Letter: Kaneland ‘ready to operate’? Not so fast

By on August 15, 2014

Superintendent Jeff Schuler said he is leaving the Kaneland schools “ready to operate.” Several School Board members express their appreciation (choking back tears at times) of his service and accomplishments as he leaves for his new job with the Wheaton-Warrenville School District.

Unfortunately, the respective school business details warranting such “love” between board members and Mr. Schuler are somehow missing in their candid dialogues.

Academic growth was good, according to our School Board majority, but not exemplary under Illinois standards. McDole Elementary PK-fifth-grade reading growth dropped to 98 percent, and barely met the average of 100 percent in Math. The High School students tested at 53 percent ready for college course work. We taxpayers are spending $11,563 per student to provide for our children’s education under Mr. Schuler’s direction, and the total will be increasing next year. We should expect all students’ learning growth to at least be average and increasing in improvement, corresponding with spending rates.

Mr. Schuler’s leadership is suggesting next year’s budget to be $66.5 million, or an increase of 7.1 percent. Financing this increase will be a 9.5 percent increase to our tax bill. Student enrollment has dropped by 12 in 2012 and 190 in 2013 for a 4.2 percent decrease, but at the same time Mr. Schuler increased his 2013-14 employee count (817) by 15 people to 832, or 1.8 percent. Employee salaries and benefits account for 80 percent of the School District’s expenses. Our district’s pension obligation is about $230 million as of now.

Such high increases in taxation have surpassed the PTELL Law guidelines of 5 percent tax caps. Within the last two years, the Illinois Board of Education Association lobbying group (Alliance) has successfully managed our state politicians to temporarily remove the tax cap from the Transportation Fund within our school system. Their lobbyist instituted another law to allow money to be transferred out of the “uncapped” Transportation Fund to the “capped” General Fund. This is another form of “backdoor referendum” in which the taxpayer has “no say” protection as to limits on taxation.

Mr. Schuler and staff are very aware of these changes in the law. In order to pay for the additional staff employed and non-open bid contracts this year into next, the district must rob from the Transportation Fund, and the law allows them to do it.

The intended money in the Transportation Fund is desperately needed to maintain the safety of the bus fleet. The district must bus children living over 1.5 miles from their assigned school. The district’s in-house maintenance staff of two mechanics and two garage stalls is appalling to expect our transportation team to keep our fleet up to standards. The 60-plus bus driver’s assigned meeting room and informational center will not house more than 15 people at one time. The shared single his/her restroom will not meet local health code compliance or decency of person’s self-respect. This transportation system is a picture of gross neglect by our school administration and board members, as well.

I will not labor the point of educational performance standards and administrator’s ability to manage any further. My experience is not a “love” tribute to Mr. Schuler, but an opinion of “unfortunate” to be a child in this school system.

Jerry Elliott
Sugar Grove Township