A Shakespearean Tragedy In The Making

Rick Holinger 
Kane County Chronicle, January 13, 2012                                                                                       

Once Macbeth becomes convinced he can murder Duncan and rule the country on his own, there’s no talking to him. Blind to his own downfall, he cuts himself off from society, his end sealed in false certainty.

I was reminded of Shakespeare last Monday night while facing members of Geneva’s Board of Education who stared into open laptop lids like Macbeth must have studied the stones in his fort’s besieged ramparts.  "We’re no longer going to be your hostages!” Gail Ryan, R.N., blasted their defenses during Public Comment. When she railed at the board for failing to take the debt seriously by not making it a meeting priority, Vice President Mark Grosso said he took offense to that notion.   “I take offense at my tax bill!” she retorted.

When I told my wife, Tia, how many people had spoken out against the debt debacle, she said, “Maybe Geneva’s finally getting it.”  If true, it’s taken three years. Early in 2008, Bob McQuillan, founder of GenevaTaxFacts, prophesied a housing price decline, a population halt, and a need to repay mounting debts, all necessitating higher property taxes despite lower home values.   The board ignored him. They kept spending like drunken one-percenters.

Today, Geneva owns a $325,000,000 debt (that’s principle and interest, according to William Blair & Co. 10/24/11). Several present board members helped run up that bill. They pushed through extravagant new construction referenda the town voted for, thanks in great part to PAC activity whose contributors included firms and board members with a financial, political or personal interest in positive results (see my Chronicle column 12/2/11).   “Our town’s forefathers didn’t have in mind a third-of-a-billion dollar debt,” resident Dwight Swartwood read to the board from his handout.   “We’re spending six times that of other schools our size, compared to the national average.”   No wonder he’s frustrated; this year, his taxes will increase 36% over last year’s.

Drowning in debt, wouldn’t it make sense for the board to accept an offered life ring? For three years, GenevaTaxFACTS has urged the board to appoint a Financial Task Force to utilize the town’s economic brain trust. Three board members (to assure open meetings) and five residents with advanced degrees or specialized knowledge of financial, business, and/or educational issues couldn’t hurt.   As it is, not one board member holds a graduate degree in economics, finance, or education. Only three of seven hold relevant undergraduate degrees, two in finance and one secondary education.  But no, former board president Mary Stith informed us, a Task Force was voted down during their last retreat.  

“They are arrogant!” spewed Gail Ryan after the meeting.  I, too, left the meeting amazed at this board’s hubris. After helping bury this town under a mountain of debt, they refuse a free backhoe.

Like all tragic heroes, the board has a tragic flaw. Sure, continual overspending, but overspending because they believed a “Tradition of Excellence” could be bought with top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art everything, from technology to buildings.  Sure, all that’s nice. But three decades as a teacher has taught me that an excellent education is more about having teachers knowledgeable in—and passionate about—their subject, and parents who help and support their children succeed.  

It’s not too late to dig out. Get involved. Write the board board@geneva304.org.
Join GenevaTaxFacts 
Genevataxfacts.org.

Partake in a little “sound and fury, signifying…” something.