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U-46 hears public issues on leadership, taxation

By Seth Hancock
  There’s a lack of leadership and a need for better fiscal management of taxpayer dollars, which was the message of several frustrated residents of School District U-46 when they spoke during public comments at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, March 21.
  There were five parents who spoke about concerns at Bartlett’s Hawk Hollow Elementary School and two residents of the Elgin retirement community Edgewater who said their property tax bills are skyrocketing that spoke urging the board to take that into account when they vote on the next budget.
  Brian Sauvageau was the first Hawks Hollow parent to speak to the board on issues occurring at that school when he spoke at the Monday, March 7 meeting when he said there’s “a complete lack of communication and accountability” regarding lockdowns and police being called to the school.
  Hawk Hollow houses a BD program for students with behavioral issues.
  Sauvageau said the police have been called to the school about 100 times this year. He said: “Who’s been accountable for this? If there’s that many lockdowns something has to be improved and somebody has to be fired.”
  There was a back and forth between Sauvageau and U-46 CEO Tony Sanders who told Sauvageau there was a meeting scheduled the next day on March 8 with a few parents from the Parents and Teachers of Hawk Hollow (PTH), and Sanders invited Sauvageau to attend.
  The interaction between Sauvageau and Sanders broke normal protocol at meetings as the board and administration generally do not interact with commenter’s but instead the public is asked to check a box on the comment card if they’d like a response concerning their public comments.
  An Examiner reader sent the response he received nearly two weeks after speaking at a previous meeting. The response appears to be a basic form letter simply saying “your input was received for consideration by the Board of Education.”
  The March 8 meeting with Sanders and the PTH appeared not to ease concerns as five parents spoke on March 21 all echoing that there is no leadership or communication with parents.
  Melissa Bowers said she had a chance to spend time at Hawk Hollow this school year as she helped her son who had broken his leg, and she said what she saw was “disheartening.” She said she heard vulgar language and students hitting lockers and throwing chairs, and nobody came out to address these issues.
  “I feel that U-46 is failing to assist Hawk Hollow with resources, with staff and with assistance to help programs that need it,” said Bowers who added that the school’s principal, Markisha Bush, has to spend all her time assisting with BD program students with little to no time dedicated to the general population.
  Bowers said that “if there’s any type of lockdown at a school, I think the parents have a right to know what happened that day immediately” in order to alleviate the concerns from their children.
  Victoria Gerardi said she sees squad cars at the school regularly and “as a parent, when I contact the school I’m being dismissed. I’m being treated in a hostile manner by the administrative staff at the desk.”
  Lisa Helle illustrated the difference between two schools as she has one child attending Bartlett’s Sycamore Trails Elementary School in the IGNITE program and the first-year principal Lisa Cardenas “is great, visible, involved, engaged with the students” but the experience is not the same at Hawk Hollow.
  Michelle Sauvageau called out Sanders and Bush saying parents have been given “misstatements and a lack of accountability” and administrators “stood up and vowed to walk out” on March 8.
  “U-46 needs a leader who demands accountability and shows open and dependable communication, not one who endorses a system of intimidation and abuse,” Sauvageau said.
  During the board member updates after public comments, Sanders said: “I did offer that if that did not resolve the issue that I would come back over to the building and also meet with the PTH.”
  Board member Jeanette Ward asked about the possibility of moving the BD program which Sanders said has to be looked at internally and “it’s not something I can commit to doing tonight.” Hawk Hollow parents in the audience who remained appreciated that Sanders would meet again with them but said the issue is larger than the BD program.
  Board member Phil Costello said “we want to open that pipeline of communication,” and he said Sanders had sent a letter to parents.
  “It’s a starting point,” Costello said. “We understand that there are still concerns about many issues that are going on here at Hawk Hollow and other schools, but the fact is that we need to have that open and transparent and honest communication. And this is a good starting point. We don’t want this to be an ending point.”
  Costello added that he plans on doing more town hall meetings saying Veronica Noland and Sue Kerr have offered to hold a joint town hall with him. He said: “We are accountable to you, so we want to make sure that’s evident in everything that we do at the board level.”
  Donald Tutt and Jerry Clinnis spoke on the concerns of Edgewater residents with their property tax bills. Tutt said “we’re your cash cow” as his last bill went up from $8,200 to $12,300, $4,792 to $7,873 in the school district portion, and Clinnis said a property in a neighboring community saw a decrease while a similar property in Edgewater went up $1,600.
  “You’ve got to control these taxes somehow,” Tutt said. “My wife and I did everything right from the time we were 12 years old. We worked, never collected one bit of unemployment, food stamps, anything. We worked all of our lives.”
  Clinnis said there are former teachers and credentialed residents in Edgewater so “you have a wealth of people who have some time on their hands who have a lot of ability” and “maybe if you give us some support in trying to get some of the relief we’re trying to get in terms of taxation, there’s a lot of people who can maybe help you in terms of their talent.”
  Sanders reiterated something he said after a retired resident from Del Webb raised similar concerns at a meeting saying “just to put it in context, Edgewater was hit doubly hard” by a previous Kane County error and a higher property assessment “which is not something we can control,” and he offered to visit with the community.
  Ward asked about a provision in Illinois’ property tax code to alleviate the burden on retired citizens which Sanders said he did not know of anything in the code.
  The property tax code does have some provisions like the Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption which freezes valuations if the taxpayer meets certain qualifications such as having a yearly income of $55,000 or less. The Senior Citizens Homestead Exemption and Senior Citizens Real Estate Tax Deferral Program are also available to qualified retired citizens.



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