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Holinger: A tragedy in the making

Published: Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 5:30 a.m. CST

Once Macbeth becomes convinced he can murder Duncan and rule the country on his own, there’s no talking to him. Blind to his own downfall, he cuts himself off from society, his end sealed in false certainty.

I was reminded of Shakespeare last Monday night while facing members of the Geneva Board of Education, who stared into open laptop lids like Macbeth studying the stones in his fort’s ramparts.

We’re no longer going to be your hostages! – that was what Gail Ryan, R.N., fired at their defenses during public comment. When she railed at the board for failing to take the debt seriously by not making it a meeting priority, Vice President Mark Grosso said he took offense to that notion.

She turned to us in the audience and said that she takes offense at her tax bill.

When I told my wife, Tia, how many people had spoken out against the debt debacle, she said, “Maybe Geneva’s finally getting it.”

If true, it’s taken three years. Early in 2008, Bob McQuillan, founder of GenevaTaxFacts, prophesied a housing price decline, a population halt and a need to repay mounting debts, all necessitating higher property taxes despite lower home values.

The board ignored him. It kept spending like loaded 1-percenters. Today, Geneva owns a multi-million dollar debt. Several present board members helped run up that bill by pushing through extravagant new construction referendums that the town voted for thanks – in great part – to PAC activity contributed to by firms and board members with financial, personal or potentially political interests in positive results.

During the meeting Monday, resident Dwight Swartwood read to the board from his handout. He said the district is spending six times that of other schools its size, compared to the national average. No wonder he’s frustrated. This year, his taxes will increase 36 percent.

You can’t do anything! – that was what Genevan John McCormick stormed at the board, adding he thinks the district is facing the same thing American Airlines did: bankruptcy.

“I hope not,” McQuillan said later. “That would ruin Geneva.”

Drowning in debt, wouldn’t it make sense for the board to accept an offered life ring? For three years, GenevaTaxFACTS has urged the board to appoint a financial task force to utilize the town’s economic brain trust. The task force would be comprised of three board members – to assure open meetings – and five residents with advanced degrees or specialized knowledge of financial, business and/or educational issues.

But no. Former board president Mary Stith informed us that at their last retreat, the idea was voted down. Perhaps they overlooked that not one of their members, at least according to the biographical information on the district’s website, holds a graduate degree in economics, finance, or education; furthermore, less than a majority hold undergraduate degrees related to finance, and only one member is an education graduate.

“They are arrogant!” spewed Gail Ryan after the meeting.

I, too, left the meeting amazed at this board’s hubris. After helping bury this town under a mountain of debt, it refuses a free backhoe. Like all tragic heroes, the board has a tragic flaw. Sure, continual overspending, but overspending because it believed its “Tradition of Excellence” could only be bought with top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art everything, from technology to buildings.

Sure, all that’s nice. But three decades as a teacher has taught me that an excellent education is more about having teachers knowledgeable in, and passionate about, their subject – as well as expecting much from their students. It’s also about helpful, supportive parents who encourage success.

It’s not too late to dig out. Get involved. Write the board at board@geneva304.org, or join GenevaTaxFacts by emailing taxfacts@sbcglobal.net.

• Rick Holinger has taught English at Marmion Academy in Aurora since 1979, and his poetry, fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in more than 100 literary magazines. In 1995, he founded the St. Charles Writers Group, sponsored by the St. Charles Library. Holinger and his wife, Tia, have two children and have resided in the Fox Valley for more than 30 years. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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