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TaxFACTS Member Asks for Resignations Over 'Enrollmentgate'

Citizens group says Geneva's School Board is "grossly underestimating the seriousness" of allegations that the administration purposefully misinformed voters prior to a 2007 referendum.

Who came up with the inflated enrollment numbers distributed to the public prior to the 2007 referendum? How did those numbers end up on informational flyers and the School District's website?

Was there a purposeful effort to deceive the public? And if so, should the School Board members or staff members responsible be asked to resign?

These are some of the questions raised at Monday night's School Board meeting by Geneva TaxFACTS member Sandra Ellis during a two-part presentation in separate public-comment periods.

In a Powerpoint printout, Ellis showed a graphic that appeared on the School District's website in 2006 that indicated enrollment growth projections rising annually, from 5,854 in 2006 to 7,472 in 2012—an increase of 1,618 students.

NUMBERS PRESENTED TO PUBLIC

  Year

  Enrollment

  2006     5,854     2007   6,145   2008    6,489   2009   6,884   2010   7,080   2011   7,276   2012   7,472

 

Ellis pointed out that the district's consultant, John Kasarda, predicted an increase of 345 students in that same time period in his "Series B," or mid-level projections. Kasarda's high-end "Series C" projections said the district would add 888 students by 2012.

Ellis said the Kasarda report numbers were not given to the public prior to the 2007 referendum and only were posted on the School District website after a Freedom of Information Act request produced the documents on Feb. 29 of this year.

The $79 million referendum, which called for the construction of the Williamsburg and Fabyan elementary schools as well as other improvements, passed by just 100 votes—2,495 to 2,395.

The actual increase of students as of June 2011, Ellis said, is 121 students. The Kasarda "Series B" projection was an increase of 345 students by 2012.

"Do you think the referendum for building two new schools would have been saleable to voters based on that number?" Ellis asked.

Ellis pointed out that three present School Board members were serving prior to the 2007 referendum—Mary Stith, Bill Wilson and Tim Moran—and that Superintendent Kent Mutchler was the superintendent at that time.

She said a "thorough investigation should begin immediately ... to determine if this was fraud.

"The person responsible for inflating the numbers needs to be identified," Ellis said. "If they are still on the board or within the administration, they have already been given a chance by (School Board President Mark) Grosso to come forward.

"They need to be replaced."

At the beginning of her presentation, Ellis asked for additional time to speak. There are two public-comment opportunities at School Board meetings but each speaker is limited to five minutes. Grosso allowed Ellis to go two minutes past her allotted time in the first public-comment period, but asked her to finish in the second comment period. He denied requests by other speakers to donate their five minutes of speaking time to Ellis.

"I’ll look at your handout afterward," he said. "You can finish at the next part of the meeting."

Ellis eventually complied, under protest. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in a time warp at these meetings," she said.

Several other residents, most or all of them members of the TaxFACTS group, commented, as well.

Karen McQuillan said the board needs to lead by example.

"It’s recently come to light what appears to be a serious deception," she said. "I do hold you the School Board responsible (to make sure) that those who deceived the taxpayers are held accountable. We the taxpayers of Geneva need to trust the information that’s fed to us. I implore you, give us the answers we deserve."

Dick Graff asked for an explanation of the numbers but also wanted the board to do more to cut the tax burden for residents.

"I think you’re grossly underestimating the seriousness of these allegations," he said. "It’s just not going to go away. If you don’t take care of (the debt) ... you’re going to have a School District with no residents. It’s getting harder and harder. I just feel like it’s business as usual here."

TaxFACTS leader Bob McQuillan asked the board to make sure "history doesn't repeat itself."  He said that since 2006, the School District's tax rate increased from $4.76 to $5.73 per $1,000 assessed value.

"This debt repayment needs to be taken into account," he said. "Please keep in mind that debt. Unless operating costs are reduced, our tax rate will continue to increase."

Grosso noted that the School District recently held a public forum asking residents to identify some of the most important issues facing the Geneva School District, and the enrollment numbers "did not seem to be a hot-button issue."

