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Bob McQuillan: An Open Letter to the School Board and Community

McQuillan says: School Board needs to take "extraordinary" action to cut spending and relieve the property-tax burden on Genevans.

  • Editor's note: This is an open letter from Bob McQuillan of Geneva, who is a member of the TaxFACTS group.

Dear Board and Geneva Community:

Several School Board members have stated that we are facing extraordinary times and various challenges need to be addressed. Recent public response has clearly shown we have reached a point where property taxes are a burden to many homeowners.

While there are many things that the board can’t control, it is imperative that the board develops an "extraordinary" plan for at least the next four years. I urge the board to consider the following:

  • Decreasing home assessments—While the board has absolutely no control over the home assessments, this has a direct affect on the amount of revenue available to the district. Assessments will continue to decline at least through the 2014 tax year. Every year the real estate market declines, lower assessments will continue for at least three more years. It is widely believed that the market will not turn until 2013, and even then, not at historical increases.
  • Budget—Lower assessments mean that the budget must be developed with the goal of reducing costs. Even if costs are maintained at the previous year's level, taxes will increase because of the lower EAV.  Because of the board's fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers, it must review the budget line-by-line looking to reduce spending. Nothing should be exempt from consideration for cost reduction. The following non-educational expenses must be controlled:
    1. Communication costs—Land line phone, district paid cell phones, paper sent to homes from all schools
    2. Energy—Reduce electric use when the school day is over
    3. Transportation—Reduce the number of bus routes to save gas and employment costs
    4. Number of p-cards—Reduce the number of employees that have access to these cards and require pre-approval from department head for all spending
    5. Association memberships—Eliminate membership in associations that don’t provide educational support
  • Salaries & Benefits—Since this area is upwards of 80 percent of the budget, it must be addressed immediately. From the 2011 preliminary budget presentation, benefit expenses will increase 5.9 percent and teacher salary will increase 3.5 percent. While I realize the district is currently starting the final year of a teachers contract, I do not think the district can afford the costs related to that contract. Based on the economic changes since the contract was signed and the fact that increases were given the last two years, I believe the board should ask the teachers union to negate the 3.5 percent increase scheduled for the 2011-2012 school year. While this is an "extraordinary" measure, neighboring districts have frozen salaries. Please keep in mind; this is an absolute zero increase. Bottom line, every teacher makes the same salary that they made in the 2010-2011 school year. The attached spreadsheet compares teacher salaries for the last two years. While these salaries have not been verified by the administration, the administration did supply the data used. I believe the community would be outraged to find that 60 teachers received more than a 10 percent salary increase in the last year. This increase was "communicated" to the community as a 2.96 percent average increase.
  • Next teachers contract—Negotiations for the 2013 contract should start immediately. Again, the focus should be on reducing costs. Several current benefits are not sustainable long term. Key issues are:
    1. Medical and dental premiums for family members
    2. Step-and-lane categories providing automatic yearly increases
    3. Retirement enhancements should be eliminated at the conclusion of this contract. These serve no purpose except inflating pension payments
  • Long-term debt—The district should communicate the current repayment schedule to the community immediately. Look to restructure the repayment wherever possible. Use current reserves for repayment as it comes due.

One last point. With the recent increase in property taxes, I believe the board has lost some level of credibility with the public. I believe presenting and passing a budget in 30 days will send a bad signal to the community.

While I understand the reasoning behind approval before the end of the fiscal year, it is more important that the community believes the best, most economical budget has been approved. I do not think the board can adequately review, ask questions and tear the budget inside out in 30 days.

In these extraordinary times, the priorities must include reduction of costs leading to elimination of tax levy increases and increased emphasis on effective educational programs. I urge the board to postpone the vote on budget acceptance until sometime in September. This will allow adequate time for the board and community to review the budget.

Bob McQuillan
Geneva 

Brian Blackmore May 18, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Bob. I agree with every word written. Thanks for authoring this letter. Brian Blackmore
Jeff Muranyi May 18, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Thank you for speaking up. I am in the St.Charles school district, but the tax payers suffer from the same issues. I have as much compassion for the benefactors of our taxes as they did raising my taxes every year. I have lost 35% equity in my home since 2008, yet my taxes continue to go up every year. My suggestion is... 1) Teachers and municipal workers : 10% cut in pay for all. 2) School Administrative personnel : A 15 - 20 % cut in pay. 3) Benefits : As you stated, NOW is the time to revamp them. Tax payers and the State of Illinois are BROKE from the cost of these plans. 4) Fire everyone on the school board for their failure in their fiduciary duty to responsibly manage the school districts. The mentality of "Oh well tax payers will have to just pay more" has got to STOP. All I ever hear about is the teachers wages, who agreed to the contracts for the administrators? For every administrators salary how many more teachers could be employed? Why do we have so many? We do not need teachers with a doctors degree, just like you don't need an electrical engineer to wire your house. Just because they have a doctors or masters degree does not necessarily mean they are a better teacher. Fed up with incompetence. Jeff Muranyi
Brian Blackmore May 18, 2011 at 02:48 PM
In 2009 and 2010, I recieved three +/- 20% pay cuts until I was laid off last August after 13 years as a shareholder of a company. Never once did I question it. In the real world, revenue coming in must be more than revenue going out. I never felt entitled to my job either. Just sayin.
Fred Cregier August 12, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Bob, great letter. I know you take a lot of criticism from various sources for seeming to be "abrasive" in your approach to School District issues and the constant tax levys voed to "tax to the max" allowed by State law(?). In the time I have observed you in action, I do see you as a kind of bulldog person who continues to "fight" for what you feel is right, and I admire your tenacity, as I personally believe the current and previous Boards have not really or thoroughly screened the administration's budgets, and therefore they do not serve their real "bosses", namely the taxpayers! You have been consistent in wanting strong and excellent education, but one we can all afford, and I am with you on the failure of the Board to find any more ways to save on the costs of running this School District. Your current letter lays out the areas for improvement very specifically, and I urge you to keep the spotlight on what needs to be done, in the hope all Board members will stop making excuses for not being able to find any more areas to cut and begin to do the fiscal responsibiltiy steps they need to tackle to keep from forcing more people into looking for ways to move out of Geneva, caused by skyrocketing taxes! Fred Cregier
Fred Cregier August 12, 2011 at 01:39 PM
As I sent my comment just now I see a strange word in the second line: "voed". One of the joys of getting old is we often think we can type into a computer but when re-reading there are some words that make me ask myself: "what in heck did I do that for?" I can normally spell a bit better than that! It is just that darned old computer keyboard which seems to have a life of its own. Fred Cregier

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