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Cullen to School Board: It's Time for a Hard Look at Geneva's Tax Burden, By the Numbers

Citizen James Cullen offers a challenging "by the numbers" look at the financial burdens facing present and future Geneva homeowners.

Standing in front of the Board of Education on Monday night, citizen James Cullen held up page after page of white 8.5-by-11 paper, each with a hand-printed number on it, to illustrate the financial situation facing property owners in Geneva.

By doing so, Cullen offered his 2 cents, pleading for board action to lower the School District 304 debt and the burden on the average Joe and Jane homeowner.

Some of Cullen's numbers included:

17 percent increase—The hike the Cullen family saw year-over-year when they opened their 2012 property tax bill.

Minus 10 percent—Cullen said that's the Federal Reserve's estimate of median income decrease for Americans during the past 10 years.

Pensions represent "the huge problem ahead," Cullen said, and he used more numbers to say why full-scale reform is needed to "help the kids" once those students become adults.

12—The average age of School District 304 students.

13—years later, those students become adults.

16—years from now, those 12-year-olds will be buying a home, perhaps in Geneva. "I hope they can afford the property tax," Cullen said.

Cullen concluded with numbers associated with politics.

536 people work in Washington, D.C.—That includes 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, 100 U.S. senators and one president. "We pay a lot of attention to them," Cullen said.

7 members—of the Geneva School Board.

Cullen commended the School Board members for their service to the community, the countless hours they spend in that volunteer effort and the difficulty of the decisions they face.

"To my surprise—and I’m typical, my wife and I—our property tax exceeds substantially the income tax we pay to Washington and state of Illinois," he said.

4—The number of School Board seats up for election in April, 2013.

Cullen said he valued his elementary school education, where he learned many important values, such as the Golden Rule, hard work, fairness and justice.

He signed off with a final number.

65—"The average number of years our fine students in Geneva will be living afer they leave the School District, living with the financial burden of the decisions you folks make, with pensions particularly," he said.

