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Batavia school board hopefuls talk finances

BATAVIA – A proposal to shift the cost of teacher pensions from the state onto the local school districts is among issues facing the seven candidates running for four seats on the Batavia School District 101 board.

Incumbent Tina Bleakley, who was appointed in July to fill a vacancy on the board, is the only incumbent running for re-election. Board President Ron Link, along with Vice President Jack Hinterlong and board member Joseph Purpura, are not running for re-election.

Other candidates in the race include Jonathan Gaspar, Garrick Grizaffi, Jim Karner, Susan Locke, Michael Papka and Jason Stoops.

Bleakley said the school board already is addressing possible changes in the pension system.

“Every school district in the state is going to have to face this pensions issue,” she said. “We are preparing for it. We will do whatever it takes to continue maintaining the level of teaching we have, the quality of teaching we have.”

She also addressed a recent news report that district taxpayers ended up picking up the $1,929.75 tab at Morton’s Steakhouse in Chicago for board members, administrators and a few family members during a statewide school leadership conference in November. Bleakley attended the conference. The report stated the total cost to taxpayers to send 16 administrators and board members to the conference was more than $13,000.

“We are required to have training,” Bleakley said. “The conference was important for us to attend. The expenses were shared with the community, and some community members were not happy about it. If the community is not happy with something, then we definitely have to revisit it.”

Locke said the board was wrong in having taxpayers pick up the tab for that meal.

“A meal like that should never be paid for by the taxpayers,” she said.

But Locke said as a whole, she doesn’t see a lot of waste in the school district.

“I am a PTO president and am in the schools at least three days a week,” she said. “I see people using what they have. We in the PTO raise a lot of money to help supplement the schools.”

Stoops said he wants to reduce the number of students per class.

“Currently, I believe we are around 26 to 29 students per class,” he said. “It would be best if we had a range around 21 to 24.”

He also is opposed to moving forward with an estimated $13.4 million in improvements to Batavia High School’s athletic fields as part of a master plan.

“Although it looks gorgeous, I feel there are much more necessary and better projects that should be instituted before even considering a proposed $13 million athletic field project,” Stoop said.

Garrick agreed.

“I think the price tag is too high for our community, especially in this financial environment,” he said. “I do think it will have to be redefined, and we will need to seek community input in terms of what the community appetite is for these types of facility improvements.”

Generally, he said the school district has been well run over the years.

“While the taxes are high, they’re high everywhere,” he said. “If you think that there is another community that has a lower tax structure, I think you need to look twice.”

Papka said he wants to see incoming school superintendent Lisa Hichens “continue to hold the schools to the high standards that are in place now, and continue to try to lift those.” Hichens will take the helm as the district’s superintendent when Superintendent Jack Barshinger retires at the end of June.

He said Hichens needs to look at growing classroom sizes, and whether the quality of education has been adversely affected.

Gaspar, who is a teacher in East Aurora School District 131, said he would make decisions based on the needs of students and teachers.

“My reaction to anything is, what’s best for the kids, what’s best for the teachers to help the kids move up the ladder,” he said.”I want to make the teachers have a say in what’s being taught for the kids. They are the ones on the front lines.”

Karner said he would look out for the needs of taxpayers.

“The property taxes continue to escalate,” he said. “I don’t want to see the high taxes be a barrier to entering into this community, so I think that needs to be addressed. I’m eager to get in there and take a look at things.”

The League of Women Voters Central Kane County will hold a candidates forum for the Batavia School Board candidates at 6:30 p.m. April 2 at the Batavia Library.

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