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Letter to the Editor: D46 Board Members Who Voted Down Tax Levy Made Wrong Decision

Letter to the Editor: Grayslake resident Chris Thibaudeau writes an open letter to the District 46 School Board members who voted against approving the proposed $32.6 million tax levy at its Dec. 19 meeting.

To the CCSD 46 Board members who voted NO on the recommended tax levy:

I watched the District 46 board meeting Wednesday night with high interest and went to bed in horror after witnessing the events that transpired. While I understand and sympathize that the decisions you face are extremely important, I cannot express anything other than my own belief that you have acted in the exact opposite way that a person in your position is supposed to.   

You were elected to operate the school district for the constituents of this area in the most sincere manner possible. I believe your first responsibility is to the students who live here. Second is to the residents as they have charged you with that task for them. You act on their behalf, in the interests of the students, whether they agree with the decisions you make or not.

I do not believe you acted in the best interest of the students when you voted down the balloon levy Wednesday night. I realize some would argue that your vote showed strength and that the district must find new ways of dealing with their budget shortfalls.

While I agree with the fact that the district must address their budget woes from more angles than tax increases, a proper step would have been to approve the balloon levy and abate back a portion (perhaps all) of the growth amount that you collectively would determine is not needed to meet the district's needs.

Your vote restricted the district from ever being able to collect that amount, compounded for an infinite amount of time. That was very short-sighted. I question whether that vote actually showed strength. Strength would be having the discussion about the abatement and the decision to force the district to cut expenses now. Your vote showed your unwillingness to engage the community in that discussion and that is avoiding the topic. It's weakness.

Some arguments were made Wednesday night that I am in complete disagreement with. Levying for less than the max in an effort to force the state to supply an increase in general state aid is foolhardy in the face of the state's own budgeting woes. I hope none of you are holding your breath waiting for the state to live up to its obligations for general state aid. If you are, you might want to talk to the managers of the public pension systems, which have been consistently underfunded (or borrowed from). I believe you all are (or should be) far too smart to have bought into this argument.

Another assertion that was made that has no basis in truth (but it does have basis in hope and prayer) is that if you hold the tax rates down, businesses will flock to our community in appreciation of your efforts. Will we ever be able to get tax rates that can compete with an area like District 50 in Gurnee, an area with almost unlimited commercial property already in existence (car dealerships, Great America, Gurnee Mills and other retail spaces)?

The attraction to Grayslake and District 46 for commercial business will not be our low tax rate. Even if it were, have you projected the timeline of when last night's decision (to levy for less than the maximum rate in order to help commercial businesses) will begin to bear fruit? I would argue there will be no impact for at least 10 years, if ever.

The long and short of it is this: By not levying for the maximum increase of $750,000, here's the loss of property tax revenues over time:

In the first 5 years (by 2018):   $3.98 M
In the first 10 years (by 2023): $8.6 M
In the first 15 years (by 2028): $13.95 M
In the first 20 years (by 2033): $20.15 M
In the first 25 years (by 2038): $27.34 M
In the first 30 years (by 2043): $35.68 M

From here, the loss continues to grow with each year being well over $1 million. Diminishing future revenues is inexcusable when considered in conjunction with several other budgetary issues the district is now facing, namely falling revenues due to declining property values, rising health care costs.

When you also consider that this vote was taken 28 days before a pending strike date for the teachers, one has to wonder if the true purpose was a political statement made by board members against the concept of collective bargaining. Certainly reducing the entire amount of potential growth in the levy from the Education Fund is a message from the board to the teachers of the district that there is no plan to pay competitive salaries and maintain moderate class sizes for the short or long term future without an ed fund referendum (which would be highly unlikely to pass).

Your previous statements about wanting to pay a fair salary to the most important human resource within the district are in complete conflict with your actions. And believe me, your actions have spoken louder than your words ever will, even if you can correct the mistake that was made. In my opinion, it's already too late.

Incidentally, I also find it odd that you choose to not listen to the recommendations of both your business manager and your superintendent, who have advised against your actions Wednesday night (by recommending and proposing a balloon levy). I would expect your next move is to replace the district's business manager, since you have decided not to listen to or trust in those recommendations.

