by Robert McQuillan
The other day I received an email entitled, "I'm Done." Those are pretty strong words for any email but this hit a personal note. It was from a Geneva resident who spent many hours of his personal time developing a solution to the massive $300+ million dollar debt the Geneva School District is carrying. Actually, the taxpayers of Geneva are carrying it. Why is he giving up? In his own words: "I know I will never be heard by this board nor can make any difference. Banging against a brick wall is old and hurts. We are likely moving back to our home state. The business signals and schools are a key part, and apathy by parents and neighbors all figure in."
This resident has been in the financial industry for more than 25 years, has taught classes on how municipal bonds work and is considered an expert on the bond market. He pleaded with the Geneva Board of Education members to sit down and listen to what he had to say. After a third public appeal, they finally met with him in groups of two. One member refused to meet. He said he was berated, ignored, lectured to and basically told that his help wasn't needed. One member said something along the lines of "you say hurtful things, please can't we play nice."
His email then mentioned that at least 16 businesses recently closed in Geneva. No doubt some of these closings were a direct result of Geneva's high property taxes. It seems that everyday another local business says; "I'm done." He closed his comments by stating that the only recent expansions have been the schools, Delnor Hospital and the county jail, which are all non-taxed entities.
Five years ago, I made a commitment to form a group whose goal was to inform local homeowners and businesses how their tax dollars are spent. That group has evolved into what is known as GenevaTaxFACTS. No matter your opinion of the group, we have achieved our goal of educating the community.
As spokesperson for GenevaTaxFACTS, I quickly realized two things: board members and employees of taxing bodies don't like to be questioned and the apathy in Geneva is appalling. Without taxpayer participation, taxing bodies and elected board members can easily begin to feel unaccountable for their actions. Residents get involved when an issue directly affects them, then immediately disappear from future meetings.
Taxing bodies are also less accountable because news reporters who know how to follow a story are almost nonexistent. With the exception of the Kane County Chronicle, they no longer have enough staff to attend and report on meetings. So the public remains even more clueless about important decisions regarding their taxes!
We must insure that taxing bodies and board members are accountable to the community and the community must be involved. I can't tell you the number of people who have attended local meetings, realized they have no voice and out of frustration have vowed never to return. This leads to the reality that taxing bodies aren't accountable and do whatever they want.
The accountability of local taxing bodies has never been worse than it is today. Listed below, on an individual basis, are issues that have recently arisen:
The City of Geneva - the city administrator refused to provide information that an alderman requested. Based on written accounts, it appears that the issue comes down to the role of aldermen vs. city staff. Do aldermen only set policy that is carried out by staff? There has been talk about an unwritten rule that aldermen should not burden staff with unnecessary requests. This is an interesting issue since aldermen are certainly accountable to residents through the election process. Who is staff accountable to? Who actually runs the city?
The Geneva Library - what a mess this has become over the last 4 months. The director resigned because he wasn't comfortable being the director but was immediately rehired as the Assistant Director. The only problem is there already is an Assistant Director in place until June. The Assistant's job description states they he/she is the acting Director in the absence of the Director. Due to the resignation, we currently don't have a Director so the person who just resigned as Director should be the acting Director. But he doesn't want to be the acting Director. Nor does the other Assistant Director. So the trustees hired an interim Director to work 15 hours per week. Do you follow this -- does it seem logical?
Some trustees want to spend up to $2 million on property for a new library. The problem is residents haven't approved the funds for a new library! The trustees are focusing on an old school owned by Kane County. The building is falling apart and needs to be torn down. So in the end, there will be a vacant lot with no funds for building. Do residents really want to incur more debt on a “library of the future” when we don't know what the future will bring?
This library board has lost its sense of purpose and needs to find it before a disaster occurs. They need to stop spending money on something the residents may not want. A public referendum should be placed on the November ballot. The issue of a new library vs. remodeling the current is a decision for the community not eight trustees.
The Park District - after attending the tax levy meeting in November, it appears this board and staff is heading in the right direction. They have a plan to update Sunset pool and are budgeting for that need now. I have to admit though, I have always wondered why we build facilities with our tax dollars and then need to join as members to use those facilities. Seems if you build something, you should be able to use it free of charge? Well, I guess I can always dream.
The Geneva School District 304 - for the last 10 years, this has been the most frustrating board to deal with. If you disagree with the school board you are immediately labeled anti-education. Since this taxing body is more than 70% of most property tax bills, it is imperative that board members and the administration are accountable to the entire community. Emotions run high when public education is discussed and opinions can vary greatly. When any board fails to listen to other opinions, doesn't answer legitimate questions and believes that unity in voting is more important than doing the right thing for taxpayers and students, you have a serious problem.
