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The Examiner U-46 News Feed

U-46 Board approves Fiscal Year 2018 budget


By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved the Fiscal Year 2018 budget by a 5-1 vote, Jeanette Ward the lone no vote, on Monday, Sept. 25.
  The budget reflects an $8.9 million deficit with total spending at $517.9 million ($6.5 million increase from last year) and revenues at $509.1 ($3 million decrease), but a changing in the state’s school funding model could change things a bit.
  Jeff King, chief operations officer, said in response to a question from board member Sue Kerr that he guessed it would be “a couple of months” before the district knows the impact of the new state funding model.
  Ward said the administration prepared the budget “in good faith based on direction from the majority of the board. I recognize that I’m in the minority.”
  “However, in light of forecasted enrollment declines of 2 percent per year over the next three years, I disagree with increasing total spending. U-46 is also set to receive close to $13 million more in additional funding from the state of Illinois. We should be reducing the property tax burden correspondingly. Instead, we are increasing total spending by $6.5 million from last year.”
  Board members Traci Ellis, Kerr, Melissa Owens, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith all voted for the budget but did not offer their reasoning while also not expressing any concerns with the budget. All but Noland voted against a contract with the Elgin Math and Science Academy (EMSA) charter school largely due to the budget that was $4.5 million at its peak.
  “I’d also like to remind the public that the increase alone in this budget is larger than EMSA’s previously proposed first year, which received such scrutiny by feigned fiscal hawks,” Ward said.
  The district also plans to increase the property tax levy again and for the third year use an abatement process that is meant to have the effect to hold tax rates flat for property owners. However, the tax levy increase does still increase tax rates, just on future property owners.
  “I am aware that the flat levy proposed in this budget will be accomplished via the levy and abate method we used the last two years,” Ward said. “As I said previously, this is still a sleight of hand. We are in fact increasing the levy extension in a permanent manner, while we abate back money on a temporary basis. This is disingenuous to the taxpayers.”
  After concluding her comments, Ward was also going to read a statement from board member Phil Costello, who was not in attendance at the meeting, but the board’s majority did not allow it. It was a condensed version of a statement Costello had posted online Ward said.
  Ellis said Costello “has forfeited any right to be heard on this issue” and claimed “his attendance at these board meetings is abysmal.” Costello has missed several board meetings physically but has attended via phone.
  As a “protest vote,” Ellis said she may vote to not allow Costello to attend meetings via phone in the future. Interestingly, Costello has always voted to allow other board members to attend via phone, including for Ellis on occasions including over the summer where she missed two straight meetings and eventually did not call in.
  That sparked an over five minute discussion on whether or not to allow Ward to read the statement, one that would have likely taken under a minute.
  “Do I need to make a motion then?” Ward asked to which Ellis replied: “I don’t really care what you do.”
  Ward, who was asking the board’s president Smith and not Ellis, again asked: “Madam president, do I need to make a motion?” Smith said “I’m trying to figure this out,” and all five remaining board members agreed to deny Ward’s right to speak.
  Costello was not allowed to attend via phone because it was an unexcused absence, Ellis saying “it’s my understanding that Mr. Costello is in Cancun or somewhere in the Caribbean.”
  At the Oct. 2 board meeting, Costello responded to what transpired saying Ellis “felt compelled to broadcast to the public that I was out of the country. I’m sure that was good information for opportunistic burglars, and it was totally irresponsible on her part.”
  Costello said: “I take offense to the fact that Mrs. Ward was not allowed to speak… she was stopped from talking by this board, and that’s wrong.”
  Smith said “no, you had finished your statement” to which Ward responded: “Correct, but I asked to read his statement, and doesn’t that violate my free speech rights? If I want to read anyone’s statement as a board member from the dais, do I not have that right?”
  Costello added: “And if that’s not the case, then are we all going to be subjected to that level of scrutiny that we’ve got to examine our copy and determine what is right by the other majority?”
  Referring to previous attendance of board meetings via phone, Costello said he’s always submitted his work conflicts to Smith and the administration before the meeting schedule is put together and “no attempt at accommodating my board conflicts has ever been acted on.”
  Regarding the missed budget vote, Costello said he accepted that he wouldn’t get a vote but did not feel that eliminates his right to have a statement on the budget. He also noted that board meetings are generally on the first and third Mondays of each month, and made plans for Sept. 25, the fourth Monday, before noticing the conflict.

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