GENEVA – Eight candidates for Geneva School District 304 board presented their positions on fiscal issues this week at a forum that focused on fiscal responsibility, co-hosted by Geneva TaxFACTS.
Incumbents board President Mark Grosso and member William Wilson (not pictured) along with challengers Leslie Juby, David Lamb, Daniel Garrett, Jeff DiOrio, Fred Dresser and Robert Cabeen are seeking four, four-year terms in the April 9 consolidated election.
Current board members Timothy Moran and Matt Henry did not seek re-election. The eight appeared before more than 100 residents Wednesday at Williamsburg Elementary School.
Grosso and Wilson pointed to their experience – Wilson is seeking his fourth term, and Grosso is seeking his second.
Juby, who served one term and lost a re-election bid in 2011, said her experience and background in education would make her a strong choice for school board. Juby noted her volunteerism for Geneva schools, serving on a statewide task force and now working as a substitute teacher in a neighboring district as strengths for serving on the District 304 board again.
As a substitute teacher, “I experience first-hand the board members and how they have an effect on students and education in the classroom,” Juby said.
“My goal is for all students to receive a well-balanced education that prepares them for their future success,” Juby said. “And a new common core standard will provide an opportunity for new curriculum and raise our expectations.”
Lamb, who has a degree in finance and a background in municipal bonds, said the school district provided great educational opportunities for his children. But he said the school district had too much debt.
“I believe in spending what I can afford. I do not like debt,” Lamb said. “I have no personal debt. I think that approach to fiscal responsibility has to occur at the school district level.”
Garrett, also with a financial background in municipal bonds, also spoke to the district’s debt.
“We have 9 percent bonds when the rates are 2 percent on that debt service,” Garrett said.
Garrett noted the district was not growing as fast as it was when the bond decisions were made, and now officials face different challenges.
“You have to change gears,” Garrett said. “I think it takes a different mindset, different ideas in the next four years.”
DiOrio, who is working on a Ph.D. in educational administration, is a teacher in a Naperville district. He noted being a first-time home buyer in Geneva, expecting his first child and planning to live here the next 40 years.
“We really do need to run our school finances the way we run our homes and be fiscally responsible,” DiOrio said. “One other thing that kind of sets me apart is my knowledge of education.”
Dresser, who is retired, said through his work travels, he learned to work with groups of people from all backgrounds – a skill he would bring to the board.
“I feel a school board member is really accountable – No. 1 – to the taxpayers,” Dresser said. “We are charged with looking after the money that you provided to us. And we are responsible and accountable to the school district as well. ... Some of the decisions the board has made do not rest well with everybody. Well, you can’t please everybody.”
Grosso said when he ran for election in 2009, it was on a platform of fiscal responsibility.
“After four years, I’ve had a lot of experience,” Grosso said, recounting that he has served as a board member, vice president and now president. He served on committees and negotiated every contract with the district’s employee groups, and improved the district’s transparency.
A notable achievement under his leadership was the district’s $8 million tax abatement and reduced debt by $2 million by repurchasing bonds, Grosso said.
Wilson, a graduate of Geneva High School, said while serving on the teachers contract negotiating committee, the most important thing they achieved was “sustainability.”
“Our taxes, curriculum and the levy – they all go hand in hand and they all have to be sustainable in and of themselves,” Wilson said. “We cannot levy more than the people can pay. We cannot run budgets that are not affordable and not sustainable, and we can’t let our curriculum slip.”
Wilson said all three components need to be balanced equally.
“As a school board, we continue to offer programs that enrich our children without taxing our taxpayers to death,” Wilson said. “We have one of the top performing schools in the state of Illinois. In the last four years, the amount of money that has been spent in the operating fund has decreased and the last time we did the levy, we elected to not go after the full amount. ... That was the right thing to do. None of the others [school districts] did that.”
Cabeen, who ran and lost in 2011, said his background flying jets for the Air Force in Vietnam and then later as a commercial airline captain gave him a lot of opportunities to make decisions.
“I am one person who can look at all the information and make good choices,” Cabeen said. “Like all of us here, I don’t want to raise taxes. And like all of us here, I value education.”