During the "Board Member Comments" part of the agenda, School Board member Matt Henry said he had a boss once who spent a lot of time trying to assess blame for anything that went wrong.

"And never did that solve the problem or get the ball rolling again," he said. "We’ve looked into it. I don’t right now have any answers for it. ... But I can tell you I do trust the people on this board. I don’t think there was any improprieties, and the assumption that there was … it’s scary. We’re just volunteers in this community doing the best that we can. I don’t know anybody who would knowingly fraud themselves and the community."

Stith said 2006 was the first time she'd been a School Board member, but she said the board's decision to seek a referendum was based on the Kasarda "Series B" numbers and could not offer a reason the Kasarda numbers differed from those given to the public.

"I do not know where those numbers came from," she said. "I wish I knew that, but ... please try to remember that referendum was to build two new schools that were already needed."

Stith noted that one school was a replacement for Coultrap, and that had to be done because the 1923 building was aging. 

She also said there's a misconception that empty seats or empty classrooms equates to an overabundance of space. There is always a need for music, reading, literacy and other space above the standard classroom, she said.

"At some time in the future, we may have to close a school," she said. "I do not want to have to do that ... (But) at this time, we do not have enough empty classrooms to close an elementary school."

Geneva resident Kate Bochte thanked School Board members for their good work and reminded them that those who speak at board meetings don't always represent majority opinion.

"I’d like to affirm that I do trust our School Board members," she said. "I don’t speak for the community—no one speaks for the community. The majority of Geneva voters in the last several elections have put our School Board members in office for a reason. The voters have spoken, and I think you have to listen to the majority of voters—not just those who are coming up here at the microphone."