Elaine Lane July 26, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Thank you, James Cullen.
Jennifer Rowe July 26, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Great break down, now if people would just process the information given and see changes need to be made!
Political PR Machine July 26, 2012 at 01:17 PM
How is it that our nation falls to about 30th or below in math and science, and that we have companies that say our workforce is not prepared to meet the current employment needs, that deflation has taken place in real estate, wages, job creation, and yet the rate of inflation for education continues to match healthcare as out of line and excessive. There are no cost controls, and productivity/efficiency are considered to be blasphemy when discussing management of the school programs.
Political PR Machine July 26, 2012 at 01:18 PM
When I attended one of the board meetings, where there were three budget proposals, all of which assumed cost increases of around 4% or more, ir baffled me as to how there could be no proposal which showed cost cuts. When I asked, what I was told was that if you cut costs in certain areas, it becomes nearly impossible down the road to get the increases needed to get back to where you were, in the event that the district experiences future growth. My takeaway from that is that the issue needs to be addressed much more at a state and Federal level where funding issues and decisions are made that impact the districts, and that we should be asking our board to obtain and provide a layman's understanding of that process, so we can focus our attentions to where we can impact change that allows for more financial flexibility and rationale cost management practices.
Political PR Machine July 26, 2012 at 01:18 PM
As has been seen in some communities in California, lack of cost management will lead to bankruptcy filings by towns/cities/counties if left unaddressed, as the tax base in rural America is being depleted through innovations in technology/productivity and corporate job relocations to areas of lowest cost/taxes. This community has not seen it nearly as bad as some, say for example Freeport, where there has been a radical transformation of corporate jobs departing. But we must be aware of the possibility for an eroding tax base, and deal with it proactively and not reactionary, in my opinion, if we are be considered responsible citizens with the communities best interests at the forefront. The cost management discussion and the need to have clear understanding of the process that provides funding from the state and federal government clearly are areas we should seek as much info from from our local journalists, School Board, and expertws in those areas. There is something broke in the system, and we need to locate where it is broken and where we can impact repairing it.
Jack July 26, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Ken, I think the problems are well enough identified. Yes, much of what affects our school funding originates at State and Federal levels, but I think we'd be wrong to believe solutions will come from either. Just look at their record so far. What are the chances that the district will "experience future growth" beyond the excess capacity we've built? We can't pay for the millions already squandered by our school board except to progressively raise taxes beyond what citizens in neighboring communities will pay. "Future Growth" worries are a red herring. Who would move here? This is a problem we must solve by ourselves, if it is to be solved at all.
Donna Mead July 26, 2012 at 02:43 PM
12—The average age of School District 304 students. 13—years later, those students become adults. 16—years from now, those 12-year-olds will be buying a home, perhaps in Geneva. "I hope they can afford the property tax," Cullen said. ==== Ok everyone, just keep repeating "It's for the kid,s, It's for the kids" OH You mean the grossly exaggerated pension plan, the regular tax bill increases in the face of declining home values, the pay increases just for showing up for work, and the tax to the maximum allowed by law ever year... THAT's what they are talking about when the teachers, board members, and administration say "It's for the kids!" The "IT" is fiscal insolvency!
Political PR Machine July 26, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Jack - we can solve all of the world's problems ourselves, but if we do not effect change in the fiscal operating policies, ethics, and procedures that lead to funding for school districts, our problem solving will have no impact. Hence- we must identify solutions, build consensus, and make demands at the proper political levels, in a manner that puts more heat on them for NOT making changes than they currently feel - Also- while I share your view that changes are needed in cost management and funding mechanisms, I do not share the view of "Who would move here" - it is a great place, with some issues that need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, they are financial issues and changing the funding mechanism that currently promotes continuance of a failed way of doing business long term.
Political PR Machine July 26, 2012 at 03:32 PM
The system in place is a systemically failed approach. It is like using gambling proceeds to fund education, and then trying to eliminate gambling... the incentives, and benchmarks, and funding philosophies are not working - but the local level is working within the framework provided to them, so the framework needs change.
G.Ryan July 26, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Folks, the bottom line here is Washington, California and Illinois are broke. Other States will be following this trend. The social entitlement programs of this Nation need overhauling as they can no longer sustain themselves. We can no longer thrive as a Nation of "give aways". Our savings accounts are no longer interest bearing accounts. Our salaries can no longer keep up with the rate of inflation and property tax burdens. We are giving more to the Feds and the States in income tax. Our take home pay has decreased. We live from paycheck to paycheck. Greed and violence seems to be the replacement for God's laws. And the School District's have the power to use our money as an ATM machine because the legislation has allowed this tyranny. The politicians help themselves and do nothing but promise everything to get elected. Term limits are a fallacy. So where is the Power to the People? And just how long will it take before they bankrupt us all as the gov't expands and our income continues to contract? There are forecasts that the next Great Depression will be incontrovertible.
Angela Kane July 26, 2012 at 06:41 PM
So it seems that Bob McQuillan (the "usual" punching bag) isn't the only one who sees the issue of school funding/budgets as serious and important? Amazing! Thank you folks for daring to publicly discuss these issues. Warning: you will be on someone's (insert naughty word here) list soon enough and you'll be told you don't "care about the children." You wild anarchists!
