are supposed to be informed of tax developments and TIF matters.
In May, Ramage said, “We were absolutely shocked to see the county clerk’s office removed the TIF.” But Ammons said the school districts should have known the TIF was being removed because Mayor Chuck Smith was quoted in a Rantoul Press article indicating the village of Rantoul was ending it. The 23-year-old TIF district was ended in May 2019.
“It is incumbent upon a school board or park district financial officer to watch very closely those TIFs,” said Ammons, who noted that RCS finance manager Kendra Good had spoken to Sasha Green, the former county lead tax exemption specialist, who indicated the TIF would come off the books in 2020.
“So RCS had plenty of information it would be coming off,” Ammons said.
Tax increment financing is a method used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects to stimulate private investment within a blighted area that has been designated to be in need of economic revitalization.
Additional property tax generated within that district is placed in a fund for development and is generally lost by the taxing districts. But to offset the lost tax revenue, the village had paid RTHS and RCS an annual stipend. In RCS’ case the total amounted to $310,000, which it will no longer receive.
In May, Ramage said Ammons incorrectly indicated that property in the TIF district, which was located on the former Chanute Air Force Base grounds, would be added to the tax rolls in 2021, not 2020. She said every year for the past 15 years, the county clerk’s office has supplied estimated equalized assessed valuation totals in the fall and then actual figures in the spring. She said in this case there was no indication the TIF district would be added to the list of taxable property in the fall or in the final list sent April 9, meaning RCS would not have to worry about levying against it.
Ammons said TIFs are typically controlled by the city council or the village board, “and the law did not change when the Black man became county clerk.”
“Ms. Ramage’s statement about leadership changing signals to me that Ms. Ramage and Ms. Good are not aware how the tax cycle works,” he said, adding that on June 12, Good asked his staff when the next disbursement of tax revenue would be sent to RCS. He informed Good that all collection and disbursement questions need to be directed to the county treasurer’s office and said his office has nothing to do with that.
Ammons said a claim that RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio had asked him about the TIF district during an October 2019 meeting is “just plain false.” He said he asked everyone at the meeting, which included the former lead tax extension specialist, county assessor, his chief of staff “and both of our tax extension specialists” if the question had been asked, and none of them remembered it.
“Superintendent Ramage felt comfortable blaming me for a $700,000 error without any legal responsibility of wrongdoing, without any evidence that any false information was shared with you and without the courtesy of a phone call,” Ammons said. “Is that the type of behavior you want modeled for staff and students?”
Ammons cited an email exchange between Amerio, Ramage and him indicating the superintendents had no interest in speaking with television stations about the matter after a story appeared in the Rantoul Press. He said it implied not speaking with the media would only work if he agreed not to as well.
“The two people at the highest level of the public schools of Rantoul conspiring to keep information from the press about their mishandling of $700,000 of taxpayer money — now why is that?” Ammons said.
He asked that Ramage apologize and a correction of the public record be made. He also cited board member Joan Fitzgarrald’s comment that information coming from the county clerk’s office can’t be trusted.
“I don’t know of any information that Ms. Fitzgarrald has sought from our office,” Ammons said.
Board President Bill Sweat assured Ammons none of the comments by RCS was racially motivated.
“I don’t know how you can make that assertion when you had nothing to do with it,” Ammons said, noting it was Ramage who made the statement. “She didn’t even make a phone call. She simply took the word of two employees who are under fire.”
In other business, resident Moto Johnson read a letter from the group Rantoul Reformed expressing dissatisfaction with the racial disparity evident in Rantoul. He said the group is seeking positive change in the community.
The letter said RCS has few Black teachers, yet almost 40 percent of the students are Black or biracial. Fewer minorities are working at the administrative level.
“We would like to work together with the town to make positive change,” the letter reads and asks that a committee be established to work on developing more ideas to put those changes into effect.
Board member Sandra Uhlott said she understands the frustration, “and I have often wished we had more people of color to run for the board.”
“I’m one of 21 school board members in the state in what’s called the Resolutions Committee,” Uhlott said. “We meet several times a year. We have often discussed how frustrating it is not just here but throughout our state, and I guess it’s nationwide. There just don’t seem to be enough people of color going into education.”
She said RCS has tried to recruit more monitories, but people opt to go into other fields that pay more such as technology.
Uhlott said it is difficult to find teachers — and even more so teachers of color.
Resident Tracy Williams asked the board to leave no room for doubt — that members believe that Black lives matter. She asked the board to declare how it stands on the issue “because it is too important to stay silent.”