Steven Sheehan May 17, 2012 at 07:33 PM
The reason we are now faced with these horrific options is because school officials in 2007 disregarded the expert opinion of an educator — Professor John D. Kasarda. Is it not tragic that an esteemed academician’s independent and nationally recognized work was summarily dismissed by Geneva’s education advocates, and replaced with contrived data sprinkled with demographic fairy dust. Is it not shameful that the “multiplier” was purported to be the work of Dr. Kasarda when it was clearly proven to be not factual. Mr. Grosso should know there is no need for a “full blown investigation.” Dr. Kasarda is already on the record to several sources that he did not “verify” the school district’s fantasy numbers. All the other information surrounding this matter is in the public domain. The school district gambled and went all in, and the taxpayers lost. Whoever runs for the next school board elections should be required to pass the Kasarda Test. That is where you must read page 30 here http://www.genevataxfacts.org/images/pdfs/Enrollment-5-12-12.pdf and answer the question. “Given the data projections developed by a leading authority using a robust demographic model, what is the prudent course for CUSD 304 to follow and to communicate to voters?” Series A — The Minimum Track (purple lines) Series B — The Expected Track (green lines) Series C — The Maximum “highly unlikely” Track (blue lines) Series D — Just the make the crap up (red line)
Noel G. Rooks May 17, 2012 at 07:33 PM
I totally agree, Stacy. We need to find solutions.
Angela Kane May 17, 2012 at 08:11 PM
A. I don't recall anyone from TaxFacts advocating "close schools and fire staff" as a total solution to the problem. Please don't just make up stuff. B. if the school district wants a benefactor to bail them out of this mess THEY should look for one. In the big picture we don't need a new chalk board or whatever else the Foundation buys. We have people on staff who work at finding grants (taxpayer money). Why not commission them to find donors? OR have a fundraiser for debt! Sell cookies, have a dinner, a fun run-whatever! C. Love the schools? Then write a check to alleviate the debt! Donate and take a tax write-off if you want. Have any rich friends or know any corporations in our district? Work on them! No matter how many ideas that anyone from TaxFacts (which I am not) comes up with they will be castigated and demonized as damaging the "educational experience" that is touted. Geez, DEBT DEBT DEBT. Maybe the kids in our schools didn't create it but no matter how you slice it, they will be damaged by the results of failing to take action to handle it. We need to stop the silliness and wake up to the reality we face as a school district, state and country. We are drowning in debt and this ongoing blame game is failing to recognize the big issue that is killing us.
Angela Kane May 17, 2012 at 08:16 PM
And condos--yes, the real estate market is in the tank. That's true. But the rental market is booming. If you build it they will come. Shodeen's units in Millcreek are doing well. Nice rental property is tough to come by. But don't shoot the messenger here--I'm throwing out ideas at least. That's a lot more than the blame game and criticism garbage flying around. Have any other ideas? Let's hear them! At least I have the intestinal fortitude to suggest something!
Angela Kane May 17, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Stacy--what town will you choose and how will you pay the tuition? If you live out of district you must pay tuition. Or private school? No voucher for you because we don't do that here! So gonna sell your house? Are you insulting teachers by saying they are not capable of teaching a class of 30? And don't they have class size clauses in their contract?
Bob McQuillan May 17, 2012 at 08:35 PM
How much further are we down the road of resolving debt after TAX FACTS' numerous confrontations with the board? Nowhere. I agree, because the administration and board refuses to listen to any suggestions from the community. TaxFACTS can only do so much, the board must act. As to your questions about buses, I have been discussing this issue for 8 years. We went to 2 year leases because no other district could afford even 1 year old buses. Do you know that this district has never, in it's history, gone out to competitive bid on busing. I don't know that outsourcing is the right decision but how can you say it isn't if you have never looked at it? Buses are made to run for 15-20 years. We spend millions on busing every year because we like our drivers (who make over $27.00 per year to start) and that the buses must be safe? Four year old buses are as safe at two year old buses. If we need buses every 1-2 years, why did we spend $3,000,000 on a bus barn?? Here's an idea, lets have a community wide open public meeting where we can objectively go through what, how and why we spend so much every year. The public can ask any questions they want without fear of being painted ant-education. The board members are welcome to come to the meeting but the community runs the show not the school board. No holes barred, good hard, honest facts and then let the community decide. You set the meeting up and I'll be there, anytime, any place.
Stacy May 17, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Angela, no problems paying private school tuition if we need to, we can sell our house and take a loss. We've looked at Evanston, Hinsdale and even discussed just the hop, skip and a jump to St Charles. I know what my son's class of 24 is like. He has one of the best elementary teachers in the district. He is smart, independent and in the AE program. However, even a class of 24 has issues with kids who have behavior and learning problems and while he gets extra attention because of AE, he doesn't get the extra push he needs because she's too busy dealing with 4 or 5 other children who need help in various other ways. His teacher does a remarkable jon with what she has to work with, but add even three or four more children to the mix with equal problems and it just isn't worth it. I love Geneva. Its a great town with what is now a pretty good school system. It wouldn't take much to make sure it becomes less appealing to those looking to move here. Had I been aware of any of these issues when we moved here 8 years ago, I would have pushed harder for one of the cities I mentioned previously. However, I wanted our son to have a small town experience while living among a big city environment. Cities with great walkability scores are becoming the trend. Geneva will become much less appealing (unless you live on the edges of town) if people's children have no hope of walking to school.
