GEL ELECTION PROFILE: Glen Ellyn School District 87 Questions 16-20

Question 16: Recent Illinois law allows counties to create a sales tax revenue stream that is earmarked only for school construction/capital projects and is proportioned amongst county school districts based solely upon student enrollment numbers (i.e. it is not means-tested). Would you, as Board member, support or oppose D87 calling on the County Board to approve creation of such a tax?

Luke Baer: I believe tax increases tend to reduce tax revenue, in particular where the consumer can adjust his or her conduct to minimize the tax. That is particularly true for sales tax, where consumers can go to neighboring counties to avoid the tax, or income taxes. Though I have not studied the options for public funding for schools, I would not look to an increase in sales tax as a good early option.

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Donald Birns: Before I gave an answer on this topic I would need to analyze the affect on spending habits if this was to occur. The city of Chicago has a larger sales tax percent and the spending habits of its citizens are affected by it.

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Yadav Nathwani: With a stagnate economy, rising unemployment, and a drop in consumer spending I do not think at this point in time it would be appropriate for the Board to request to the County to introduce a new tax on purchasing items. Doing so would cause further fiscal pressure on district stakeholders and retailers of the county.

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Don Pydo: Whether taxes are categorized as “property,” “income,” “sales,” or the like, they all come from the same pool of increasingly tapped-out taxpayers—not some mythical pot of gold—and have great impact on our wallets, and our communities. I would want further review as to how this new sales tax program would be administered, and greater assurance that the proposed increase would in fact benefit established districts such as Glenbard before asking the county board for authorization of such a measure.

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John Snyder: This is outside the authority of the D87 School Board and is a matter between the voters of the county and the County Board.

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F. Thomas Voltaggio: I do not favor the creation of new taxes for schools or any other form of government in this time of extreme duress for our taxpaying public. If such a tax were to be imposed through the actions of the County Board via passage of a referendum, I would favor the abatement of a like sum of money from our property tax levy to offset the impact on the District’s homeowners.

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Question 17: What is your position on the creation of a TIF District(s) that could be proposed within the D87 boundaries?

Luke Baer: I would support if properly managed. Tax Incremental Financing Districts tend to reduce taxes for businesses in the short term to get businesses to locate in the district. Properly managed TIF districts can expand the overall tax base and thereby tax revenue, though they require short term sacrifices.

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Donald Birns: In the short term it would require some sacrifices, but if properly managed it would increase the overall tax base of the district by attracting businesses to the area. The additional businesses would occupy non-residential space currently vacant.

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Yadav Nathwani: Generally, TIFS have a negative perception. However, could produce an excellent way for the district to improve. I think that the Board should request a student in order to make an education decision on this issue.

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Don Pydo: It is my understanding that D87 already has several TIF Districts that exist within its vast boundaries. The intent of these TIFs is to help municipalities increase their long-range tax base with short-term concessions, which in the final analysis can be most beneficial in creating new revenue for our schools. As such I am not uncomfortable with these initiatives.

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John Snyder: I really do not have enough knowledge or information to speak in an informed way on this point. I will, however, take the time to become knowledgeable if this matter should come before the D87 School Board.

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F. Thomas Voltaggio: District 87 currently operates with a number of TIF Districts within its geographical boundaries. The District has no control over their creation, but has successfully negotiated agreements to ameliorate their impact while in force. I would anticipate that we will approach this issue in the future in a manner consistent with past behavior.

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Question 18: School Districts are allowed to sell bonds to fund additions to buildings without going to referendum. Would you be in favor of doing so, or do you think capital improvements of that size should be approved by the community in a referendum?

Luke Baer: Because it is important to build broad based support for the school budget, it is critical that any capital improvements be approved in a referendum.

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Donald Birns: I feel that the community needs to approve any large capital improvements via a referendum.

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Yadav Nathwani: The bonds should be approved by the community. Since the primary sources of repayment of these bonds are the community it would makes sense to request this prior to being approved.

