R.E.A.Ch. says stop the lies!

Why does this year’s Rockford School Board budget have a deficit when their revenue increased by $16 million? Why did last year’s budget have a deficit when its revenues increased, also? The spring 2002 referendum to pay tax protesters their refunds was touted as the “financially right thing” to do. The “For the Kids II” referendum in November 2002 was touted by the board, administration and its citizen committee as following the six-year financial plan, which required surplus budgets and reduced the accumulated deficit to zero. Instead, the voters have been rewarded with deficit budgets and an increasing accumulated deficit. Was the “For the Kids II” referendum campaign a lie?

Most of the budget problems are due to the union contracts and the fact that the administration has consistently under-projected health insurance cost. The teachers’ salary increase is a 4 percent increase in base pay PLUS another 4 percent increase for an additional year of service PLUS a 4 percent increase if they receive 10 more education credits. This 12 percent increase in pay was negotiated by the board that received more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from the unions. Sadly, the union’s board was warned by former board members Stephanie Caltagerone, David Strommer and Ted Biondo that we could NOT afford these increases. Additionally, monies to teachers and administrators for school improvement planning were higher than anticipated, and there were more teachers receiving the salary increase for increased education than projected.

Benefits continued to increase rapidly in 2002. The union’s board negotiated for full-time teachers to pay $50 a month ($600 a year) for family health insurance that costs the district $10,000 a year per teacher. The board unwisely decided to pay back the tax protesters in one lump payment, which costs the district almost $3 million a year out of the education fund for the next 10 years. The board has borrowed MORE money to pay MORE interest, which takes precious tax dollars away “From the Kids.”

This year’s budget is in trouble because the union’s majority, which includes Nancy Kalchbrenner, Alice Saudargas, Bob Evans and Karol Hammond, restored cuts of $6 million, which includes aides, administrators, hall monitors and teachers. The teachers cost $3.4 million more than budgeted, and substitutes’ overtime was under-budgeted by $545,467. Health insurance continues to be under-budgeted and is expected to cost almost $3 million more.

Why didn’t the referendums help as the board claimed they would? The six-year plan was never followed by the Kalchbrenner majority despite what they publicly claimed. The administration and the school board lacked the tenacity to make ENOUGH cuts and stand by them. They failed to stop the administration from overspending. Tax protesters were paid in one lump sum, instead of using working cash to pay them over a three-year period, as outlined in the six-year plan. In between the two referendums in 2002, the union’s board gave their campaign contributors the largest salary increase in recent history. “From the Kids” should have been the slogan of the last two referendums because “the kids” have felt the burden of the cuts, while their parents pay MORE taxes to District 205. Was the “For the Kids II” campaign a lie? You decide.

Barb Dent is the chairman of R.E.A.CH.

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