Column: Remote learning should equal lower school tax bills


Despite schools starting in a few weeks, barcode scanners at major retailers have been cold this month.  Who needs a new backpack when you’re at home, engaged in remote learning?


Whether it’s the “School Style Shop” nook or “College Kitchen” section at your favorite big box, putting money into back-to-school supplies and fashion becomes another activity which has vanished amid the 2020 pandemic.   Along with the needed sales tax dollars from the purchases.


During a normal year, about this time parents and kids are stalking stores with teachers’ lists of class supplies. They’re prowling for new blouses, slacks and footwear befitting young fashionistas. Not in this plague year, as the opening of the 2020-21 school year nears.


Indeed, Gov. J.B. Pritzker offered the other day that Illinois may not return to normalcy until deep into 2021.  A sobering situation for parents, teachers and administrators torn between keeping kids and themselves safe while delivering a quality education.


Families of collegians are facing similar dilemmas. Do they want to send their children off to a college or university, paying tens of thousands of dollars for online instruction when they could do the same virtual learning, and by the way much cheaper, at the College of Lake County?


Most Lake County school districts appear to be opting for on-line learning to start the school year, and see what happens as the semester progresses. Others plan hybrid versions, rotating between in-person attendance and remote sessions; others leaving it to parents to make the hard and unfair choice of COVID versus classroom.


As of Wednesday, Lake County had totaled 11,529 cases of COVID-19, with 426 deaths, 295 in long-term care facilities. Statewide, there had been 172,655 cases and 7,416 deaths.


Parents I talked with weren’t happy with much of the online instruction offered during the end of the spring session.  Students didn’t feel challenged; teachers struggled in a domain in which they were unfamiliar.


Hopefully, that will change in August as teachers and administrators have had a chance over the summer to learn from earlier hiccups.  The remote learning experience should be one worthy of getting a full, in-class paycheck.


Which is what school officials don’t seem to be addressing. Those districts opting for remote learning options won’t need to pay — at least for the coming school year — for superfluous things unneeded during the health crisis.


With students staying home, school buses and drivers, fuel and maintenance for buses, will be unnecessary.  What happens to athletic coaches if the Illinois High School Association determines sporting events can’t be held in a safe environment?


Do they merely ride the bench until the pandemic ends?  With less than a week into an abbreviated season, Major League Baseball is contending with the spread of the coronavirus.


Without students in classes, do districts need deans, school nurses, librarians, building principals and lunchroom staff on their payrolls?  As many Lake County businesses are finding, static locations are unneeded as workers have been performing quite well from home offices.


With less school employees needed for the time being, does that mean Lake County taxpayers will find rebates on their 2020 property tax bills, the first installment which will be due next June? School district taxes account for the lion’s share of a property owner’s tax bill.


Certainly, school boards don’t expect to carry extra personnel on their books for another school year.  Or do they?  Don’t parents deserve a tax break since they’ve been managing a large part of the schooling at home, or if they’ve had to invest in technology for in-house education?


As we have seen since the state has gone from lockdown to Phase 4 re-openings in the governor’s “Restore Illinois” plan, some things change, some remain the same.


Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.