Chris Thibaudeau

Grayslake

William Harms December 22, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Chris-- you are absolutely right. I am a former school board president in another suburban district who has moved to Grayslake and I am terribly embarrassed by what this board has done. They aren't looking at the bigger picture. Our teachers have sacrificed their own pay raises to provide a great education for our students. This is no way to provide for the future. Great schools make communities outstanding places to live-- that's what we need to focus on. William Harms
Karen Hord December 22, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Well said. The best interests of the kids have not been met by this board. The repercussions will follow for years. It is a shame that the kids will continue to pay for the mistakes made by the state for not properly funding the schools and the poor decisions by the village governments in regards to planning & zoning. This board's primary responsiblity is to educate our children, and they have caved in to demands too easily without regard to the long term conseqences. If this board doesn't learn to have actual discussions, and allow themselves to actually listen to all sides, and don't allow for compromise, our kids will suffer.
KPS December 22, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this well articulated statement, Mr. Thibaudeau. Sadly, I believe that the parents in this district, myself included, do need to accept some responsibility here. The majority of us have remained quietly in our homes during school board meetings while residents who are angered by their real estate taxes have been the primary voices from whom the school board hears. We have a district that has cut programs in the past (art, music and the continued elimination of the Challenge program) and cannot pay a salary that is competitive with Libertyville, Fremont or either of the two Gurnee Districts. They passed a deficit budget just a short time ago and then turned around and voted down funds to help alleviate this. Their actions are beyond irresponsible and are solely reactive to the small percentage of our community that has taken the time to speak up. This school board has ensured that our kids will be met with unreasonable class sizes and limited programming. As parents, we MUST become more vocal while continuing to support the efforts of the PTO/PTFs and the Education Foundation. I wish that some of the folks who make statements suggesting that parents and teachers need to learn to do more with less had some idea just how hard many parents work to bring more revenue to this district.
Terri December 23, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Thank you, Chris. My sentiments exactly. KPS...you hit the nail on the head. The voice of reason must be heard. Karen...thank you for your support!
Chris Thibaudeau December 23, 2012 at 09:37 PM
So, is our silent majority going to be expressing itself going forward?
Lennie Jarratt December 24, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Carbone was the only board member who expressed the correct way to do the levy during the meeting. Again, we have a lack of planning and options from the school administration.
Chris Thibaudeau December 24, 2012 at 12:44 AM
And how exactly did Carbone vote, Lennie? I know, he voted NO. And, I take it this means you are acknowledging the correct course of action would have been to pass the balloon levy rather than voting it down. I guess this argument is settled then, from your view. By the way, the district's business manager recommended the balloon levy which you are acknowledging was "the correct way to do the levy". Which board members were listening? Sue and Karen.
Lennie Jarratt December 24, 2012 at 12:55 AM
The correct way was to levy and abate. Just passing a levy increase is not the correct way. It takes that abate part as well. Carbone talked about all the hurting families in the district. So yes, he voted no to stop the out of control tax increases. Residents have to understand taxes will go up because the district backloaded their bonds. They will be levied and paid for regardless of the ed/operation fund levies increase or not. Have you listened to prior meetings? The board continually asked for items to be cut. It was even stated the Biz Manager said it wasn't her job to find cuts. That's ludicrous and leans toward the incompetent. Would I trust her recommendation, NO! Second, has there been another business manager in D46 every not request a balloon levy, NO! Have other school districts not raised their levy, YES!!! Richmond/Burton HS did the levy/abate. Stevenson HS does levy/abate. Nippersink Elem, froze their levy outright as well. Times are changing and expecting the taxpayers to always for over more money is coming to an end.
Softball Jim December 24, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Seems like they knew if they raised the levy and did not abate the taxes in the spring, they would be voted out. So they rather would be on the record of saying "no" instead of doing the right thing. Raise and Abate (if they could). They played politics, instead of doing what they knew had to be done.
Lennie Jarratt December 24, 2012 at 07:29 AM