Thomas July 26, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Mr. Cullen, Is it possible you can share with us the name of your tax advisor. If you are paying substantially more in property taxes than your state and income taxes you must have access to some pretty amazing tax shelters I would love to know about. My wife and I file jointly and we payed a combined state and federal income tax bill of a little over $35,000. My home is assessed at around $230,000 my property tax bill was just around $6,000. For me to be in your situation I would have to live in a home assessed at around $1.4 million dollars. Please I would love for my income taxes to be substantially lower than $6,0000. Your advice would be helpful.
Mary Lu O'Halloran July 26, 2012 at 10:56 PM
Mary Lu O'Halloran Thank you Cathy. You have gotten to the core issue that has divided many folks and stiffled healthy debate and discussion. If we all work together in a respectful manner, even if there are parts we do not agree with,we will get to where we need to go to keep our school district healthy,vibrant and stable in every way. Sad to say Angela some people do not care about the kids k-12.I have sat in on much of the discussion. We really can adjust our belts in this difficult economic time and at the same time work through all the issues that create school environments that encourage healthy development of all our children and youth K-12. The most wonderful life giving things that have happened in Geneva since I moved here 35 years ago have been accomplished through hard work, collaboration, all working together for the best solutions to benefit our community. We are up to the task. We are capable. We can do it. Let's leave the drama, rudeness and negativity behind. Let us move forward.
John R July 26, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Angela, I don't think anyone is using Mr. McQuillan as a punching bag. I also don't think he minds one bit when he's questioned or challenged. It gives him an opportunity to once again share his ideas and fears. You might not realize it but he is the number one contributor to the patch. The concerns that have been voiced over some of the ideas floated are valid and desearve just as much consideration as the TaxFacts fears. I'm very concerned about what might happen if TaxFacts gains control of the Board come April. What would a McQuillan/Kane/Ellis/Ryan board implement? It's a fair question. What would have to be cut if the McQuillan 5 5 5 plan was implemented? My son will be starting kindergarten fall 2014. He will be in the eye of the plan. Should I consider moving out of the district. Most of you have already gotten your kids through the school system. But mine is just starting. I've said it many times. Your concerns are valid but so are mine. John Rice
Bob McQuillan July 27, 2012 at 02:16 AM
John What does it matter if I'm the #1 poster on the patch or not? I have said from the beginning, the 5-5-5 plan may not be right. I have it on video so I'm not back pedaling as you suggested before. Where is the discussion on any plan to stop the increases? There has been none. So you can sleep, I have no plans to run for the Geneva School Board in 2013. No one has been personally attacked in any discussion about the school district. Even Jeff Ward's attacks on GenevaTaxFACTs are merit less. The current & past school boards have made bad financial decisions, that isn't an opinion that is fact. No individual on the current board has been attacked and no one should believe any of them have been. The current board has shown signs that they understand the financial issues that we face. Still the administration in their proposed 2012-13 school budget has called for a 1.5% tax levy increase. That will result in a $3 million dollar surplus in the education fund. There is no need for a levy increase because any shortfall in the transportation and operation & maintenance funds can be covered by the reserves in those funds. If the board really has the best interests of the taxpayers in mind, they will approve a budget prior to September 30th and commit to the taxpayers that they will not vote for a tax levy increase in December. Even with no levy increase, our school taxes will increase next year because of the increase in debt service repayment. We don't need to be hit twice.
Jack July 27, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Where is the correlation between money spent and quality of the educational experience? If one puts quality first, kids should attend the best private school available. If one is more concerned about cost, then a great deal more attention must be paid to the behavior of the local school board than Geneva property owners have been paying.
Jim July 27, 2012 at 12:20 PM
John, you sound like a good parent. We all want what's best for our kids. It seems like yesterday that my son was a kindergartner and now he's entering the workforce. It pains me to tell him he'd have to be crazy to consider buying a house in Geneva - for the very reasons the Mr. Cullen illustrated so clearly. The tax burden here will take ever-increasing bites out of your income, and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down. So John, as a good father, realize that your kindergartener will grow up before you know it and the decisions we make today will sit squarely on his shoulders when he's trying to get started in the world on his own.
Angela Kane July 27, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Well, interesting discussion. Just a few observations since my name has been inserted by others in the postings. First, I ran for school board years ago and don't have any plans to run again. Not going to announce an election platform because I'm not running. Could we cut some expenses? Any multi-million dollar organization can. In conversations with people who work in other districts (who have cut)I see the differences. There are lots of little things that add up to big dollars. I also think others have proposed some cuts (like the every 2 year new bus thing) that make good common sense. Mary Lu--you know me and know my love of education. I think there are always going to be people who might be bitter about the money they send government--that doesn't necessarily mean they want a ZERO figure to go to schools or hate kids. Sometimes people say things out of frustration--and it doesn't mean that's how they feel deep down. And John R--OH COME ON--Bob McQ has been the punching bag (and specifically named) by tons of people on this site and elsewhere. He's had the courage to stand up WITH FACTS and FIGURES and ask questions. Until he and like minded people were public with their concerns the school board and administration did as they pleased. Remember the saying: "Fresh air is the greatest disinfectant." Public scrutiny has led to public knowledge and perhaps some change in our spending policies. Bob has "street cred" or "gravitas" on this issue. Kudos Bob.

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