So what is my point?
Taxpayers need to get involved, attend meetings and speak out. Board members need to be accountable for their decisions and this can only be done if the community is engaged. With only a few people involved, nothing will change. Businesses are exiting this community and homeowners are trying to sell their homes. Many can’t because of the high taxes.
GenevaTaxFACTS will continue to observe and be involved but a few people can’t do it all. Individual community members need to make the commitment to show up at meetings and speak up when needed. They need to write or call the board members and let them know if they are or are NOT happy with the direction being taken. They need to be involved in making the right decisions for the future of a lovely small town called Geneva, IL.
Make a difference in your hometown and make an effort to be involved? Go to www.genevataxfacts.org and sign up for the e-mail list and find dates and times ofl local board meetings.
The Geneva School Board is currently considering offering all-day kindergarten classes.
The only documentation that seems to be provided to taxpayers as of October, 2013 is a 2008 study which is attached. Feel free to use the comment section of this article to post any current articles in support or not in support of this offering.
The school district also has posted some information in their Frequently Asked Questions section of their website.
Of School Budgets & Teacher Contracts
By now most Geneva residents have probably heard that there are some issues that the Geneva School District has had to deal with over the last six months. Whether it was concerning the debt, kindergarten class size or enrollmentgate, the board of education and their actions have been a hot topic throughout the community.
The board has two significant decisions to make over the next few months: the 2012-13 school year budget and a new teacher contract. Both of these issues will be hot buttons for several different reasons and the debate from all sides could get very interesting. As someone who has attended more school board meetings than I would like to remember, here are my thoughts on both topics.
Kane County Chronicle
Geneva School District 304 officials say they can’t explain why enrollment projections provided five years ago during a referendum attempt were higher than those determined by a consultant.
At the time, officials at District 304 were attempting to gain support for an $80 million referendum to help build two new elementary schools. Consultant John D. Kasarda projected that – from 2006 to 2012 – the likely enrollment increase in the district would be 345 students, with a high-end projection of 888.
By Sandra Ellis, March 8, 2012
Summary and Disappointing Outcome of Communications with Geneva School Board
QUESTION asked at School Board meeting of February 13, 2012 by Sandra Elis.
"After being present at the special Board meeting last week and seeing the significant tax increases that will happen not only this year but for many years down the road, I am one of many homeowners who need to have accurate projections NOW so we can make major decisions as to whether we can continue living in this community.
The writing is on the wall, for-sale signs are beginning to sprout..even earlier than the spring daffodils.
Last week, the Board presented the figures of projected tax increases this year for an average home of $288,000 being about $280. Looking at the numbers presented, it is my estimated guess that this will probably be the smallest increase we will see over the next 10 years assuming the Board negotiates a no-increase teacher contract this Spring and continues at their present pace of paying down the debt incurred from building new schools some of which are only partially occupied.
Could Ms Oberg (Assistant Superintendent-Business Services, CUSD 304) take the same figures and do a very simple projection for the same home for the next 5 and 10 years similar to what was done last week? Perhaps with a realistic assumption of what you will continue to draw from reserves? As homeowners, we badly need the real facts now, so some of us can decide if we can deal with these increases on fixed incomes or must take action to stop the bleeding now."
The verbal response at that meeting from the Board was essentially "no, it is too complex to do, and a 10 year projection would not be useful". After the meeting, some Board members tried to impress upon me how there are too many variables (school contracts being negotiated, CPI index variable, etc.) to make a projection. Yes, that is a bit more complicated than our own personal budget forecasting of how to meet our future expenses based on our fixed or variable incomes, but certainly not impossible.
It was especially troubling to think that the people at the helm of managing 70% of our property taxes find it too difficult to project what their debt repayment and costs of running our schools will cost taxpayers even in the next 5 years? Ms. Oberg did offer to meet individually with me to explain the complexities of arriving at a projection but that isn't what I needed. I needed a realistic projection. I understand there are some variables that may change.
Prior to the beginning of the February 27 School Board meeting, Ms. Oberg nicely approached me and said she thought I was going to call her. I explained that I felt it would not be useful. She then explained that she couldn't do a ten year projection but she could do a five-year projection and have it to me by end of the week. I was very pleasantly surprised and happy to see that Ms. Oberg seemed very sincere about providing the information that would be helpful based on her best guess.
On Friday, March 2, Ms. Oberg sent me an email that is included with the 3 attachments. If this is what Ms. Oberg seriously thinks is a good response to a request for a 5-year projection of what taxpayers can expect, then there is something seriously wrong. If anyone is able to come up with a five year projection based on these well thought out attachments, please share with us. Who knows, you may be hired as the next Consultant?