GENEVA – When Geneva District 304 officials negotiated a new contract with its superintendent this year, it included a provision that if he purchased the vehicle the district bought for him to use, he would get an $800 a month travel stipend.
The deal would save the district money in the long run, board president Mark Grosso said, because the district no longer would have to be responsible for its liability, upkeep and repairs.
Superintendent Kent Mutchler agreed, and the board approved the sale of a 2006 Ford Freestar with 125,000 miles at a Kelley Blue Book Trade-In value of $4,300.
The board also approved allowing Mutchler to pay the district in equal installments over 24 months, ending with the August 2015 payment.
But Bob McQuillan, a cofounder of Geneva TAXFacts, a local taxpayer watchdog group, objected, calling Mutchler’s car purchase “an interest-free loan.”
At a recent school board meeting, McQuillan recited the financial benefits in Mutchler’s contract extension and questioned why the district should do this when the superintendent makes more than $200,000 and received a $9,000 performance bonus.
“I don’t think the school district should be in the car loan business,” McQuillan said. “I find the interest-free car loan a slap in the face to all staff and Geneva district taxpayers.”
Donna Oberg, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, said she recommended the sale to the superintendent and did not think anything of the payment plan.
“If I charged 2 percent interest, it would have been $80 over the life of the loan,” Oberg said. “It was not like we were selling him a $30,000 vehicle. It was a way to ... provide him a car and not lose money on a vehicle. I recommended ‘X’ amount per month and the board approved it. ... It didn’t cross my mind to add interest to it. We sold him an old vehicle.”
Mutchler said selling him the car is cost-neutral as well as an “extension of his office.”
“Having a car is important to me in a district that has nine buildings,” Mutchler said. “To get around to those buildings frequently, in addition to the out of town stuff a superintendent has to go to, there are things on weekends. It’s an extension of my office.”
Mutchler said some superintendents tend to stay in their offices, but for him, traveling to all the schools is “especially important to me. ... it’s the thing that makes the job rewarding – to be out among kids and staff.”
Board president Mark Grosso said McQuillan is wrong.
“The district is not in the ‘car loan’ business,’ ” Grosso said. “The board looked at it. The attorney wrote the agreement. It was part of his contract. It gave him an opportunity to purchase the car.”
The district leased the car for Mutchler as part of his package when he came to the district in 2006 and bought out the lease in 2011, records show.
Brian Costin, director of government reform for the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, said Mutchler should have just bought the car outright from the district.
“I don’t think the district should be selling vehicles to employees and giving them special loans,” Costin said. “It should have been made available to the public and sold to whoever would pay the most for it.”