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District 87 approves budget, expresses some concerns about downtown TIF

Several people in purple shirts stand and smile behind a table in front of an American flag.
Adeline Schultz
District 87 board members stand to recognize student awards at their meeting on Wednesday.

The District 87 school board met Wednesday to discuss the district’s amended annual budget, and the budgets for its vocational training programs, while superintendent David Mouser expressed some concerns about the proposed TIF district for downtown Bloomington.

The amended deficit shows an increase from last year from almost $2.6 million to about $8.2 million. Mouser told WGLT that $4.5 million of this is attributed to the recent purchase of the State Farm OAB building where the district plans to expand its early childhood education offerings.

“What we’ll probably see is that those numbers come in even better than what they show today in the amended budget,” said Mouser, noting the district is coming off of two years of operating at a surplus.

The McLean Dewitt Regional Vocational System saw a $550,000 budget increase, but the district reports that most of that is due to successful state, federal, and grant funding, including a three-year Manufacturing, Engineering, Technology, and Trades [METT] grant.

The District 87 Career Center will offer 18 programs to around 815 projected students in the coming school year, including the additions of barbering, aesthetics, and cybersecurity programs. Schools pay $1,450 for each student to enroll in these programs, a number that has remained steady for three consecutive years.

TIF district

In his superintendent’s report, Mouser noted the City of Bloomington’s plans to consider a new TIF district for the downtown area. TIF’s divert new tax revenue generated by a project back into redevelopment of a particular area — in this case, downtown Bloomington.

Critics say TIF districts can erode that tax base and hurt school funding. After hearing concerns from District 87 leaders, the Bloomington City Council backed out of previous plans to create a downtown TIF district in 2018.

Mouser reported he has now met with the district’s attorney to discuss the TIF, and has had meetings with the city manager and his department “to make sure the schools’ concerns are addressed.” Thus far, he described his concerns as “very well received.”

“With TIFs in general, you want to make sure that schools are kept whole,” Mouser told WGLT, adding the district “would like to see checkpoints along the way” due to concerns about equalized assessed valuation [EAV] growth.

There will be further meetings between the district and the city next week.

“Again, it’s just an ongoing relationship,” Mouser said. “That’s what’s so important. We want to make sure they know what we’re doing and we know what they’re doing, so that we can work together to make sure our community’s the best, and that our kids are served as well as we can.”

COVID funding

Mouser also spoke briefly with WGLT about COVID relief funds that are about to run out for the district.

District 87 created a family facilitator program, instructional coaching programs, updated curriculum, and expanded student mental health support with the funding it received. Mouser said the exact figure for the funding is in the millions.

“It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt,” Mouser said about deciding which programs to keep and how to continue funding them once the federal money runs out.

Based on budget and funding forecasts, Mouser thinks the district will be able to retain the new programs.

“You’ve got to evaluate, too,” he added. “Are these programs being effective? And so that’s one of the things I think we’re spending a lot of time on right now.”

Mouser also sees a role for the family and the community in student mental health and academic achievement.

“We need our communities to engage with our schools,” he said. “We’ve got to have community support. And I’m not talking about financial support. I’m talking about… the ability to help students achieve at home. We’ve got to be in this together.”

Adeline Schultz is a correspondent at WGLT. She joined the station in 2024.