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Email to School Board - June 2009

I have been attending Geneva school board meetings on and off for over seven years and have to say that the Monday June 8th meeting was the strangest of all. During those years, I think that I have gained a good understanding of how the district operates. I certainly don’t know everything but know more than the average Geneva resident. I also understand that every member of the board gives freely of their time and provides a great service to the entire community. That said, I am sharing with you my thoughts on what I observed at the last meeting. I don’t expect a reply, I would just like each member to read my thoughts with an open mind and reflect on what was discussed and decided on at the meeting.

In order for to make this letter easier to read, I have broken it down into the topics as discussed according to the agenda.

Item 3.1: Preliminary 2009-2010 Budget Overview – the administration highlighted the $1,014,580 in budget cuts planned for the next year. This is a 1.1% reduction of projected expenditures of $92,467,362 for 2009-2010. Of this amount, $325,000 was already announced. Realizing that this is a first step, does the board really feel that a 1.1% budget cut is enough? The numbers presented as this year’s budget don’t match the budget for 2008-09 that is on the district’s own website. This is based on a comparison of the numbers presented vs. the numbers on page 2 & 3 of the 2008-09-budget summary. If the budget changed, why wasn’t it updated on the website? Also, building and department budgets are only being cut $322,580. This is after months of each building & department going through their expenditures with fine a fine toothcomb. Energy efficiency made up $110,000 in savings, yet the public has been constantly told that we have state of the art technology in building controls. I have sat at meetings where the public was assured that certain lights had to be on all night and that our energy costs were watched carefully. The most recent candidates for the board all stated that the budget needed to be reviewed line by line and nothing was immune from cuts. If district personnel did the reviewing do you really think everything was fair game? Where is the public finance committee that board member Tim Moran wanted created? The presentation did not include any adjustments for teacher or administrative salary for 2009-2010 because no contracts were finalized. Yet later that night, the board approved a three-year teachers contract that called for “total percentage increase for salaries and extracurricular stipends is 2.67% in the first year, 2.96% in the second year and 3.49% in the third year”. This wording was taken directly from the news release dated June 9, 2009. The budget is cut by 1.1% and increased by 2.67% (???) the same night.

Public Comments: an 81-year-old resident of Geneva commented that many people that have lived in Geneva for many years can not continue to pay the high level of school taxes. He said that if the board were a business, it would have been bankrupt years ago. I wonder how many other senior citizens feel this way?

Item 6.1: Intergovernmental Agreement for PTAB Intervention - board member Bill Wilson asked a specific question about this agreement and was given an answer by one of the administration. Board member Kelly Nowak read from the agreement and the answer was opposite that given by the administrator. No one directly pointed out or asked why the mistake was made. Why wasn’t the answer correct the first time? How many other times are answers given when the board isn’t 100% sure it got the right answer.

Item 6.2: Geneva Middle School Extra Curricular Equipment Fee Increase – a 15-minute discussion about whether parents should pay a $38.00 fee to refurbish football equipment. Previously two board members asked the administration to solicit additional bids. The administration suggested that the fee be reduced to $20.00. After questioning, it came out that no other bids were secured and the administration was going to take the additional $18.00 from the individual school building fund. The members disagreed with this and voted that the parents pay the $38.00. Why didn’t the administration understand the board’s original request to solicit lower bids? Why was it assumed that moving the cost to another line item was the best option? I have neighbors who spend $1,500 per year for their elementary school children to play traveling soccer. That doesn’t include the actual travel costs. Speaking as a Geneva parent of a two-sport All State athlete, playing for the school was a privilege not a right. Having your child on a school sports team means that you will incur costs. If someone honestly can’t afford the fees, then that is where the All Sports Boosters should come in. But, I wouldn’t expect that family to be able to afford a vacation either.

Item 6.3: Authorization to lease a multifunction school activity bus – this was the strangest discussion of the evening. The administration provided a cost savings for one team and then said many others would use the bus but gave no specific examples with cost savings included. Then a board member stated that the issue was about safety as if other members didn’t care about the safety and well being of students. The issue wasn’t about safety; it was about the board having the right information so that an educated decision could be made. The board agreed, I think, to try the 14 seat “white bus” for a year. Then 15 minutes later, the board learned that the athletic department was invited to join the Big Eight Conference. Well there goes any learning from next year because the following year all travel costs will change. Why didn’t the board table this and test the program the first year of the Big Eight Conference?

Item 7.1: Consideration of an In-depth Study of Privatized Transportation – I don’t need to go in depth here because you all know how I feel on this topic. I will say that is strange that 5 of the 7 members said that the taxpayers were owed a complete analysis f the entire transportation department and then didn’t vote for that analysis! I agree that every analysis that has been done is flawed – still today; none of you know what the true cost of running in-house vs. out-sourcing for Geneva is. It is a shame that Dr. Mutchler said that it would take 480 work hours to even develop the bid. Why didn’t anyone question how those numbers were arrived? I voted for three of the current board members because they said they would look at every budget item and make a sound financial decision. That was not done on this issue. The question remains, why not go out to bid? For 5 years, I haven’t received a good answer.

Item 7.2: Geneva Community High School Potential New Athletic/Activities Conference Affiliation – this was mentioned in a prior point. The only comment here is that a board member was told they could not call for a vote on this but a motion was allowed on the prior item. They are under the same category, why can you vote on one but not the other?

Item 9 – Consent Agenda – Item 9.5 was discussed and basically it came down to the district has to pay for all the change orders from this vendor. It was stated that at least we learned not to do business with this vendor in the future. Well that is a mighty costly lesson especially when we have paid millions of dollars to Bovis Land Lease. Does Geneva have the reputation that they will pay for all change orders no matter how large? Where are the controls on this issue?

While some might say that I am just one voice in a community of many, I have the right to express my opinion. I also believe that many “quiet” community members share the majority of my views. I have had three children go through the Geneva School District and feel strongly that we have a district that everyone can be proud of. I don’t believe that we have an excellent district nor do I expect that we should. My only request is that the administration and board be realistic in their expectations and they spend the taxpayer’s money in a sound matter that the entire community can afford.

Thanks for listening,

Bob McQuillan

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