Stacy May 17, 2012 at 08:58 PM
As for rentals, that's a gamble that would be a tough sell in existing neighborhood. Families won't move in, there's no school. Singles won't be interested as you're no longer in a vibrant neighborhood. I still see no appeal for a developer to take on that risk. If rentals are so demanded, why aren't they building on existing open land plots?
Rod Nelson May 17, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Innovation is public education is very difficult. The Illinois School Code mandates an enormous number of programmatic costs from facilities to curriculum. The teacher's contract is also detailed and sets some parameters that cannot be easily altered. School boards that want to innovate find themselves handcuffed. Frankly, the bricks and mortar questions become the default issues since addressing the classroom number is infinitely easier than addressing what actually happens in the classrooms. We never have a referendum on how to allocate resources to special education programs versus gifted programs or how to best focus on the value added to the life of each child individually. In the past the bricks and mortar issues comprised 10-15% of the budget (capital expenditure plus debt) while these issues occupied at least 50% of the dialogue between the community and the school leadership. Now, for a while at least, the percent of the revenue needed for facilities will be closer to 25%. We cannot undo the mistake that we, the voters, made by overbuilding. But now we must seize the opportunity to focus on what happens in the classrooms to see if we can improve the product while controlling costs. Candidates should come forward with plans to accomplish this so the next election can be a referendum on both ideas and dollars.
Martina Natoma May 17, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Dr. Kasardas 2011 report suggests a 7% decline in enrollment at the elementary level over the next 4 years. Why would be need to keep the same number of employees with that large of a decline in enrollment?
Angela Kane May 18, 2012 at 02:09 AM
I would suggest that in the current economy every school district in our state will have financial issues--Evanston, Hinsdale, St. Charles--wherever. So Stacy--move, but I think some realtor might tell you all kinds of things to get a sale. As for my husband and I--we love it here. I want to stay and fight, to fix the the problems and make our schools more accountable--educationally and fiscally. Yes, if we have less students we need to reallocate resources and move students around if necessary and even close buildings if we need to. I want to be able to afford to stay. If taxes go up as much as some say they might to stave off the debt bomb (and as both of us will be on retirement income) I don't think we'll be able to afford to hold out. We won't be the only ones leaving--people will flee and home values will suffer badly. Nobody wants that so let's suck it up, act like responsible grownups and figure out how to make the changes we need to make. We all need to stop whining. If not--will the last one out of Geneva please turn out the lights!
Angela Kane May 18, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Rentals ARE the hot thing. Read the real estate sections of the Chicago Tribune about rentals and vacancy rates. Conversions are doing well. When people can't buy they rent--and foreclosures are still going strong. People still will need some place to live and if rents are reasonable (that's the key) they will rent. Buildings like 4th Street make quaint historic conversions.
Pat May 18, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Because union members are like STDs; nearly impossible to get rid of
John R May 18, 2012 at 02:48 AM
@ Bob Re: last namegate and playing nice (attemp at humor) Bob, I'll have to respond to your post over the next several days or week. For the life of me I don't know how you guys find the time during the day to monitor and respond to these post. A couple weeks ago when we went back and forth I decided that this was something that shouldn't be done at work. I think the stress of my job, coupled with the volatility of the issue, resulted in a few post of mine which were insensitive. For that I apologize. Quality education is very important to me as I'm sure it is to you especially when you had kids in school. It's a hot button so don't always expect our dialog to be warm and fuzzy. But I really do want to "play nice" and I will reiterate that Sandra Ellis gave a very nice presentation, on behalf I assume, of taxFacts. So for the sake of civility and community let's give the nice thing a try. We actually sat near each other at the last board meeting. Maybe you don't realize it but your group has made these meetings very uncomfortable. Again I was going to introduce myself but you had gotten noticeable worked up so I figured I'd just wait until a better time presented itself. I won't be at the Tuesday meeting but will be at the meeting on June 11th and I will introduce myself at that time and then you will know my last name. I will not be using my last name on the Geneva patch. I will reveal myself once I make a comment at a board meeting.
