RANTOUL — The Rantoul Township High School property tax rate is expected to drop for the second year in a row to $2.62 per $100 assessed value.

“It’s cool the way this is trending,” board member Jeremy Larson said at the Nov. 11 school board meeting. “It shows we’re doing our jobs.”

The tax rate reached a high of $2.95 per $100 assessed value on 2017 taxes paid in 2018. The rate for 2018 taxes paid this year was $2.68.

Superintendent Scott Amerio said the owner of a $150,000 home, provided the home value had not changed, would see an estimated $33 drop on his tax bill, even though the requested levy is 3.86 percent higher at $5.3 million.

Two factors stand behind the lower tax rates.

The first is an increase in equalized assessed value of property within the school district. It had reached $184.9 million in 2010, but dropped to $172.7 million in 2012. It has been recovering in the years since, but didn’t top the 2010 figure until last year, when it reached $190.5 million.

The 2019 EAV jumped up $12 million to $202 million. Amerio said he questioned the figure, but was told by county officials that they were using a more accurate program to assess properties.

“Farmland is up all over the county,” he said.

Another EAV increase should be seen next year, when property in the first tax increment financing district is included, Amerio said.

The second factor involves school board decisions. Due to changes in the state funding formula, the district began receiving additional funding last year. The board chose to use a portion of that money to reduce the property tax levy. Also, last year the district received a property tax relief grant that allowed the board to abate an additional portion of the levy.

Although it is a long shot, because RTHS is further down the list of eligible schools this year, Amerio has recommended the board apply for the grant again this year.

Because Champaign County has a tax cap of 5 percent, lowering the levy comes with some risk if the state legislature makes good on its talk of property tax freezes. Amerio said the board finance committee had discussed three approaches: putting a tax cap on every county, which would have the least effect on RTHS; freezing the tax extension (the amount the district actually gets), which would be “devastating”; and freezing the tax rate, which he said would be the “middle of the road.”

In a related matter, Amerio reported the district received $48,748 in Champaign County 1 percent school facilities sales tax. Those receipts are on track to reach $600,000 for the calendar year.

Board hears talk on Early College, Career Academy

RTHS is one of 15 area schools participating in the Education for Employment co-op, which coordinates and manages funding for student participation in career programs at Parkland College. Director Nick Elder spoke to the board about the Early College and Career Academy.

The program was started in the 2015-2016 school year. Ninety students enrolled that year, 10 of whom were from RTHS. Since then, a total of 91 RTHS students have enrolled.

“It really grew out of a need for some of these programs that just couldn’t be offered to students at the high schools,” Elder said.

This year 19 of the 161 students are from RTHS. They attend Parkland classes from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. to earn college credit and/or certification in automotive technology, computer networking and programming, criminal justice, certified nurse assistant, emergency medical technician and firefighting. Two new programs, auto body/collision and an education pathway for future teachers will be added in the fall. Some programs are one year long; others take two years to complete.

RTHS pays all student costs and provides transportation to and from Parkland College. Elder said the cost is about $2,000 a year per student, depending on the program. Funding comes from state Career and Technical Education Improvement  grants and federal Perkins grants, Amerio said.

“I think our school does it the right way,” Amerio said. “We went into this with the thought that we would remove as many obstacles as possible for students. You guys (the board) have made a big commitment to this program for our students.”

The program has two goals: career exploration and workforce development.

The CNA program, for example, is an opportunity for students to explore the health professions.

“They know they want to be a nurse or a doctor, but in the second week of clinicals — ‘Wait, I don’t really like dealing with sick people,’” Elder said. “It goes both ways. It can lead into a career or on the flip side save them money because they know what they don’t want to do.”

“Even as a little kid I had planned to be a nurse,” student Sierra Payne told the board. “I still want to stick by it.”

She said the program was giving her exposure before she enrolled as a full-time college student and hands-on experience so she would know what she was doing when she is a full-time student.

Harley Taylor plans to graduate RTHS early and enroll in Parkland’s nursing program. She hopes to work in pediatric oncology.

“You (the board) are helping me achieve my lifetime goals, even if it means temporarily wiping butts,” she said.

Darianyelis Medina also plans to become a registered nurse. She told the board the program will make college more affordable because of the credits she is earning. It is also teaching her how to improve social skills with patients.

“It’s giving me a heads-up in college but experience as well,” she said.

Students in other programs earn certificates that make them employable immediately after high school graduation.

“If high school is the education endpoint, these students will have more skills,” Elder said.

Employers are involved in some of the programs, too, Elder said — for example, by offering tours or by coming into the classroom.

“It just makes my heart happy to see these future nurses,” said board member Monica Hall, who is an assistant professor in nursing.

Other business

The board also heard from community member Loise Haines, who requested the color guard be allowed to expand its activities to include performing at some winter games. She said the color guard needs the seven months it doesn’t perform to practice and learn new skills, but it doesn’t have space to practice. The village recreation department has offered space, she said.

Amerio said he would discuss the matter with the administrative team.

The board approved amendments to board policies about qualifications, terms and duties of board officers; communications to and from the board; temporary illness or temporary incapacity of employees; and student testing and assessment.

Also approved were the hiring of Chris Billings as counseling center secretary and the appointment of Devine Thompson as assistant basketball coach.

November Exchange Club student of the month Dominique Kisantear was recognized.