QuickStory: Grosso on 'Enrollmentgate'—'We Can't Go Back in History'
School Board President Mark Grosso acknowledges that enrollment numbers presented to the public prior to the 2007 referendum were higher than a consultant's, but seeks no investigation. "We can't go back in history," he says.
School Board President Mark Grosso addressed the "Enrollmentgate" issue at Monday night's School Board meeting, but did not invite public comment after he made his explanation.
As promised, Grosso personally looked into the enrollment numbers that the School District released to the public prior to 2007's $79 million referendum. The referendum sought public approval to build two new schools and passed by a 100-vote margin—2,495 to 2,395.
Grosso acknowledged Monday that enrollment projection numbers presented on the district website and distributed by referendum supporters in 2007 were higher than the projections presented to the district by consulting demographer John Kasarda.
Kasarda's "B" range projections for the 2011-12 school year were 6,199. The numbers presented to the public were 7,276 for the 2011 school year.
"I did speak with current board members and past board members to understand how those projections were utilized," Grosso said.
From those conversations, he discovered that some of the research included not only Kasarda's projections but estimates from the Regional Board of Education and local developers.
"It appears to me that on top of Dr. Kasarda’s most enthusiastic projections, we used some sort of multiplier," Grosso said. "I’m not sure why."
He also said the district isn't likely to find out, "without some type of full-blown investigation."
And by his comments, an investigation seems unlikely.
"We can’t go back in history," he said. "If we could, I’d have a full head of hair."
"This board has been concerned with reducing our debt—we’ve reduced it by $11 million ... And we’re committed to looking at all of our bonds as soon as they are callable," he said.
Grosso said the School District has many pressing concerns, including reducing debt, reaching a contract with the Geneva Education Association and pending Springfield legislation that would siphon more dollars from local school districts and take away any savings the district might accrue through debt reduction.
"The pension reforms they’re talking about could eat those up in a very short amount of time," Grosso said.
Grosso's comments came at the end of the board meeting, after two opportunities for public comment. Barry Bourdage, a Geneva resident and owner of Techpro, Inc., was the only member of the public who chose to speak during the comment periods.
After Grosso's comments, he requested that the board vote to allow an additional session of public comment.
"We’ve had our public comment, Mr. Bourdage," Grosso said. "We’re not going back."
Bob McQuillan of the Geneva TaxFACTS citizens group spoke over the meeting discussion to ask the board to call for another period of public comment.
"You’re out of order," Grosso said. "I kindly ask you not to speak now."
McQuillan then said, in a voice loud enough to carry to the dais, "Get some backbone."
Grosso did speak with members of the audience personally immediately after the meeting and offered to meet with others for a cup of coffee if they wanted to talk more. Other School Board members talked with audience members, as well, but briefly, because the board adjourned to executive session, which is not open to the public.
"As usual, that School Board meeting was staged," McQuillan said after the meeting. "The only thing that the School Board members can't stage is public comment, so they try to keep it as quick and short as possible, not answering any questions.
"I am appalled that Mr. Grosso said he would address the questions, (but) waited until after both sessions were over, when he knew members of the community were there," he said. "I'm more appalled that no School Board member made a motion to reopen the public comment. School Board members are elected to serve the community, and they take an oath to protect the taxpayers and the district assets."
McQuillan had brought the enrollment projection issue to the board during a public comment session at the April 9 School Board meeting.