McHenry Citizens Tax Watch, a new group springing out of Wonder Lake founded by Bob Anderson and David Yang, held a meeting Sunday afternoon at Christ the King Catholic Church.
It was a bifurcated one featuring National Taxpayers United of Illinois’ Jim Tobin and his daughter Christina, now a Vice President of her father’s group, plus two candidates for the McHenry High School Board.
I’ll concentrate on the latter today, since defeat of the high school’s referendum next month is one of the reasons the group was founded.
Anderson, who moderated the meeting in back of a Vote NO yard sign, told the audience that the group was concentrating on not only
- defeating this second time around attempt to hike taxes (after a 73% loss last fall), but also
- convincing legislators not to allow such repeat referendums, plus
- ending the right of teachers to strike and
- supporting the “3 in a Row” slate, all of whose candidates “have assured me they won’t support the tax increase.”
“I’ll be supporting them,” Anderson declared.
Beth Taylor and Steve Bellmore, two members of the “3 in a Row” slate, gave opening statements and answered questions.
Let me give you a flavor of what went on.
“When the School Board threatened to cut Advanced Placement, extra curricular, co-curricular and sports, I said, ‘Enough is enough!’
“We’ve had money in there to the tune of $25 million that’s basically disappeared.”
He argued for more transparency, decrying “their lack of candidness with the community.”
“You can’t spend money you don’t have,” he added.
“I got fired up to run about the same time Steve did.”
She told of attending a meeting called by the School Board last fall where four choices were outlined.
“The School Board chose the third worst. It would have made high school a miserable experience.
“They sprang it without warning.
“Where are we going to be two to three years from now?”
Asked about what concessions the group was seeking, mention in the pamphlet published here Sunday, Bellmore said they would be looking to both the administration and teachers.
He pointed out that salaries had gone up 48% over five years in McHenry, while fringe benefits had increased 59%.
Bellmore compare that to salary increases of 18% in Johnsburg and 8% in Richmond-Burton. Fringe benefit increases there had been 9% and 4% over the five year period.
‘Why the disparity?” he asked.
So what concessions does he seek?
“A three-year hard freeze on salaries and concessions on benefits.”
Bellmore said that McHenry High School teachers paid nothing for their own health insurance and their families got an 85% subsidy.
That compares to Crystal Lake District 155′s 100% payment of teacher health benefits and 50% for family coverage. In Johnsburg and Richmond, teachers have to pay 15% of their own health insurance cost and all of their family’s coverage.
“Is this going to balance the budget?
“No. It’s a start.
“Is there a need for scalebacks for classes and extra-curriculars?
“Probably,” but he noted, “They’ve already made scalebacks.”
Bellmore talked about meetings of the current school board:
“You go to these meetings and you get no answers.”
About future tax hikes: “If you want to pass a referendum, you need to communicate with (the community first).
“Right now, if we don’t have the money, you don’t spend it.”
At this point, Anderson asked,
“Are you going to be voting, ‘No?’”
Both Bellmore and Taylor answered, “Yes.”
Anderson revealed that he had talked to the third member of the slate, Timothy Byers, and he had made the same commitment.
“Everyone’s done with less,” Bellmore added. “I’m down 60% in my business.
“Teachers are important. I think the teachers here are quality.”
An audience member asked about the four options offered by the school board last fall.
Taylor explained that the worst was to close East High School and put the students on double shifts at West.
“Option three would have had an open campus at lunch with twenty-five teachers down,” she continued.
“They would be late, if they came back at all.”
She added that there would be no dances and rattled off a list of other extracurricular activities that would have disappeared.
A man asked whether any of the options had anything about concessions.
“The concessions on the salary end are cutting this many teachers,” Taylor said.
“It’s get rid of the new ones, the ones with fire in their bellies.”
A man observed that in the business world “people are taking 5-10% concessions.”
Taylor said, “The problem is that a lot of teachers are married to teachers. They are living in a bubble (isolated from what’s happening to other families).”
Someone wondered if negotiations might result in a strike.
“Possibly,” Taylor replied.
“If they refuse concessions, there may be a strike” Bellmore said. “There’s a lot of people out of work out there…We need a strong school board.
“In my mind, I’m watching out for the kids first. If you build trust with the community, you’re going to have trust with the community.”
There was a question about the East High School’s new gym being built one-foot short. The implication from the audience was that this was a deliberate attempt to make East easier to close.
Taylor reacted by pointing out the absurdity of the state’s requiring 8o acres for new schools.
“I don’t think a new school makes smarter kids.”
Bellmore pointed out that since 2005 the district has added only 100 students, but hired 33 new staff. He did not know how many staff had left during that time, he admitted.
After the meeting, I asked Taylor about her having had a “Vote Yes” sign in front of her home last fall.
She told me she had two children in high school and was horrified at what the school board had proposed.
“I was thinking with my heart, not my head.”
The clear implication was that she was following her head this time around and it led her to the positions she enunciated.