James Cullen Blog: A Tale of Two Groups

Some facts that are relevant to the upcoming deliberations of the Geneva CUSD 304 Board of Education about adopting a budget for 2012-13.


It was the worst of times for most; it was a better time for a few.

This is a tale of two groups:  the citizens and the advantaged.


"Illinois cannot continue down this path at the expense of our children." 

        -- Governor Pat Quinn


“An informed citizenry is the only true depository of the public will.”    

        — Thomas Jefferson


Before the public meeting of the Geneva School Board on Monday, August 13 at 7:00 pm to decide on the largest part of Geneva's property taxes, as described at the bottom of this post, here are some relevant facts, by the numbers:



      + 20 %

      -  25 %

+  20% is about how much the Geneva School District 304 property tax levy has increased in the last five years, as reflected on our property tax bills. 

-  25% is a ballpark estimate of the typical percentage decrease in Geneva home values in the last five years.



       - 10 %

      +  23 % 

       +  2 %   

- 10% is the percentage decrease in the median family income of Americans in the last five years, per the U.S. Census Bureau. This is probably approximately true of Geneva families also. 

+ 23%  is the approximate percentage increase in the “Salaries” portion of the Geneva School District’s “Educational Fund” in the last five years, from 2006-07 to 2011-12, per the District CUSD 304 website, www.geneva304.org, under “Geneva 304 Finances” on the left, then “District Budgets” on the right.

+  2% is the percentage increase in the total student population in Geneva schools in the last five years, per the District CUSD 304 website.



         -  39 %        

         + 23 %

- 39% is the approximate percentage decrease in median net worth of Americans from 2007 to 2010, per the Federal Reserve.

+ 23% is the percentage increase in the “Employee Benefits” portion of the Geneva School District’s Education Fund in the last five years, per the District CUSD 304 website. In the 2011-12 budget, the Employee Benefits constitute 10.7% of the combined total of the Salaries plus Employee Benefits. This figure includes the employee’s health care benefits (paid 100% by the district in the case of the teachers, plus 60% for the teacher’s family).  

Geneva's property tax bills include a portion entitled "Geneva School District 304 Pension."  On the subject of public employee pensions, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn issued a press release on Aug. 5, 2012 that included the following message: 

"Illinois cannot continue down this path at the expense of our children,” Quinn said. “We must enact comprehensive pension reform that eliminates the unfunded liability to repair our pension system and give the next generation the education they deserve.”

The full text of the press release is available at www.illinoisgov/gov under “Save Our State--Stabilize Pensions Today” under "Press Releases."  Quinn proceeded in an interview on WLS am radio on Aug. 9 to add some detail to his point and emphasize its urgency. He said that, under current Illinois rules, an Illinois teacher who retired 20 years ago with a pension benefit of $60,000 per year at that time by now would be receiving a pension benefit of $120,000 per year. 

The approximately 50% unfunded liability in Illinois’ public pension funds is a debt burden on Illinois’s income taxpayers, a group that in one year or five years will include many of Geneva’s current students, and by 17 years hopefully will include almost all of them. 

Illinois’ local school boards are key decision makers in determining how big that future tax burden on today's students will be.  But it is clear that today's students when they grow up will be the worst-hurt victims of today's excessive School District 304 spending. 





26,600 is the approximate population of Geneva. (The Geneva School District extends beyond the boundary of the city, but this is a useful enough number to use.)  These are the hard-working, conscientious, fine people of Geneva. They make Genevaa superb place to live. Almost all of them are in families or households that have suffered financially for the last five years. Many have lost their jobs, been downsized, suffered lower family incomes, lost homes to foreclosure, and maybe lost hope.        

1,000 is the approximate number of current Geneva CUSD 304 employees, plus those who retired from the district in the last five years. These are the hard-working, conscientious, fine employees of the School District. They, along with the diligent, loving parents of the students, are key to making Geneva’s schools highly rated. Some may be like most Americans generally who have seen their home values and investments decline substantially in the last five years. This group has seen their salaries and benefits generally increase an average of approximately 23% over the last five years.






12 is a reasonable estimate of the average age of all the students in the Geneva school District, from ages 5 to 18.

12 is a reasonable estimate of the average number of years from now when the average student will become an Illinois income tax payer (and a federal income taxpayer).

16 is a reasonable estimate of the average number of years from now when the average student will, hopefully, become a homeowner, and thus a property taxpayer, in Geneva or a similar community that has similar patterns and histories of school district budgets and tax levies.  That is, if they can afford the property taxes.





536 is the number of people who work for and represent us in Washington, D.C., and who decide how much federal income taxes Americans will pay. They include the president, the senators, and the congressmen and women. These folks are the subject of 24/7 news broadcasts, particularly as the November elections of most of them draw near. Most Americans focus a great deal of attention on these elected officials, as they have a huge impact on all of our lives and our futures, and on future generations.

7 is the number of people who decide what the Geneva School District levy portion of the Kane County property tax bills will be. These are the seven elected, unpaid volunteer citizens who give generously of their time, energy and skills to serve the community as the Geneva Board of Education.  

The Geneva school levy constitutes about two-thirds of the total Kane County levy, which also includes lesser levies from about a dozen other local taxing bodies. As the second installment due date of Sept. 4 approaches, many Geneva residents may notice that this full-year bill is not much less than their federal income tax bill for the year, and may in some cases be more, particularly because the property tax is deductible from the federal income tax liability.

