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Local

Tax foe claims Geneva school board candidate mailer violated election law

IEA says complaint 'completely unfounded'

The Geneva Education Association endorsed three candidates for the Geneva District 304 school board in the April 2 consolidated election. A Batavia resident filed a complaint that it should have formed a political action committee. The union countered that the complaint was without merit, as it did not meet the threshold for spending required to form a committee.
The Geneva Education Association endorsed three candidates for the Geneva District 304 school board in the April 2 consolidated election. A Batavia resident filed a complaint that it should have formed a political action committee. The union countered that the complaint was without merit, as it did not meet the threshold for spending required to form a committee.

GENEVA – A Batavia resident filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections alleging that the Geneva Education Association violated the Campaign Disclosure Act.

Robert McQuillan, now of Batavia, but known in Geneva for his outspoken activism on property taxes, filed the complaint March 15. He alleged that the teachers union did not have a political action committee when it paid for a full-color mailer identifying three candidates it endorsed in the April 2 consolidated election.

“A committee must be formed if any candidate or entity spends $5,000," McQuillan stated in an email. "The development, printing and mailing of a postcard of the nature sent to all District 304 residents would cost well over $5,000.”

The teachers union endorsed candidates Katherine Frye, Alicia Saxton and Robert Cabeen, according to the mailer and to the candidates. While the Geneva Education Association paid for it, the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education mailed it.

Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said officials cannot comment because they will be judging the complaint.

Geneva Education Association President Kevin Gannon said the union did not form a political action committee because “we are nowhere near that $5,000 threshold.”

Gannon said just over 2,700 mailers went out at a cost of a little more than $1,750.

McQuillan stated in a text that he does not believe that is the correct cost.

“Sixty-five cents per postcard doesn’t even cover the postage,” McQuillan texted. “What about printing, taking the photos, writing the copy?”

James Reed, government relations director for the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education, said McQuillan’s complaint “is completely unfounded” and that they followed all rules required by the State Board of Elections.

“I would add that the local has been completely transparent about that,” Reed said.

Gannon stated in a text message that the union invited all nine candidates for three open seats to an interview, ultimately recommending Frye, Cabeen and Saxton, Gannon said.

In an email, McQuillan stated he filed the complaint because he disagrees with a teachers union supporting or endorsing candidates in local school board elections.

“How can a board member be impartial during contract negotiations if the union helped get them elected?” McQuillan’s email stated.

McCormick, an incumbent, stated a similar concern at a candidate forum.

Gannon said some current board members were supported by the teachers union in the past, and were part of the recent contract negotiations and teacher disciplinary actions.

"The GEA feels the board members that the GEA supported did not show any kind of favoritism or conflict of interest in recent actions and decisions," Gannon said. "The GEA supports board candidates that have a student- and education-first agenda which works within the community’s ability and willingness to fund that education."

According to its website, ieanea.org, the political action committee was formed in 1971 to elect candidates to the Illinois General Assembly, statewide offices and local school boards “who will make a difference for quality education.”

Reed said virtually every decision regarding student education comes from locally elected school officials.

“It’s extremely important that our members and community members get involved in school board elections,” Reed said. “Our teachers are on the front lines with students every day. It makes sense if you are going to make decisions about what happens in the classroom, you get input from educators.”

Reed said McQuillan’s and McCormick’s assertions that a union-supported school board member could not be impartial about contract talks, "was a way to silence and diminish educators’ voices.”

“The local’s intent is to inform the public about those candidates who are knowledgable about education issues in the community and what is best for kids in that school district,” Reed said. “I don’t know that it [an endorsement] has any bearing on their contract. This is about elections. And elections are about making sure that people making policy decisions are informed.”

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