The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Attacks trump issues at U-46 candidate forum
By Seth Hancock
The final forum for the five candidates running for three open seats in the April 4 election for the School District U-46 Board of Education was marred by pettiness and combative audience members on Wednesday, March 22.
There are three incumbents including Cody Holt (Elgin), Veronica Noland (Elgin) and Donna Smith (Hanover Park) and two challengers including Enoch Essendrop (Elgin) and Melissa Owens (Bartlett).
However, many members of the audience, which included several union workers, clearly focused their attention on trying to tear down two candidates, Essendrop and Holt who are running on a platform of reform.
Larry Bury, a failed candidate from the 2015 board election, said “I actually understand how property taxes work” because he’s a lobbyist for a taxpayer-funded organization.
“It’s becoming very difficult to hear some of you promise that you’re going to freeze our individual property tax rates,” Bury said asking Essendrop and Holt how they can freeze property taxes and how it impacts district finances.
“Many of our property taxpayers are some of the most overburdened taxpayers in the nation, and it’s been no secret that over the past two years on the school board I have been advocating for freezing our property taxes,” Holt said. “Now, all it takes is a simple majority to freeze property taxes instead of continually increasing property taxes and abating back where you continue to see property taxpayers see increases on their property tax bills.”
Holt added on the impact that by controlling district spending, the district can freeze its tax levy.
“It is feasible to do and freeze property taxes if we create cost efficiencies within our budget and gear it towards the long term of making sure we want to minimize any increases on our taxpayers in the future,” Holt said then added, “and also, if the state would just pass commonsense, pro-taxpayer reforms like eliminating prevailing wage, reforming workers compensation and reforming the current collective bargaining laws which disproportionally affect the taxpayers and benefit members of organized labor.”
Bury later went on a nearly two-minute long lecture on how property taxes work and Holt responded: “The board can vote to freeze property taxes. I know you don’t like to hear that answer.”
Eventually another audience member told Bury that the question has been asked and answered and the forum should move on to which Bury said “he didn’t answer my questions” and Holt responded “you’re grandstanding.”
Bury appeared offended by that response saying “excuse me.”
“If you don’t want to accept my answer that’s fine, but there are other candidates up here and I’m going to promise to help freeze property taxes if we get a board majority,” Holt said.
Essendrop agreed with Holt and said “if you want to broadcast the issues that you have, there are other forums for that.”
On the issue of district revenue, The Examiner has reported the Illinois State Board of Education numbers which show revenue in U-46 rising $110 million between 2006 and 2015 which is $45 million more than the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, and local property tax revenue has risen $70 million over that time which is $27.8 million over the rate of inflation. U-46 teachers also had a recent contract approved, which Holt voted against, in which the lowest starting salary $42,805, is over $10,000 more than the average private sector worker makes in the state.
Another member of the audience wanted to know where in the district and for how long both Essendrop and Holt have live there. A social media group that openly admits its goal is to tear down and belittle those with any differing views in the district has gone after Essendrop for writing on a public comment card in the fall that he was from Hampshire, well before he entered the race.
Essendrop grew up in Hampshire but does live in Elgin and has publicly posted insurance and tax documents showing his residency in the district before the forum.
Noting he cares about the issues rather than petty smears, Essendrop said “I told you what I stood for and what I stand for” and added “just to be clear, people have been very, very caustic on this topic and very threatening, and first off I don’t appreciate it and second off I have plenty of documentation to prove that I’ve been here long enough to be on the ballot.”
On social media, supporters of the union-backed candidates (Noland, Owens and Smith) have smeared the church Essendrop and Holt attend as well as Essendrop’s college with Bury even taking a photo of a church bus and implying they were up to unsavory things because it was seen within the U-46 boundaries. That lead to one church member pointing out they were out helping the community and responding “to post something off of clear assumption and making attacks with no grounds on a church that you know nothing about is uncalled for.”
Holt has lived “in the school district my entire life” and is a Larkin High School graduate.
Another audience member implied Essendrop and Holt were unqualified because they don’t have children.
Holt said “what I believe really gives me an insight in being able to make decisions as your U-46 board member are first, I’m open and I’m accessible” and “secondly, I really look at this as a stewardship of the district itself and having a nice era of accountability” over the $511 million budget.
Again, reinforcing he cares more about the issues, Essendrop said: “You’re right sir, I do not have kids in the district, but you’ve heard where I stand.”
“I will not have a direct impact on your child,” Essendrop added. “None of these board members do. The board comes to a joint decision. Each board member is a trustee from the community representing the will of the people.”
Essendrop also said: “I work in my community every week, 10 to 12 hours a week I spend working with kids of U-46… mentoring them, helping them with their problems. Most of them are the at-risk students. Most of them come from underprivileged homes. Most of them come from section eight housing. We’re trying to help them through their problems.”