A Geneva resident and local newspaper columnist on Monday compared Geneva School Board members' attitude toward the TaxFACTS group to the prejudice aimed at blacks during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Rick Holinger of 335 Colonial Circle read a prepared speech that lasted a little more than five minutes, the standard time allotted for public comment at a School Board meeting.
"This is not a speech about black history," he said, "but it is about prejudice; that is, about ignorance."
Holinger told the story of when he was 15 years old and his mother said Dr. Martin Luther King was coming to Chicago "to stir up trouble." Later—after reading Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and others in college—Holinger came to realize that he and his mother knew little about the black experience and had been guilty of prejudice.
He said something similar is happening here in Geneva.
"Lately, it has become fashionable to call someone who commits himself to bettering his community an activist, loudmouth or egomaniac," he said. "And if polite society believes someone is pushing too hard or too long, he might even be accused of trying to wrest control of government."
Hollinger is a member of the Geneva TaxFACTS citizens group, a teacher at Marmion Academy, a book author and columnist for the Kane County Chronicle.
"When the board and others attack a ground-roots organization like the TaxFACTS group because it tries to get the attention of the board and the community, because it tries to encourage better transparency and to face facts, I hear my mother say, 'That Geneva TaxFACTS is trying to stir up trouble.' "
Holinger referenced comments made by School Board member Matt Henry at the Jan. 23 School Board meeting.
"A member of the School Board delivered a speech accusing 'some' people of thinking the board existed to give away everything to the teachers and administrators. In so saying, he stereotyped all well-meaning critics of the board as extremists bent on selfishly saving money," Holinger said.
Holinger paraphrased Henry, who pointed out on Jan. 23 that School Board members have endured a lot of name-calling of late.
"It's true. I've called the board 'arrogant,' " Holinger said, "because when drowning in a slough of doubt and offered a life vest of community volunteers with financial expertise, the board overwhelmingly voted, 'No.' "
Holinger was alluding to TaxFACTS suggestions for the creation of a school-finance advisory group made up of citizens and board members.
Later in the meeting, Holinger and other residents asked the School Board to provide copies of, or access to board meeting video or audio recordings, either via MP3 audio format or on disks so that citizens could review the meetings with a fast-forward or rewind function. Presently, the board meeting videos are offered on Comcast Channel 10.
"If I failed to paraphrase Mr. Henry's presenation accurately, it is not for want of trying," Holinger said. "I also tried to transcribe the speech from the Channel 10 video, but the sound quality was horrendous, and the antique method of broadcasting these meetings makes it impossible to stop the tape and take notes."
Sandra Ellis, 209 Peyton St., said she had "worked behind the scenes" to convince the School District to make videos available in a downloadable format from the District 304 website or make video recordings available on a hard disk.
"It’s not an unreasonable request to make them on demand," she said.
Barry Bourdage suggested that the School Board post videos of the meetings on YouTube, where they could be accessed by anyone.
"This is a public forum, correct?" he said. "I’m confused about why this is such a complex task."
Henry said after the meeting that he understood the concerns of the speakers and was trying hard not to take offense at Holinger's allegations of prejudice.
"If I thought it had merit or grounds, I'd be upset," he said. "But this is just thoughtless accusations. What are you going to do. Goodness."
School Board President Mark Grosso said techonology issues and costs made it difficult to immediately provide videos to every member of the public, but "we’ll trend toward trying to get it in a format" people can use.
Board member Kelly Nowak, who serves on the School Board's Communication Task Force, said the district is working on a solution that could be ready for presentation in a matter of weeks.
"I think we have found something, and I think we will all be pleasantly surprised," she said. "Bear with us, but we are getting there."