Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Editorial: Disappointing direction taken by District 300 board

The following editorial appeared in the Daily Herald.

These same tactics, lies and half-truths are used by school districts across the county, state and country. When will parents and taxpayers learn it is not "for the kids"? It is for the the teachers, administrators, support staff, bus drivers, contractors with the schools, developers, architects, builders, union leaders, text book providers, legislators who receive contributions from these groups and anyone else feeding off the taxpayer trough. It was really for the kids education dollars would follow the student (school choice or a voucher system) and not the institution. The tactics and request will not stop until parents and taxpayers across the board get mad at the insane greed of those feeding off the system.

Editorial: Disappointing direction taken by District 300 board


Daily Herald

When voters elect school board members, most hope to find careful stewards of public money, visionaries of thoughtful planning and cautious guardians of the trust placed in them. They also expect board members to protect tax dollars as if they were their own and to be honest and upfront about how that money is spent.

It would seem Community Unit School District 300 leaders have let residents down on all fronts.

At minimum, district officials misled residents during their campaign for a 55-cent education fund tax hike and $185 million bond issue last spring. Although school officials say vastly reduced enrollment projections are due to a changing housing market, it now seems that they may have used the most dramatic enrollment projections to hype their contention that classroom overcrowding would dramatically worsen. It also appears - now that we know their revenue projections are elusive and changing numbers - that they were creating a worst-case scenario to help sell the referendum.

It is, of course, hard to be certain what District 300 officials were thinking, for we're learning daily that they're not very open about their discussion of public business. In fact, it appears they regularly flout the Open Meetings Act, often meeting behind closed doors to discuss topics that rightfully belong in the public spotlight.

As reporter Jeff Gaunt revealed after careful perusal of six months of executive session board minutes, District 300's board and administrators often say one thing and do another. We have had to persistently push to get them to notify us when and where basic committee meetings are being held.

Less than six months after voters, facing the threatened loss of extracurricular activities, approved substantial tax hikes, the school board gave Superintendent Ken Arndt a $5,000 bonus and a substantial retroactive raise, effectively muting the salary freeze oft touted as evidence of financial distress in the referendum campaign.

They then quickly awarded other administrators substantial increases, including Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Crates, who also got a hefty bonus. The board also approved a nice salary hike for teachers and awarded employees new health savings plans to which the district is contributing at least $250 per plan.

It would seem the referendum campaign slogan of "It's for the kids" was only part of the incentive district employees had to push for referendum approvals.

That campaign was filled with promises - including one clearly made to the public and voiced to this editorial board to refrain from using capital appreciation bonds, which ultimately cost taxpayers far more than they approve at the ballot box. School officials also vowed not to use a loophole that would permit them to collect more than the 55-cent increase in the tax rate. Officials now say they not only might use those high-cost bonds but also would consider that loophole - which state lawmakers fortunately closed for all future tax requests.

It turns out that the district's dire enrollment projections were way off. Instead of an additional 7,200 students in five years, the district may be welcoming fewer than 3,000. It turns out that those classrooms won't be so crowded after all. School officials attribute the change to a declining housing market, and that certainly could account for some of the difference. But the district's penchant for closed meetings, changing numbers and retroactive pay hikes gives pause.

We're disappointed in District 300 and, like many taxpayers, feeling betrayed. We recommended taxpayers say "no" to the education fund hike because of shifting numbers even before the vote and the fact that no teacher pact was in place. We did back the bond sale, but only because school officials looked us - and by extension, the public - in the eye and vowed they wouldn't use the high-cost bonds.

It takes a long time to build up trust and a short time to shred it. District 300 officials may have just set a record.

Quote of the day.

"Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough." Janwillem van de Wetering

Our interpretation.
The public education system is a fat demon with a small mouth and no matter how much money you give the system it is never enough

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