John R May 18, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Last Namegate cont I will not be encouraging anyone to use their last names on these post. People tend to put way to much stuff out there on the net. Be it post with full names, open Facebook accts, pictures etc... I believe in a certain measure of cyber privacy. It's to easy for complete strangers to access all sorts of information. Especially if you freely give it up. But I'll drop you an email via your site and then you will have my personal email and last name. But for now if you don't mind I'd like to be John R on the Patch. Other matters......you've been at this for a long time. Your group will probably be successful in getting four of your people elected in April. The hostility that has been generated from issue after issue has created a toxic environment at these board meetings. You have hammered this board week after week after week. I don't think anyone wants to participate anymore. Given that and if you guys get some campaign funding together then come April 2013 it's gonna be your playground. So come clean a bit. What's the plan? I mean I get it your fed up with waste, perceived fraud, insider deals, high property taxes, etc. So how are you going to save us from ourselves? You've got the community shook up and you've got our attention. Your in a position of power and with that comes responsibility. In order to cut everyone's contribution in dist 304 by say $500 the cuts will have to be huge. Put our minds at ease. What's on the block?
G.Ryan May 18, 2012 at 03:26 AM
We must identify the underlying core fundamentals of this issue. We have a School District that paid a consultant $15,000 to establish the enrollment parameters for the referendum. Now why would you WASTE $15,000 of the taxpayers money to pay for his expertise and not utilized it. GREED. This School District has a spending addiction and until they get out of denial of their behavior we cannot address solutions. Furthermore, the School District already had an established debt percentage of approximately 13.8% prior to the proposed referendum. Once again, why would you spend any money when you already have a debt history? No lending institution would even consider lending you a loan as you are a considerable amount of HIGH RISK. But the School District did not INFORM the taxpayers of this debt during the referendum process. Because any entity who has an addiction will never admit to it!! At the Monday meeting, Mary Stith, present School Board member and former Board member (during the enrollment era) stated she does not know where the enrollment numbers came from...then why would you vote on going to a referendum when you don't know where the numbers came from? My point is this School Board and District needs to acknowledge their responsibility in their waste and greed behaviors before a remedy intervention can be addressed. I do not see how this has any impact on impeding the quality of the educational process and thus jeopardizing the children.
Bob McQuillan May 18, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Here's an idea, lets have a community wide open public meeting where we can objectively go through what, how and why we spend so much every year. The public can ask any questions they want without fear of being painted ant-education. The board members are welcome to come to the meeting but the community runs the show not the school board. No holes barred, good hard, honest facts and then let the community decide. You set the meeting up and I'll be there, anytime, any place. This was posted 7 hours ago, yet no one has taken me up on the offer. Or commented on the idea. Do some posting here really want to find a solution or do they just want to hide behind made up names and blame others for not doing enough. Come on Noel & Stacy, set a time and place for a community wide meeting, lets hear what your plans are for a solution to the issues.
G.Ryan May 18, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Once the School Board and District gets beyond their arrogance and admits to their wasteful spending greedy addiction the town of Geneva and its residents will never have proactive solutions. This is why they need to resign as they cannot admit to their failures and fraud. Mr. McQuillan, I agree a Town Hall meeting could get matters rolling....thank you. Folks it is all of our futures which is at stake here. Our town is now a huge financial liability to stay and to go because with a high property tax based home no buyer will be interested when they can go elsewhere and get the same benefits at a lower cost. And if we don't intervene now the foreclosure rate will continue to climb. So please follow some common sense here and let's get to work.
Noel G. Rooks May 18, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Name the time and place. I'll be there.
Bob McQuillan May 18, 2012 at 04:56 AM
John R There are no plans to "take over the board," Will I sit down with other concerned individuals and speak to future board candidates? Yes I will. But GenevaTaxFACTS (GTF) does not endorse candidates for any race. I personally will support those willing to make tough choices in the best interest of the community. Everyone has the right to do that. GTF does not raise or provide funds for any candidates. The toxic environment at board meetings is the result of this board not providing answers to well thought out questions about how and why they spend taxpayer funds. Ignoring the efforts of a group that understands the issues is the board's decision. The board doesn't answer questions at their scheduled meetings and doesn't interact with the public at their public forums. Exactly when do they answer questions from the people they serve? Asking for questions to be submitted to a website is not transparent, how does the public know that all questions that are asked are being answered. The first step to any solution is for the community to get involved and understand all the issues that we face. Then the board must be willing to listen to the taxpayers concerns. You ask what is on the block? The short answer is that everything should be on the block. Will you save $500 on your taxes next year, I doubt it. The goal should be to ensure that your taxes don't increase. How many ways can you say that current level of spending can not be sustained.
Bob McQuillan May 18, 2012 at 10:14 PM
