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Some concerns heard at U-46 town hall event

By Seth Hancock
  Residents in School District U-46 had a chance to voice some concerns at the first of two announced town hall meetings scheduled by Board of Education member Phil Costello on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the Bartlett Public Library.
  Costello, who is not running for reelection, holds one of four seats up in this year’s April 2 election and announced the town halls at the Feb. 4 board meeting and invited one of the three remaining board members not up for reelection (Veronica Noland, Melissa Owens and Donna Smith) to join him but they did not respond to his request.
  Incumbents John Devereux (appointed to fill the remainder of a term), Sue Kerr and Jeanette Ward are all seeking reelection and there are five newcomers in the race: Daniel Hancock, Eva Porter, Tina Rio, Ina Silva-Sobolewski and Kate Thommes. Costello also publicly invited the newcomer candidates to attend which Rio and Silva-Sobolewski did, but he apologized to Porter at the meeting as he was unable to find or get from the district contact information for her to directly invite her but will reach out to her for the next town hall.
  A pair of trustees from the Village of Bartlett, Adam Hopkins and Aaron Reinke, also attended.
  “I’m very concerned about the sustainability,” Reinke said. “There’s tremendous… pressure on (the village board) to continually spend and expand and grow. I’m worried about the long term sustainability and the delivery of services to kids (in U-46).”
  “I care deeply about U-46 and some of the issues,” Hopkins said. “I understand some of the challenges we have as a village board, but I’d like to understand some of your challenges on the U-46 board.”
  The next town hall is scheduled for Wednesday, March 20 at Gail Borden Library in Elgin at 7 p.m.
  The purpose for the town halls according to Costello is to spark more interest in the upcoming election, especially from the taxpayer perspective. He cited a lack of voter interest as one of the reasons he chose not to seek reelection, and he said it’s “troubling” that few taxpayers speak at board meetings.
  Most of the 12 taxpayers in attendance voiced concerns with the trends of enrollment declines but large increases in spending, but one in attendance did disagree and said she had a philosophical disagreement with the rest. She said if a property taxpayer can’t afford higher taxes they should be willing to sell their home and downsize.
  For Costello, he said he was happy to hear differing perspectives and told The Examiner after the town hall that there was a “very robust” and very good” discussion.
  “This is not partisan…. I want the energy of this room to address any issue, and to respect every perspective,” Costello said at the town hall. “If we can do that, in my humble estimation, we will become a better district. It’s when we become one side versus the other side, we stop listening and we stop appreciating what each one has to say.”
  “I think having differences of opinion is a great thing, and I think that it has to be done respectfully and that we need to listen to each other,” Costello added.
  Most in attendance agreed that taxpayers are not being heard by the district and the current board majority which is leading to people being forced out of their homes.
  Some voiced their “disgust” with the lack of civility and decorum on the board for those who simply have a difference of opinion. Most said they were supporters of Costello and Ward who they said have been unfairly maligned with insults and name calling by fellow board members.
  Costello addressed a recent incident stemming from him holding the town hall meeting. Instead of coming out to listen to the taxpayers at Costello’s invitation Smith, the board’s president, decided to call for a special board meeting, apparently at the last minute, in closed session to discuss goal setting for U-46 CEO Tony Sanders on the same night as Costello’s town hall.
  For choosing to hold the town hall, Costello said he’s been “chastised” on social media. He said the closed session meeting was “exceptionally important” but the “taxpayers need to be heard.”
  Costello said it’s “not the end of the world,” but “I announced this on (Feb. 4). This (closed session) meeting was announced on Feb. 15, and I’ve been chastised.”
  “I don’t think there was any animosity in cutting me out of it,” Costello added. “I don’t know if there is or isn’t, but the point is what we have as a board is one employee (Sanders).”
   There are some good things from the board but there’s also been “a lot of finger pointing, especially behind closed doors,” according to Costello who said that’s spilled over to public meetings leading people to see “a bunch of idiots up there doing stupid things and calling people names.” Costello even said he’s had false accusations levied about him at board meetings.
  One attendee raised the fact that the board promoted Sanders to CEO, which is effectively the superintendent, despite not having the necessary certification from the state which led to an interim superintendent to be paid to simply sign documents until a state law, solely designed to benefit Sanders, was approved in Springfield.
  Costello said he has a “tremendous amount of respect” for Sanders and other administrators, but “they need a board, a strong board, that acts like the employers that we should be. And it’s a give and take, it’s not just a one way street.” He referenced a former board member saying at one point that “we report to the CEO,” but Costello said it’s the exact opposite.
  The top down approach trickles down to the schools according to Costello who said “we’ve got great principals” and “great teachers,” but “we’ve just got to empower them.”
  As spending has increased, the districts academic scores have largely been flat or declined according to the state report card. Costello said the burden on taxpayers needs to be addressed and cuts shouldn’t be made simply to cut spending, but all options need to be on the table with the ultimate goal of improving schools.
  “You have less people who want to stay in here and buy your houses, and it hurts this district,” Costello said. “We need better schools, which may take more money but then there’s more people coming in and then the tax rates go down. It’s simple economics.”
  Costello said the district can’t continue its overreliance on the state and “the sky is falling approach will not work. You have to manage that through contingencies and a plan. If you don’t have a plan, you’re in crisis mode, and that’s what U-46 is in a crisis mode.”
  Attendees discussed some of the reasons they believe there is low voter turnout in the school board elections. One, the attendee who said she had a different philosophy, said voters “do not care” but others said they feel they will not be heard unless a board majority is elected that cares about the taxpayers.
  Rio and Silva-Sobolewski both echoed the concerns of the majority of attendants and that’s why they’re running.
  To hear all U-46 board candidates, there are several candidate forums already scheduled the first hosted by CAC on Thursday, March 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the district’s central office (DREAM Academy Auditorium). Including portions for U-46 candidates, the Bartlett Woman’s Club will hold a forum on Thursday, March 21 starting at 7 p.m. at the Bartlett Community Center (Oak Room) and both the Elgin League of Women Voters (10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Elgin’s Gail Borden Library) and the Streamwood Woman’s Club (11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Meeting Room 1 at Streamwood’s Poplar Creek Library) on Saturday, March 23.




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