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Don Pydo: I am deeply opposed to the idea of school districts selling bonds to fund additions without referendum, and feel that it potentially represents a most egregious “end run” around taxpayers. We need to engage the general public—not exclude them—in these decisions, and should resist the urge to move ahead with expensive building projects without the full consent of those paying the bill.

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John Snyder: I guess that would depend on the size and nature of the project at hand. The Board can better achieve its long run objective of providing first rate education by gaining voter and community support for major capital expenditures outside a normal budget. Transparent decision making in such matters is always critical.

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F. Thomas Voltaggio: I am steadfastly opposed to the concept of funding major building projects without voter approval. The financing schemes for these initiatives are expensive, and have long term impact on this community.

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Question 19: What are your thoughts about the turf and lights for both Duchon and Memorial Fields?

Luke Baer: I am not familiar with all the details on both issues. However, in light of the restricted revenue due to the low CPI, I think lights ought to be funded through fundraisers, not public funds. As to the turf issue, it should take second to academic excellence. In addition in assessing the costs of turf, the total costs, including long term maintenance, not just cost of installation, have to be considered. I understand that there is also a health related concern tied to the artificial turf issue. If elected to the Board I would look at the data on that issue.

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Donald Birns: As to artificial turf I haven’t studied all the health concerns raised. I will say that I would be opposed to any funding that would take away from academic opportunities.

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Yadav Nathwani: Given the history of the school, proximity of the nearby residences, and attending Board meetings in the past, I am aware of the publics concern. If the administration executed to go forward with the turf project at the cost of education our students, I would be deeply concerned.

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Don Pydo: While I am not against the idea of “gaining ground” for students, I do oppose the specific option for synthetic turf currently being pursued at Glenbard West (and North) due to a variety of health, safety and environmental issues that I do not feel have been adequately addressed by the administration and the board. Additionally, at a time when D87 should be pulling in its belt, I seriously question the wisdom of permanently allocating approximately 20% of the capital projects budget to artificial turf. That said, however, if this project is truly deemed a priority, I would urge the board to take the question to voters for proper funding authority via referendum instead of the “creative financing” approach that is currently being concocted.

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John Snyder: Investment in new, safe and cost effective technologies is the lifeblood of a productive, efficient and competitive institution - public or private. Today, new technology is the essential to our ability as a nation, as a community and as s
school district to compete both locally and globally. We no longer heat our schools with coal and we no longer light our classrooms with whale oil lamps. Our schools rely on Hi-E glass for insulation and now on fluorescent light bulbs to
reduce electricity costs as we do in our own homes.

Artificial turf is a reasonable and safe technology solution to an issue of land or facility constraints. It is widely used by Glen Ellyn’s neighboring schools including Wheaton North, Wheaton Warrenville South, Downers Grove and Wheaton College. And, the Glen Ellyn Park District is installing artificial turf in the new indoor facility at Ackerman Park.

*The Consumer Protection Agency concluded in a July 30. 2008 Release # 08-348 ‘that young children are not at risk from exposure to lead in these fields”.

*Studies have demonstrated that there is a marked reduction in traumatic injury (ligament and head/neck trauma) with turf and an increase in scrapes and burns. As a parent and a high school referee who works games on turf, this seems to be a good trade off.

*Turf significantly reduces the problems associated with duck and goose droppings on natural grass surfaces that are brought about by the fact the waterfowl are attracted to natural grass surfaces (they especially like golf courses) by standing water after rains and because they eat the grass. How many times have your sons or daughters, your grandchildren or neighbor’s kids come home from football, softball, lacrosse, soccer or field hockey with goose poop on their shoes and clothing? Coaches, how many times have your players come off the field with goose poop packed in their cleats?

*Turf also benefits the local environment because it requires no fertilizers and cleaning materials are environmentally compatible.

Like all other capital expenditures, the cost of installation must be justifiable and it should be required that costs are shared with community groups and other governmental agencies. This is the decision that Board made recently regarding turf at Glenbard North – and the possible installation of turf on Memorial Field at West High School.

