Teacher bashing misguided in Lemont
Kristen McQueary email@example.com | (708) 633-5972 March 11, 2011 6:58PM
Lemont-Bromberek School District 113A board member Janet Hughes files her paperwork to become a write-in candidate for re-election, after her original candidate petitions were ruled invalid because pages were not paper-clipped together. | Supplied photo
april 5 local elections
Southland school referendums:
Lemont-Bromberek School District 113A
Arbor Park School District 145
Mokena School District 159
Peotone Community Unit School District 207
Lockport Township High School District 205
Updated: November 24, 2011 3:34AM
With casks of ink devoted to labor strife in Wisconsin, one story still has not been told enough.
It is the story of elected school board members who oversee the collection and expenditure of property tax dollars; who approve superintendent and teacher contracts; and who fail, day-to-day, to serve as proper checks on school spending.
You can dog teachers until you collapse from exhaustion, but you are barking at the wrong target. School board members who control their district’s property tax levy receive far less scrutiny from the public than they should.
One such case has manifested itself in Lemont-Bromberek School District 113A, where deep borrowing, a lawsuit and local Tea Party activism have combined to create a tense, unpredictable backdrop for the April 5 school board election.
Two board incumbents, Andy Taylor and Sue Murphy, are seeking re-election. One incumbent Tea Party activist, Janet Hughes, is running a write-in campaign. Seven newcomers are on the ballot.
And voters will be asked to approve a $20 million bond sale to keep the district afloat.
Voters already rejected an $8 million bond proposal in November, continuing a legendary but unsustainable pattern of saying “no” at Lemont ballot boxes.
The issue is dividing the historic village, built along the scenic bluffs of the Illinois & Michigan Canal: Catholic school parents against public school households, incumbent school trustees against Tea Party activists. It also includes allegations of financial mismanagement that peaked with a January lawsuit filed against the school board and superintendent.
The district of four elementary and middle schools is on the brink of financial collapse and faces the possibility of the state appointing an oversight panel to run it.
This is not the choreography parents anticipated when they moved from Chicago to settle in a well-heeled southwest suburb.
So without further ado, I’ll cut to the chase.
If I lived there, I would hold my nose and vote for the $20 million bond sale and then vote for a new slate of board members to handle the money going forward, especially those willing to revisit the superintendent’s recently renewed contract. No one who has allowed a district to spiral like this one deserves more time at the helm.
The district owes so much money to other entities, including the local high school district, it cannot be righted through cuts alone.
A group of parents pressured the school board last month to approve resolutions that, if followed, would restrict how the $20 million is spent. It would pay off debt, restore certain programs and return more teachers to classrooms to reduce class size. The money would not be spent on administrative costs or new programs.
A state takeover, while sometimes the necessary timber for collapsing districts, would only damage the community. Other towns have pointed to a decline in property values and an irreversible stigma when the state intervenes. Public schools remain the bedrock of any thriving community.
Furthermore, taxpayers in District 113A are due some pain. The district has not had a successful school referendum in more than 30 years. That trajectory is simply unrealistic, given the natural increases of salaries, benefits and health care costs, and mandated tax caps that restrict how much schools can levy.
District taxpayers have been getting a pretty decent return on their investment with average-paid teachers, well-performing students and a higher-than-average classroom ratio of teachers to students.
The tipping point has come.
That said, I would not recommend the continued reign of incumbents. The district needs level-headed, fiscally responsible, neutral board members who will follow the money going forward.
That doesn’t mean a board dominated by members of the local Tea Party. While I support the re-election of incumbent Hughes, the write-in candidate, schools should not be run by any particular political group.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by Hughes accuses the district of improperly diverting money from its savings account without board approval.
We simply don’t know yet if the allegations hold merit, but it’s certainly disconcerting that the district’s bond request jumped from $8 million in November to $20 million by the January board meeting.
What we do know is the district cannot borrow more using traditional financial tools. The Illinois State Board of Education is watching closely. Time is running out.
Vote “yes” on the April bond sale question. Then vote “no” to the incumbents.
And the next time you want to bash a teacher, here or in Wisconsin, based on your perception of cushy pay and benefits, ask yourself instead who the elected members of your local school board are.
Do you know the answer?