Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Analysis: Edwardsville schools’ spending growing five times faster than enrollment

By Metro East Sun Reports | Mar 29, 2017

Local property tax spending by Edwardsville Community Unit School District 7 grew 35 percent between 2005 and 2015, while district enrollment grew just seven percent.

That’s according to an analysis by Local Government Information Services (LGIS).

The district, Madison County’s largest and richest, took in $55.9 million from local property taxpayers to teach 6,796 students in 2015, versus $41.2 million with 6,521 enrolled in 2005, according to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

The analysis shows once steady enrollment gains at Edwardsville District 7 have stalled, and that local tax spending growth consistently outpaces both enrollment and inflation.

The district grew 24 percent-- from 1997 to 2007, an average of 2.4 percent per year. But local spending grew more than twice as fast-- 5.9 percent, or 59 percent over the 10 year period, according to LGIS.

From 2008 to 2015, district enrollment grew just 2.3 percent, or 0.25 percent per year. But local tax spending grew more than six times faster-- 14.8 percent, or 1.65 percent per year.

The district is asking property taxpayers for another $6.9 million, an increase of 12 percent, and threatening to cut sports, band, field trips, tutoring and more if voters don’t agree to hike taxes in a ballot referendum April 4.

Borrowing to pay higher teacher salaries

To be sure, Edwardsville public school leaders have already found a way to spend more money each year than that to which it was entitled: municipal debt.

Last year, the district spent $6 million more than it received in revenue. Over the last five years, the district’s deficit spending equals nearly $15 million.

As a result, a 2015 Chicago Tribune report ranked Edwardsville CUSD 7 among the most debt-ridden school districts in Illinois. With $135 million in debt, or 80 percent of its debt limit, it has earned the state’s lowest long-term borrowing score and sits on its “Financial Watch” list.

Rising real estate values in the early 2000s, in part, led to a new teacher’s contract in 2004 that increased spending significantly at CUSD 7. Edwardsville teacher salaries rose 25 percent between 2005 and 2009-- from $32 million to $40 million per year, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

But when the market adjusted, and homeowners were no longer “house rich” in Madison County, district leaders didn’t tighten their own belts. Instead, they chose to keep spending at higher levels, using school district equivalent of a credit card to do it.

Edwardsville home values fall, property taxes rise

Increased local government spending and debt has taken a toll on Madison County housing values.

An LGIS analysis of inflation-adjusted real estate prices from 2008 to 2014 in Madison County found they fell in 15 of 17 communities. Only Alhambra (+3.2 percent) and Glen Carbon (+2.4 percent) have seen any home appreciation over the period.

In Edwardsville, home prices have fallen 8.3 percent. That’s worse than Troy (-5.7 percent) and East Alton (-4.2 percent) and better than Alton (-9.2 percent), Wood River (-9.9 percent), Maryville (-13.1 percent), Highland (-16.3 percent), Bethalto (-16.6 percent), Godfrey (-17.8 percent) and Granite City (-21.8 percent).

Madison (-34.2 percent), South Roxana (-32.9 percent) and Collinsville (-28.8 percent) fared worst of all Madison County communities during the period.

According to, the effective property tax rate in Madison County is 1.99 percent, or $4,968 on a $250,000 home, or 65 percent higher than the national average. That’s lower than St. Clair County (2.15 percent/$5,380), but significantly higher than across the border in Missouri.

Rates there range from 1.41 percent in St. Louis County ($3,515 on a $250,000 home) to 0.76 percent in Cape Girardeau ($1,893).

Edwardsville CUSD 7 Spending vs. Enrollment, 1997 to 2015


Local Property Tax SpendingPCT Change Enrollment PCT Change 
Source: Illinois State Board of Education; Local Property Tax spending totals are inflation adjusted.

Madison County Median Home Sales, 2008 to 2014


2008 2015 % CHG
South Roxana$67,748$45,464-32.9%
Granite City$79,227$61,987-21.8%
Wood River$80,775$72,740-9.9%
East Alton$80,427$77,051-4.2%
Glen Carbon$216,331$221,4242.4%
Source: Madison County Recorder; 2008 numbers inflation-adjusted

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