There was more action at Tuesday night's Geneva School Board meeting than you might find in a Laurel and Hardy two-reeler—much of it related to the fine mess we've gotten ourselves into with state funding, a real estate collapse and a 2007 referendum that has left the district deeply in debt and
Among the topics Tuesday night:
- Two parents talked about the crisis they see coming at Mill Creek Elementary School, where they said kindergarten and first-grade class sizes were reaching 27 or 28 students.
- School officials received "unprecedented" response regarding efforts to replace seats and repair the Geneva High School aditorium—and the board voted to take action Monday night.
- The School District received news that state pension costs likely will be transferred to the district. The bill would phase in the pension reform plan, starting in 2013-14.
- A presentation was made to , particularly in the area of special education, due in part to state mandates.
- It was revealed that the School District is required to pay for transportation of homeless students who have moved as far away as Hoffman Estates.
- Transportation and Operations & Maintenance budgets show expenditures going up in 2012-13, according to a preliminary budget report by Assistant Superintendent Donna Oberg.
- The School Board is grappling with how to sell the aging and mostly-vacant Coultrap building as well as 27 acres of property it owns on Brundige Road.
Each of these topics is worthy of its own headline—and many will get a headline or two in the coming days—but because of a Tuesday-afternoon press release on the 2007 enrollment issue, each story took the back-burner.
The School Board moved up the meeting's first public comments session to the second agenda item, so the 5:17 p.m. e-mailed press release came up in the form of a question from the public rather than as an announcement by the board.
The stems from the recent release of a report by John Kasarda that showed enrollment projection numbers the consultant gave the district in 2006. Those numbers are lower than those presented to the public prior to a 2007 referendum that won permission to build two new schools.
"I’m here in regard to the May 26 Kane County Chronicle editorial regarding the referendum vote in 2006," resident Mark Ferguson said. "My concern is that there is no discussion as to how the numbers are inflated. I think that really does need to be addressed. I and my wife voted for the referendum. I worked for many years in making capital investment decisions for a large corporation, so I know the value of a dollar. As a taxpayer, I don’t want to vote for something under false conditions.
"There are a lot of silent people out there," he said. "They heard this, and it bothers them."
School Board President Mark Grosso responded that "the district did release additional information today. There is a release put online this afternoon. It’s available online right now.
"This board does not have any investigative powers other than looking at our own numbers and our own research," he said.
It basically says the enrollment projection numbers came from a variety of sources, including the Kasarda report, and that additional information sources indicated the Kasarda report's projections were low. The press release concludes that "nothing deceptive or unlawful was done in the process of the referendum campaign."
Another resident and a member of the Geneva Taxpayers for Accounable Controlled Spending (TaxFACTS) citizens group, Barry Bourdage, called the statement "a nonresponse."
Bourdage said the $80 million referendum only allowed the district to collect $52 million—and the additional $38 million debt is in the form of a note that is paid back at a 9 percent rate.
"It’s not ethical. It’s not moral. It is legal," he said. "I sure hope you take a look at what’s going on."
At the same meeting, the , took a look at preliminary budgets for Trasportation and Operations & Maintenance that called for spending increases and heard more hard news about unfunded state mandates.
"I look at this budget. I don’t see any cuts," Bourdage said. "How many people have seen a reduction in salary or no salary at all? I look at the salary list, and there are a lot of teachers making low or average salaries that are doing a great job. Why are we having a $140,000-a-year driver’s ed teacher?"
Garin Bergman told the board that Tuesday night was "my first board meeting." Bergman said he was moved to attend because of a recent property tax increase. His family is paying $16,000 a year in property taxes, with $10,000 going to the School District, he said.
The first installment of the Kane County property tax bill is due June 4.
"My friends and family cannot believe it," Begman said during a later comment period. "As I listen to this presentation and I don’t see any cuts, how can we do that? The people in the audience have tightened our belts. We don’t spend more, we spend less. I don’t see how we can continue as a school district to spend and spend and spend."