The District 300 referendum is a passionate issue with emotions running high on both sides. Although, my views will support a “no” vote, my interest in getting involved is to simply provide transparency and clarity. The decision of how to vote is, of course, yours to make. State Senator (and Lt. Governor Candidate) Steven Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) said recently at a campaign forum in Huntley that today’s school districts “…are seemingly run for the benefit of the adults working within it.” What I have found thus far seems to support his view.
My concerns with this referendum are twofold:
1) In my view, District 300 has not provided what I consider a quality education for my children and has not demonstrated fiscal self-discipline. Simply throwing more money at a problem doesn’t solve it.
2) I suspect there is more to the Advance300 organization than what they would like you to believe.
My research into Advance300 (formerly Schools for Now Dist. # 300 Committee) began in mid-January after I visited their website. I was impressed by its construction and concluded immediately that it was professionally produced (i.e. expensive). I emailed them and asked very specific questions:
1) Would you provide me a list of your leadership and members?
2) How are you funded?
3) Who created and paid for the website?
I received a response from Nancy Zettler (who serves on District 300’s Community Finance Committee), who identified herself as co-chair with Douglas Sibery. Her response was evasive at best, stating that… “Advance 300 is a growing coalition of several hundred parents, grandparents, students, business owners, community leaders and other community members dedicated to providing our children the excellent education they deserve and ensuring the health and strength of our communities… We are funded by donations. The website was put together by a hard-working, dedicated group of Advance 300 volunteers who have worked very hard for several hundred man-hours researching dozens of sources of information for accuracy, truthfulness and relevance.” My impression was that is their standard response to all inquiries which was likely created with professional assistance.
Ms. Zettler’s comment stating the website was created by volunteers is not truthful. According to their Schedule B document filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections on January 31, $7,000.00 was paid to M&R Strategic Services of Washington, DC for “web site services” on December 19, 2005. In M&R’s website, their self-description is, “For over 15 years, M+R has been helping groups we believe in (notice the phrase, “we believe in”) accomplish their policy and organizational goals... we provide integrated strategy, field organizing, communications, lobbying, direct mail, web production, online advocacy and fundraising services.” A review of their client list reveals the groups they “believe in” point toward a far left political philosophy naming clients such as The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere, The Lesbian, Gay and Transgender Community Center of New York and People for the American Way.
As instructed on M&R’s website, I also requested a list of their “electoral” clients from Ms. Debra Rosen, Senior Consultant. As of February 2nd, I have received no response from her. Incidentally, Advance300’s Schedule B also reveals $6,750.00 was paid to Campaign Solutions of Algonquin for “referendum consulting”. Campaign Solutions has a P.O. Box for an address and has no phone number listed in the Internet Yellow Pages. Last time I checked, volunteers are not paid for their services, and I wonder who owns that company.
District 300 cannot legally financially support Advance300 directly, even though it appears they have hired (with taxpayer funds?) St. Louis based public relations firm Unicom.ARC. As of February 1, a request from Unicom to confirm this has been unanswered.
On January 20, Northwest Herald Reporter Allison Smith published an article on a meeting she attended with District 300 Superintendent Ken Arndt, “about” 25 builders and real estate agents, as well as village officials from Algonquin, West Dundee and Hampshire to raise $153,000 (the minimum amount needed to fund a successful referendum according to Unicom.ARC). As Allison points out in her article, “The campaign money, administered by the Advance 300 citizens group, will pay for an office, mailings, T-shirts, yard signs, TV and radio ads, and possibly even billboards.” Cal Skinner’s blog site, McHenry County Blog (mchenrycountyblog.com), has recently detailed the extent of the pro-referendum contributions that have rolled in (and who they are from). Keep scrolling down until you find them (there are several posts on this topic) or if you prefer, I can send you copies. Check back there often.
Another topic worthy of discussion is District 300’s handling of its finances. Besides the issue of having $38 million available in its working fund to cover the $27 million deficit in the education fund (which the District claims it cannot use because its in a trust and is needed to ease cash flow problems between property tax receipts), were you aware that in 2003, the District had to repay the U.S. Dept. of Education $607,908.06 for violating the terms of a grant that was provided to support the effort to serve limited English proficient students? According to the Federal Register, the funds "...had been used for improper or unsupported expenditures for personnel, fringe benefits, travel, supplies, training and other items."
I personally spoke with the contact person from the D.O.E. for this matter, who verified this information as correct. I have a copy of the Federal Register document as well and was informed by the D.O.E. contact person that District 300 has a copy of the settlement agreement. Also, because of current loopholes in property tax law, we must take the District at their word that the 55 cents/$100 they are asking for the education fund will only be used for the current tax year. State Rep. Michael Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) has introduced legislation in Springfield to close these loopholes. However, even if passed, it will not be in place in time for our referendum.
Although Advance300 portrays itself as a local grassroots organization, it is clear what we have here is a well calculated, well financed and covert public relations effort on the part of District 300 to win this referendum. The deplorable tactic of using our children as pawns to accomplish their desire is nothing short of extortion. I personally don’t believe for a minute that all extracurricular activities will be cut if the referendum fails. The amount of money spent on athletics and music amounts to approximately 1% of the budget and I assure you, no elected school board official who is interested in retaining their office would ever be re-elected if that happened and the public outcry for Superintendent Arndt’s resignation would be immediate. Also, don’t believe the myth that our home values will decline if the referendum fails. Simply ask yourself how much your home has risen in value over the past several years since the last referendum was voted down?
Although my views on this referendum are unmistakable, I hope you can see that my opinion is based upon objective, verified information — not less than truthful rhetoric designed to play on your fears and emotions. Please pass this along to others who are interested, regardless of what their present opinion may be. Besides the McHenry County Blog, I encourage you to visit the web sites of The Family Taxpayer’s Network (thechampion.org) and Citizen’s For Fair and Reasonable Taxes (http://user.mc.net/~igloo/craft.htm). Please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to keep you informed.