The Board of Education has the ultimate authority, and is in a position, to see that all parties involved are treated fairly—students, School District employees and taxpaying families and households.    

The seven School Board members serve four-year terms, and four of these seven seats are to be elected by Geneva’s citizens in April 2013.




The number 1 represents the most important lesson that I and my fellow students learned from our teachers in our student years. The teachers did a good job of teaching us reading, writing and arithmetic. I don’t remember much about trigonometry from high school, but what had the most lasting impact, and was the most important thing they taught us, was what they taught us by their example. The No. 1 thing they taught us was good values.  By their example, they taught us, among other values, the golden rule, being a good citizen, fairness toward others and justice.  




62 is a reasonable estimate of the number of years Geneva’s students on average hopefully will live as adults after graduation from high school, enjoying the benefits of the fine education they received from Geneva’s schools plus in most cases from higher education. They will be enjoying the economic fruits of their labor, and performing their duty as citizens by paying property taxes, Illinois income taxes, federal income taxes and numerous other taxes, just as generations before them had. 

They will, however, bear the burden of much higher taxes than generations before them, because of spending decisions made by state and local elected officials in the past and in the present, particularly including local school boards.  Gov. Quinn is fighting for these children. As he said on Aug. 5, "Illinois cannot continue down this path at the expense of our children.”



The Geneva Board of Education will be discussing its proposed budget for 2012-2013, which it will soon adopt, at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, at the district’s Coultrap Facility at 1113 Peyton St., Lincoln Street entrance. All meetings of the School Board are open to the public, which enables citizens to inform themselves about the budget and other plans of the School Board. The board normally invites the public to comment at its meetings. At some recent meetings of the board, dozens of concerned citizens have attended, and many expressed strongly-held convictions on certain aspects of the proposed budget.  Subsequent Board of Education meetings are scheduled for August 27, September 10 and September 24, as listed on the District website.

The www.geneva304.org website also states that the Board of Education can be contacted through the Board Secretary at (630) 463-3010 or by emailing Board@Geneva304.org. After the 2012-13 budget is formally adopted by the full board, possibly on Aug. 13, it will then be displayed to the public for 30 days before approval at a public board meeting prior to Sept. 30.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dar August 10, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Sobering number, James. Especially numbers 1, 2 and 3. Our home values, salaries and net worth have all taken double digit hits over the last 5 years, yet the taxes, benefits and salaries of the (union) district employees have continued as if it's still 2007 with double digit increases. And when people complain, they're painted as being selfish, anti-education and having no regard for the kids in the community. So frustrating.
Sandra Ellis August 11, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Jim, I like your approach to a troubling subject not only in Geneva but all of Illinois. The school board voted a 1.5% levy increase last December which reflected in our 2012 tax payment. This year, it is possible that they will again tax to the max which could be a 3% increase payable in next year's taxes! They vote each December on what they will levy and base it on Consumer Price Index which was 3% for 2011. They have not yet stated what they intend to do and I hope they clue us in while the budget is still in "proposed" state. In addition, the debt service repayment from bonds issued will bump up and cause an additional increase beyond the tax levy. You are right in that not only are we all sharing too heavy a burden now but passing it on to our children.
Donna Mead August 12, 2012 at 04:55 AM
A telling analysis important information for all Geneva homeowners and parents. No hype, and Mr. Cullen, consideration of all parties involved, yet pointing to a logical divergence wherein Geneva taxing bodies, most notably the Geneva School District have mismanaged their tax levies, and ignored their oath of office as guardians of the public assets. This year, the Geneva Schools, with year over year trending ENROLLMENT DECLINES, will ask for millions MORE than last year (1.5% increase), and next year, ANOTHER 3% increase, and the same, year after year. Millions of Geneva taxpayer dollars, will be added to that huge pile of IDLE cash for distribution (mostly pay and benefit increases) by the freewheeling Geneva School District as it increases YOUR taxes every year. Your tax bill over the next decade is going to explode when, on top the School Tax Levy fiscal abuse, the non-variable School District 304 Bond payments begin their yearly stair step tax bill increase - again, courtesy of past mistakes made by the Geneva School Board. Geneva voters please WAKE UP! The SPRING 2013 SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS are your ONLY REAL OPPORTUNITY to right the imbalance addressed in Mr. Cullen's article.
Fred Cregier August 13, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I don't know Mr. Cullen, nor have I heard him speak at Board meetings, but I do like his information and analytical abilities as expressed in his article above. I truly hope he is interested in running for a Board seat this coming spring as we need more financially alert and responsive persons during the current financial crises. He already has my vote if willing to run! I also hope Mr. Grosso will re-run, as he has demonstrated his concerns and is really working to bring more astute thinking to the makeup of this Board. He has shown a great sense of leadership, coupled with humility and a sense of getting things turned around. We all need to feel our Board is courageous enough to make the tough decisions that are now called for, and carry them out! There has been way too much in the way of CYA and not enough solid cost controls, and bringing current costs in line with a frozen maximum on tax increase budgets! If we can do it in our personal lives, it can and must be done within District 304 as well. Fred Cregier


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