I just watched the presentation by the Biz Manager and listened to other comments from the BOE. Unfortunately, the presentation is not viewable on the video, so I still need to get that presentation. From that information, it appears the BOE was fully informed about what would really happen. Here are some of the highlights: 1. Estimated actual receipts from a levy increase would be $750K 2. District will hit their O&M cap this year 3. District will hit the Ed fund cap next year 4. With the tax levy increase, there will be a $1.4 million deficit 5. Without a levy increase: 2014 - $1,024,000 deficit, 2015 - $189,000 surplus, 2016 - $1,400,000 surplus Based on those numbers, the decision to freeze the levy is very beneficial to the district as it ends their budget deficit in 2015 without a tax increase. As stated, when growth starts to happen again, the levy/abate process will be the best route. Since the district will also hit their ED fund cap next year, not increasing the levy also allows the district more flexibility next year.
Pete Gardner December 24, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Mr. Thibaudeau, you raise some interesting points and bring a perspective that many don't think about. May I ask you, where were your figures, your facts, your ideas, your objections prior to this meeting? Would it not have been more effective to bring this to the attention of the board some time in the last 12 months rather than in the days following? I have attended only a few meetings and it is clear the business manager and superintendent are out of their league. They confuse even us minds who spent our lives running businesses. It's quite amazing actually. Sit in the audience and you will see how nothing makes sense. The biggest mistake this board has made is keeping two people whose knowledge of numbers can be measured by their inability to balance the budget. I watched the video after reading your letter; the business manager only suggested to approve and abate after a board member said that is how it should be done. This was not her idea nor did she have a clear understanding of how to make it happen. The leadership in the district is not one to be followed and that is where the problem starts. That being said sir, your letter and obvious knowledge should have been shared ahead of time in an effort to educate rather than complain afterward when things can't be changed. I do appreciate the lesson and hope you will accept my suggestion of being part of a solution ahead of time and not react after.
Sandra Sims December 24, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Their plan last year was to raise and abate. Of course, the abatement never occurred. Give these people a penny and they will find a way to spend it.
Chris Thibaudeau December 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
I have sat in a few D 46 board meetings, but I don't agree with your view of this board's biggest mistake. Any previous mistakes are correctable. Wednesday night's was permanent. As for figures and ideas, these are not mine. Anyone is capable of doing what I did. Seeing as how every other district in Lake County uses a balloon levy with an abatement (sorry, Mr. Jarrett, it isn't just Stevenson; but Stevenson is the only district that I know of which has abated the entire increase and they've done it multiple times). It wasn't anything I was anticipating. Nor was the ludicrous assertion about getting more money in general state aid. Maybe that was a mistake given this board's prior history. It is my understanding that school board members undergo training from the ISBE (or maybe from the IASB) so it's inconceivable that the board members who as negligent as they were, regardless of what they're hearing from their business manager. As for her performance, I haven't observed enough to make a judgement--not that my judgement would matter. But I so feel that she must have a sense of the board's positions and should have been knowledgeable to lead the abatement discussion. Unless she was directed not to. As for that, we'll never know. The board members are responsible for their votes. No doubt about that.
Pete Gardner December 24, 2012 at 07:27 PM
It seems I may have not posed my question in a way that you felt wasn't in need of a defensive answer, so please allow me to ask you in different ways in hopes your thoughts are provoked beyond blaming 5. Are you aware the board in D127 voted 4/3 to increase the levy? Have you written an open letter to those 3 board members? Did you write open letters to the village of Grayslake Trustees when they voted not to increase the levy? Did you write to Avon Township when they voted not to increase? The same people who spoke publicly asking to not increase their taxes have offered their help in looking for ways, now and future, to help. No one to my knowledge, showed up to plead for increases. Why didn't you show up and make your argument then? What are you willing to do other than complain after the fact?
William Harms December 26, 2012 at 03:10 PM
There are some really good points here and it sounds like people of good will are looking for answers. The stakes are high-- the futures of our children and the reputation of our community as having great schools. There has been some nice traffic on this letter and pick up as well and I wonder if there might some value in people getting together to take some action here. The center of gravity on this has to be with parents. Anyone want to organize a get together?
Katie January 04, 2013 at 05:36 AM
I wish certain people who don't even send their own kids to public schools would quit trying to mess with our schools. No one needs you or your Tea Party junk.
Lennie Jarratt January 04, 2013 at 03:47 PM
All children should have access to quality education. That is what I am many others are fighting for. I will continue to do so regardless of who does not want that.

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