The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Former Board candidate voices 'disappointment'
By Seth Hancock
Several new School District U-46 board members were scrutinized for their transparency by failed board candidate Larry Bury who said he was “extremely” and “deeply disappointed” with them during public comments at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.
Bury, who finished sixth for one of the four open four-year seats last spring, said he was not there “to criticize the administration or the board” but was “extremely disappointed with a few specific board members who made public statements proclaiming… a taxpayer victory (referring to a social media post by Cody Holt)” after an application proposal to add $50 million in new debt under Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) was pulled by the administration at the Jan. 11 meeting.
That proposal, coming a year after the district added $40 million in new debt under working cash funds for basic maintenance needs, was pulled without any discussion from the board but new members Phil Costello, Holt and Jeanette Ward offered their opinion on the proposal when they spoke with The Examiner, all stating they would have opposed it.
The administration pulled it because support wasn’t there but Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith did not respond to The Examiner’s inquiry leaving the public unsure of who the fourth “no” vote would have come from.
The district called the QSCB debt low to no interest, but the nation’s taxpayers would have funded that interest as the federal government would have picked up the tab. The administration, in its own words, held a “show-and-tell” claiming the need for the funds to repair such things as clogged pipes, but the district admitted those repairs would still be made without the bonds and that it was not assured any funds as the Illinois School Board of Education would have decided who would receive it.
Bury called it the “best possible borrowing” and “we would be paying for those projects in today’s dollars, and it’d be repaid in the future with dollars that are discounted by an inflation rate.”
Bury, trying to claim the moral high ground by not admitting his own ideology, said those board members were following “blind adherence to ideology,” and he demanded those members offer a detailed plan on how they’d fund those projects that night.
Those members did not respond that evening, but they later offered a response to The Examiner. For Costello, he feels the public deserves to have its elected officials on the record and the proposal shouldn’t have been pulled before a discussion and vote was had.
“I am aware that there are individuals in our community that felt those board members that were opposed to the most recent debt offering did some type of disservice to U-46,” Costello said. “Unfortunately, the board was never given a chance to deliberate the facts of the proposition since it was removed from the agenda by the district. I do believe that an important issue like this needs to come before the board to provide transparency regardless of the outcome.”
Costello added: “I will be leery of any new debt issue because I firmly believe that assumed incremental debt will require that the U-46 district and future boards cut programs and teacher positions to avoid the morass of problems that CPS now faces with no solutions. As stated before, we have to develop viable long-term plans to deal with debt accumulation or any unbudgeted spending increases including our burgeoning payroll and benefits expenditures. Debt is not the answer.”
Ward, who although not named by Bury, was criticized by him for making “prepared statements” to allow the public the knowledge of why she votes the way she does, pointed out that there had to at least be a fourth no vote and that there was still interest that would have been paid on the debt.
“I would like to emphasize that the $50 million bond would not have been withdrawn by U-46 administration unless there were more opposition to it than by only three board members,” Ward said. “Further, it was not ‘interest-free.’”
Opposed to the working cash bond issued a year earlier, Ward said the QSCB “might have been a good idea if we could have retired other debt with it, but that was expressly forbidden if the bond were accepted.”
Ward added: “Maintenance should be covered in normal budgeting. There would be $19 million more available for maintenance if we were not implementing (Full-Day Kindergarten). If we can’t cover normal maintenance in our budget, then we shouldn’t be implementing costly new programs. We just borrowed $40 million last year and are over $500 million in debt. When does borrowing stop?”
The administration presented its 2016 list of capital projects at the Monday, Feb. 1 meeting which totaled $23.4 million, $9.9 million of it funded by the working cash bonds. Holt noted that half of that $9.9 million will be going towards building additions for Full-Day Kindergarten, and through questioning learned from Jeff King, chief Operations officer, that the district does have a long-term plan for maintenance.
“I believe the parents and students deserve to know what the trade-off is for their schools needed repairs,” Holt said. “We can improve infrastructure without taking one more red cent in taxes or adding one more red cent in debt. It ultimately comes down to identifying need versus want, and though you can promise voters both, our fiscal reality prevents us from that.”
Holt also believes Bury will be running for a board seat again in the next election as he said: “It is easy for a school board candidate to come to a meeting and deliver a stump speech with buzz words like ‘free’ as if nothing comes at a cost. The simple fact is these bonds came at a $50-plus million dollar cost to the U-46 taxpayers.”
Bury, who ran on the union-backed ticket and is a registered lobbyist in Illinois, often delved into personal attacks during the campaign against the NewYou46 slate that included Costello, Holt and Ward. At a candidate forum he implied those candidates didn’t have the students’ best interests at heart saying “if these people can’t make decisions that will benefit their children what makes you think they will make decisions that will benefit our school district” because they opposed a legislation in the state’s General Assembly.
Bury, also supported increasing property taxes when he spoke to the board during the budget discussions in the fall.