*Funding for Memorial field was requested by the Administrative leadership of Glenbard West to resolve a major problem that they felt impacted the entire student body – a significant shortage of athletic and PE space. The growth of women’s and men’s sports, the no-cut freshman sports policy to help middle school students integrate into a much larger and more distant high school and the requirement that, starting in 2013, Physical Education will count in the high school grade point all had bearing on this decision. West is landlocked, has about 25 % of the available land for athletic and PE programs that is available at other D87 schools – and ½ of this space (Duchon Field) lies in a flood plain and, as such, is often unavailable for play during the school year.

The West administration justified the expense of turf at Memorial by reducing bussing and grass field maintenance costs and by the internal redirection of their concession funds. This was a decision made by the leadership group at Glenbard West. Thus, Memorial funding has no impact on resource allocations to other D87 schools.

Lights may be an option at Memorial to extend play during evening hours. The property is buffered by the high school, the railroad tracks and the downtown area and by the trees and lighted tennis courts to the east. Lights have existed on the Memorial property for over 10 years. They were installed when the Park District owned the property. I would support a reasonable lighting program for the turf at Memorial. But, before lights are installed at Memorial, I would want to be sure of compliance with any Village ordinances, reasonable time limits on use of lights and cooperation between West and the Village of Glen Ellyn to mitigate any residual impacts on the area. (See above editorial to Glen Ellyn Sun)

*Last year a conceptual proposal was brought to the Board by the D87 Administration to consider installing turf on Duchon Field. This has been neither approved nor voted upon by the Board. The Duchon situation is much different from turf at Memorial - - the issues are more complex and more costly to resolve. Duchon lies in a flood plain, faces Lake Ellyn and a a number of homes around the lake. Turf installation would be costly due to the drainage and flooding issues. These most difficult and contentious issues would have to all be successfully resolved and considerable Village financial and permitting support would have to be available to mitigate drainage issues related to Lake Ellyn. Funding would have to be clearly justifiable before D87 could consider proceeding with a turf facility on Duchon Field.

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F. Thomas Voltaggio: I am opposed to turf and/or lights for Duchon Field. The flood remediation required to install turf is not technically feasible, and is outside the scope and purpose of school district funding. The proposal for Memorial Field does not pose the technical challenges present on Duchon Field, but is, however, a very expensive proposition. I have not seen a financial proposal that explains how District 87 will fund this project without impacting our ongoing programs and services. This is not an appropriate time to undertake such expensive new initiatives.

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Question 20: One comment we often hear is that District 87 employs a high number of administrators. What are your thoughts on this?

Luke Baer: Based on the information I read, administration expenses for District 87 are 8% of the total budget. I do not have comparable information for state or national averages, so am not able to make a final judgment on where District 87 stands against the best in class. If elected to the Board I would gather that data and set as a goal, that the District 87 achieve best in class.

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Donald Birns: As I have not seen how the district compares to others in both the state and the area, I can’t comment on this specific issue. If elected I would want to review the data before commenting.

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Yadav Nathwani: This concern aligns with my mission to examine existing programs with a fine tooth comb. It is my goal to improve the schools effectiveness by justifying the underlying value of mid-level administrators.

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Don Pydo: Given the responsibility of oversight for a host of administrative, personnel, technology, curricular and academic activities for 9,000 students, 625 faculty members, numerous aides and clerical staff, 1.6 million square feet of physical plant and 172 acres of grounds, I would contend that D87’s administrative staff is not disproportionately high.

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John Snyder: A review of the Illinois State High School Report Cards for similar west suburban “non-unified” (high school only gr. 9-12) districts including D87, D99 Downers Grove, D86 Hinsdale and D 211 Palatine shows that the D87 pupil to administrator ratio of 147.7 is the lowest in the group.

Each school District is impacted differently by student body makeup, NCLB and AYP efforts and curriculum. It is worth asking, however, why D87 has the lowest pupil to administrator ratio of the group. This is good information and warrants a review of the administration staffing level at D87 for the 2009-1010 budget.

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F. Thomas Voltaggio: The operation of a 9,000 student high school district requires a management team. Our team is comprised of 30 central office and 32 building level administrators. This number represents roughly 5.5% of our total staff, and does not seem inordinately high.

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