ST. CHARLES – Most candidates for the Geneva School District 304 board said they supported core curriculum standards and holding the line on taxes while maintaining academic programs. But they do not support a virtual charter school.
Incumbents Mark Grosso, board president, and William Wilson – along with candidates Robert Cabeen, Fred Dresser, Daniel Garrett, David Lamb and Leslie Juby – participated in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Central Kane County this week at the Kane County Branch Court in St. Charles.
Wilson is seeking a fourth term and Grosso his second term. Juby had previously served on the board.
Missing from the lineup was candidate Jeff DiOrio, who was coaching a chess tournament, officials said.
The eight candidates are seeking four four-year terms in Tuesday’s consolidated election.
As to an application by Virtual Learning Solutions to establish a virtual charter school for District 304 and 17 other Fox Valley districts, Cabeen said he would not support it.
“The one proposed now is a terrible arrangement,” Cabeen said. “It takes money and control and gives it to an institution in Virginia where the CEO makes $6 million.”
Dresser, Garrett, Lamb and Juby also were not in favor of the proposal. In particular, Dresser said he could not see how a child in the early primary grades could learn without one-on-one interaction with a teacher.
“I have a real problem with public money going to private concerns that can show no data of doing it better than public schools,” Juby said.
Wilson and Grosso said they expect to vote on the application at Monday’s school board meeting.
Grosso said he would not disagree with the other candidates, and Wilson said he had questions about how the virtual charter school would help an at-risk student catch up.
As to common core learning standards being implemented in schools statewide, all the candidates supported the new, rigorous requirements.
“Common core standards start the building blocks for our children and what they end up being later in life,” Dresser said. “We have to set that foundation so we can build on it.”
The candidates also supported the district’s current policy of abating taxes, and said that it did not affect the ability to teach students.
“We take available money above $15 million from the ed fund to apply to long-term debt,” Wilson said. “We are spending money we need to spend to educate students. We found other ways to reduce our expenses.”
Lamb agreed that reducing the debt did not affect the academic success of students.
“Paying the debt down puts us in a stronger financial position,” Lamb said.
Cabeen said he would favor drawing down the district’s reserves “at a reasonable rate” to decrease the debt.
Garrett said he wants to see the debt paid down faster.
To a question of how to facilitate more open communication between the board, administration, teachers and the community, candidates had varying ideas.
“You can’t please all the people all the time,” Dresser said. “Everything has to funnel in and work to a common goal.”
Garrett said explanations of the debt and tax levy could be easier to understand with the use of colored graphs and website improvements.
Grosso said in the past four years, the school board has “made some great leaps in improving communications” with its website, newsletter and public forums.
“I don’t believe you could ever have enough,” Juby said. “I also believe board members should have the ability to talk to teachers … and get their ideas.”
All the candidates said they did not support the practice of pension spiking – that is, increasing a teacher’s or administrator’s salary at the end of his or her working years to hike their benefits in retirement.
“I believe in paying a fair and competitive wage so we do not have to spike it,” Lamb said.
“We need to work with our teachers … to see they are fairly compensated and can afford to retire,” Wilson said.
Although District 304 spends below the state average per pupil, the candidates praised the district’s quality of education.
“We do a ... good job delivering a quality education for less money,” Juby said.
“We are proof you don’t need to spend more to get a better education,” Garrett said.
“Geneva is recognized as one of the top schools in Kane County and Illinois,” Grosso said. “It’s a tribute to our teachers, administrators and staff for doing an outstanding job of doing more with less.”