Kaneland Connection: Emotions run high as Kaneland OKs levy

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 7:14 a.m. CDT

SUGAR GROVE – The Kaneland School District 302 Board approved the district’s tax levy Monday night, in a three-hour meeting at Kaneland Harter Middle School that featured emotional comments from residents and tension among board members.

There were no changes from the tentative levy that was approved in October. The total levy is $52,210,825 – a 4.58 percent increase – and Julie-Ann Fuchs, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, previously laid out the impact for taxpayers: a $425 increase in annual taxes for an owner of a $200,000 home, $638 for the owner of a $300,000 home, $850 for the owner of a $400,000 home and $1,063 for the owner of a $500,000 home.

Board members Gale Pavlak, Teresa Witt, Peter Lopatin, Veronica Bruhl and board President Cheryl Krauspe voted for the levy. Board members Tony Valente and Pedro Rivas voted against it.

Residents talked during a public hearing on the tax levy, with eight speaking against it and two commenting in favor of the district’s action.

Elburn resident Nancy Schnaitman told board members that while they did have the right to vote for the levy, “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it,” a theme that was repeated during the public comments.

After the public got its say, Valente spoke. He called the tax levy “backdoorish” because district officials are increasing funding in transportation and special education to make up for a potential shortfall in the education fund, brought about because the district has reached its maximum tax cap.

Fuchs has said the district would face huge cuts without increasing the funding in transportation and special ed.

Valente pointed out what he said was an example of what the district wasn’t doing to save funds – pointing to the assignment of Ralph Drendel and Rudy Keller to positions as athletic directors. The move, which was approved, calls for Drendel to make $250 a day, not to exceed 100 days, and Keller to make $500 a day, not to exceed 70 days. Longtime Kaneland athletic director Leigh Jaffke resigned in October.

Valente said the district could live without that position for the rest of the school year. Superintendent Jeff Schuler disagreed, saying every district he had been associated with had an athletic director.

Valente then tore into fellow board members, saying, “I’ll tell people what the philosophy of some of these board members is … it’s to tax to the limit.” Valente, a Sugar Grove resident who works as principal at Proviso East High School in Maywood, also criticized the fact that some administrators and principals don’t live in the district, calling them “carpetbaggers.” Valente said the district needs to make “sweeping” changes of administrators.

Some residents applauded after Valente spoke, as they did during public comment when other residents spoke.

Valente sparred extensively with board member Witt, who told Valente that “you have an ax to grind, and we are sick of it.” Witt defended the vote, saying without an increase more than 13 teaching jobs could be eliminated.

Later, they exchanged barbs again, with Witt taking issue with Valente’s criticism of her reading a prepared statement. Valente called Witt a “rubber stamp.” Witt told Valente that the board members “are sick and tired of your bullying ways, and it will stop.”

Pavlak said that while taxes were rising in Kaneland, they remain lower than other districts, using Batavia as an example. Pavlak said the district had cut more than $7 million from its budget, adding that teachers have taken a pay freeze.

Bruhl said the district had been “extremely frugal when it comes to your money as taxpayers.”

Rivas said he didn’t want to point fingers, but he felt – like residents must do at home – that “we need to tighten our belts.”

Krauspe said the board had “made cuts we needed to make” and “tightened the belts we needed to tighten.” She said she took “great offense” at Valente’s comments.

“You have a right to your opinion,” she told Valente. “But you do not have the right to your own facts.”

The discussion didn’t end after the tax levy vote. Valente spoke during a presentation on long-term financial planning. Lopatin said he understood that the levy and financial planning were conversations that did overlap, but he said they were separate issues.

He said the “conversation Tony is forcefully pushing” on expenditures was “a big conversation to have,” and “tonight is not the night.”

The last word came in public comment. Jason Mann, who spoke earlier in support of the board’s action, said he wanted the board to do something “to stop board member grandstanding.”

He said meetings would be more productive without Valente’s “10- to 15-minute long flippy-flop diatribes.”

• Al Lagattolla is the news editor of the Kane County Chronicle. Write to him at alagattolla@shawmedia.com.

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