Now that has been published in the Kane County Chronicle, and with so much going on in School District 304—, , teachers' contract negotiations—there is a chance that the "Enrollmentgate" issue will quietly fade to black.
It shouldn't. Here's why.
The issue is that presented to the public prior to 2007's $80 million building-bond referendum were not the same as those submitted to the district by its professional consultant.
, pure and simple—pulled out of someone's hat and presented in charts and graphs, sanctioned by the School District and presented on its website.
It's not a little thing. It's called voter fraud, and it's an allegation that should be taken very seriously.
Many good folks have argued that it's too hard to find out what went wrong. There are many more important items on the School District's to-do list. And no one we know would do such a thing.
Well, the hard truth is, someone did.
School District 304 was caught in a lie. And when government officials are caught in a lie, three things should happen:
(1) Someone should take responsibility.
In this case, in my opinion, the buck stops at School District 304 Superintendent Dr. Kent Mutchler. Dr. Mutchler is a good person, no doubt, and he was new to the district at the time of the referendum. But he hasn't shown much leadership in dealing with this issue, and leadership is what we should expect from our school superintendent.
Whether or not Dr. Mutchler actually saw or OK'd the numbers, he should say—and frankly should have said as soon as the issue came to light: "This happened on my watch. It's my job to make sure the public gets correct information to make a voting decision—and that clearly didn't happen."
(2) Someone should apologize.
Probably Dr. Mutchler again, since he was the official in charge at the time, but it could come from the School Board, as well. The School District did make a formal response to the allegations of impropriety, but the neither the statement nor any comment I've heard included the very simple, effective, human response of saying "I'm sorry."
Probably, lawyers advised the School District not to apologize, because that indicates guilt or fault.
(3) Determine what went wrong and how the district will ensure it doesn't happen again.
It shouldn't be up to , as he did in good faith. The board should direct the staff to find the appropriate agency to determine what happened. Start by consulting with the Kane County State's Attorney's Office, and let us know how the State's Attorney's Office responds. Most importantly, once it's determined what slipped through the cracks, tell the public the protocols you'll put in place to seal them.
Basically, it said that the School District didn't believe the professional consultant's report, so it came up with its own numbers using a variety of sources.
"Nothing deceptive or unlawful was done in the process of the referendum campaign," the report said.
Someone other than the School District should make that determination.
Finally, much has been made of the fact that the TaxFACTS group brought the issue to light. And that TaxFACTS has a political motive in continuing to hammer on the enrollment-projection controversy.
That might be true. But it shouldn't stop School District 304 from doing the right thing.
If you want to be the good guys, you have to act like the good guys. Take responsibility, apologize and show the community what you'll do to make sure it doesn't happen again.