I'll let you take the lead on picking a time and place. You can usually find me at the Geneva School Board meetings every other Monday at 7 pm at the former Coultrap Elementary School. Maybe the High School Auditorium could be used since the public has paid for it. It could be advertised as a Community Forum where people can ask questions and actually get answers. Come on Noel & Stacy, you have a lot to say on this subject. Set up the meeting and you can share your opinions and plans for the school district over the next next 5 years. You each get 15 minutes, GTF gets 15 minutes and then we open it up to questions from the floor. Lets see who has the right message and understands all the issues.
Noel G. Rooks May 18, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Absolutism will never solve the problem. No one group has all the answers. Until we realize that it is going to take input from *both "sides" - and I say that tongue in cheek because in reality the only "side" is the betterment and fiscal solvency of our schools - this problem will never be solved.
G.Ryan May 19, 2012 at 02:18 AM
It is really important to keep a positive attitude and an open mind Mr. Rooks. This takes alot of tact and professionalism. This now has become such a catastrophic situation that there is no real easy solutions but we must persevere through its complications in order to solute its resolve. So please let's unite with the spirit of the community and lessen our fears of failure. We all must stand together and hear each voice in its validation to mediate resolutions or do nothing but watch the town perish in its own fiscal decay.....
Bob McQuillan May 19, 2012 at 05:10 AM
So Noel, Stacy & John R, what is your plan? I have offered the opportunity for all "sides" to meet and discuss the issues and possible solutions and yet no one wants to take the time to set up a time and location. I'm starting to think that posting on this site is just like attending school board meetings ... no one is willing to listen and change. I'll offer the challenge up one more time; all you need to do is find a location and pick a date & time. Lets start the dialogue and invite the entire community. Or maybe we should all wear a certain color and protest to the administration & school board that we aren't happy they haven't proposed any solutions to our financial problems. Don't think we should pick red though, since that was already used on Friday.
John R May 20, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Bob, We are in agreement :) It's high time for all concerned parties to meet face to face to discuss solutions. I'll check with the Geneva library on Monday regarding space. They have at least one large space and I assume it can be checked out. Trying to hash this stuf out on the Geneva patch and during comment sections at board meetings is not working. John
Rick Anderson May 20, 2012 at 03:50 AM
A solution comes from thorough discussion of extreme and minimal measures to solve a problem and find some middle ground. I wonder if any extremes have been identified and allowed creativity to guide a plan. The irony is, this CUSD had a five year plan for growth and spending that failed without any provisions. Where is the 5 year plan for for the cards we have been dealt. Is it a reactionary plan?
John R May 21, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Noel, Stacy and Bob Are you all really interested in participating in some sort of community forum/workshop? I'm interested in a solution based workshop rather than some sort of debate. I visulize maybe everyone having an opportunity to make a comment and then maybe breaking it down into smaller groups. What would you guys propose? This back and forth posting is interesting but I don't see it generating solutions. Ultimately we need to develop solutions and feasible ideas that can be presented to the board and administration for consideration. Otherwise we are just spinning our wheels. I can be emailed at district304.geneva@gmail.com Bob I will drop you an email via your taxFact site. John
JT May 31, 2012 at 01:02 AM
can someone please explain to me why my kid's math/science teacher makes less money than her PE teacher? i don't understand why someone who teaches gym class is paid that much money. can you imagine going to work in sweatpants and making 80-90K per year? i remember what some of my PE teachers taught me....NOTHING. wouldn't any changes here reduce costs significantly?
Stacy May 31, 2012 at 03:59 PM
JT - while I don't know anything about your kid's math/science teacher or PE teacher, I can understand why the PE teacher might make more. My son, who is in elementary school, has an EXCELLENT PE teacher. She teaches them about correct portion sizes, how much exercise they should be getting a day and how to utilize those exercises for your whole life. She cares about the kids and acts as a good example to them. In Middle Schools and High Schools sometimes the PE teachers act as coaches to smaller sports clubs or teams and give of their time for small additional compensation. That may be what is pushing their salary over you Math/Science teacher. Don't forget that all teachers go through the same certifications and schooling. They all participate in continuing education seminars and classes. In this day and age, PE may become instrumental in keeping our kids focused and their minds open to learning. While kids are getting less recess time, they are still getting gym time. Exercise helps their minds absorb more information and keeps their bodies from getting restless. Music, Art, Science are ALL important to our kids education. I'm sorry your PE teachers taught you nothing. I remember my PE teachers fondly, and my son will remember his elementary PE teacher with the same fondness. By the way, I know TONS of computer programmers that show up to work at 10am in their sweats and make LOTS more than $80-$90K per year. That's not just reserved for PE teachers.
B.A. Paczki June 12, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Remember the old saying - those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym.

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