District 428 Meeting Monday

Dear Editor:

The future of School District 428 of DeKalb, Cortland and Malta will be discussed in depth at a Town Hall meeting, Monday Jan. 7th at 7pm at the Egyptian Theatre in downtown DeKalb. The future of this school district will play a major role in the future of the communities mentioned.

I want to thank the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring this meeting and the Egyptian Theatre for hosting it. I also want to thank the 428 administration and the ReNew Our Schools committee for providing a question and answer session that will last until all who wish to comment can do so.

There appears to be two “choirs” to this referendum issue. Those who will vote yes and those who will vote no. I am sure both will be in attendance Monday night. I’m hoping and encouraging those not in either choir (the silent majority) to attend, listen and participate in this important meeting.

So, bring a snack, your family and friends and spend some quality time with the community. An informed vote is always the right vote.

Reminder: Tuesday Jan. 8th is the last day to register to vote in the Feb. 4th elections.

Mac McIntyre

18 thoughts on “District 428 Meeting Monday”

  1. Did they *have* to name something else “ReNew?” I guess too much TV ruins the imaginations of adults when they grow up. That is not a good idea to name two different things the same because people might think this town is run by just a small number of people who have their hands into everything. Hey, maybe it is!!

  2. yinn… thanks for posting this letter, I knew I could count on you. I’m hoping the community shows up for this meeting and asks the hard questions.

    Anonymous… I hear you loud and clear and believe me when I say I am on the outside looking in, too. But experience has taught me that there are few people willing to step up and grab the community-needs bull by the horn and a whole lotta people willing to let them.

    One message I hope is made loud and clear at this Town Hall meeting and beyond is to the elected school board members, who are volunteers, as well. They are the watchdogs, the stewards of the taxpaying public. It is their responsibility to guide the financial policies and direction of the district. Citizen advisory committees are just that — advisors. Staff recommendations are just that — recommendations. Expert consultants — consult. Only the school board members cast the deciding vote pertaining to the investing/spending of tax dollars.

    It is common to hear from those who are on the pro-referendum side that current taxpayers need to forget the mistakes of the past. I don’t agree with that. I’ll forgive but not forget. But to those on the Facilities Planning Committee and ReNew Our Schools, who want others to forget the past, remember that if the referendum passes. I thank them for their contributions but the day after the election those contributions are in the past. An oversight committee needs to be formed, not to rubber stamp recommendations of the citizen advisory committee or administration, but to give tough love advice to the school board to ensure the financing of the facilities plan involves no waste or indulgence of the tax dollars involved.

    If the referendum passes the school board does not have to, or are they legally required to authorize the selling of $110 million in bonds. They are required to use any referendum bond money sold on the specific projects outlined in the ballot question. In current market conditions of the construction industry there are a lot of sharp pencils out there. We can get a Cadillac at Ford prices and we do not need a Rolls Royce.

    Please come to the meeting and tell the few that they will be joined by the ranks of many regardless of the outcome of the referendum. Sycamore, Genoa, Rochelle, Kaneland “metro” have all built new schools and upgraded facilities to meet the demands of new technology. DeKalb has not. Our future can’t be left to deteriorate from status quo but we also can’t be priced out of our homes. Involvment is the only way to meet this challenge.

    (steps down off stump)

  3. I totally agree with this:

    “An oversight committee needs to be formed, not to rubber stamp recommendations of the citizen advisory committee or administration, but to give tough love advice to the school board to ensure the financing of the facilities plan involves no waste or indulgence of the tax dollars involved.”

    “In current market conditions of the construction industry there are a lot of sharp pencils out there. We can get a Cadillac at Ford prices and we do not need a Rolls Royce.”

    My mother spent 35+ years as a teacher and an assistant principal and is a church treasurer. She completely understands that school money and church money should never be wasted or spent unwisely and that is her way of life. Someone like that is her own oversight committee. But an oversight committee is necessary when there is an inherent mistrust of how money was spent in the past and an inherent mistrust of how the schools were run in the past. Not only should some oversight committee exist in DeKalb, it should have some teeth to it, not just be advisory in nature which would make it too easily ignored. It should not be comprised only of the rich people but have some representation across all economic classes, especially people who know what it is like for homeowners to struggle. One usual message for getting something passed (or a donation to save the child in some third-world country) is to say the tax increase/donation is the same as a cup of coffee. I do not like messages like that at all. That might work to save a starving child in a third world country for someone who has disposable income but there are people in DeKalb who struggle to keep up. Telling them a referendum’s costs will be the same as X-number of $4 lattes won’t work as a message because they do not have the money and they are not blowing it on lattes every morning.

    My mother told me about a school district in Indiana, and I will totally ‘out’ them as mismanaging the people’s money. The school district is Avon just west of Indianapolis. A few years back, someone thought it would be a good idea to put in a clock tower at a new school at a cost of $500,000. The clock tower has no function other than to tell time and look ‘impressive.’ What a way to waste money. The clock tower is a Rolls Royce when they did not need it at all. I saw that thing. If I remember correctly, the clock tower cannot even function as a covered canopy to drop off/pick up kids in the rain. The Avon schools Web site has been down the past couple of days, otherwise I would link to a picture of the clock tower.

    This Avon school district also built two new small grade schools, right next to each other. That means at least double the administration costs, the HVAC costs go up for two separate structures, and paving and upkeep costs are more because there are double the roads. If there is a need later to expand, because a significant portion of the land is used up for roads, they will need to build another school somewhere else because there is no room to expand. At least no one in DeKalb is proposing anything that categorically stupid and wasteful. But, people in charge of the purse strings need to be reminded not to waste money. I hope no one thinks having an atrium would be a good idea. Atriums look impressive but bad ones with poor designs are a major hit on the HVAC costs for every day for every week for every year a building is open. New buildings can look decent at a reasonable cost and remain functional.

    Most people know the DeKalb schools are overcrowded. I talked with some parents who told me a common practice at the high school is to get the students to graduate early by letting them leave with just the minimum number of classes. That to me makes me think they come into the working world not as prepared as someone who took more classes. Most people know the overcrowding problem needs to be fixed. At the root of getting something fixed is the ability to trust people holding the purse strings not to waste money. Right now, the message seems to be they got citizen input. Well, what I want to hear is an assurance, a pledge, a commitment NOT to waste money. I want to hear a pledge for transparency in costs, include regular operating costs. People should not have to go the Champion Web site for information that may not be accurate.

    The last paragraph from the Web site at: http://www.voteyes428.org/FAQ.php

    tells me some folks want some expensive fluff:

    “Why are they going to build such fancy and costly buildings. Can’t a new high school building be built for less money?

    While a real effort has been made to propose a school that we can all be proud of, the primary goal has been to design a school that will stand the test of time from a number of perspectives, including the economic and the aesthetic.

    The school is being built to accommodate 2500 students right away, with an ultimate core capacity (which refers to the handling capacity of bathroom, kitchen, and other such facilities that are expensive to add in later years) of 3000. This additional capacity will pay huge dividends in saved building costs down the road.

    Aesthetically, the school is designed to retain its appeal and architectural harmony with the area for decades to come. The new building will, in both its form and function, represent great value for the money spent.”

    That makes me think there is smoke and mirrors and pretty will smother cost effectiveness.

  4. I completely agree with the need for an oversight committee. However I do not agree with the “smoke and mirrors” you allude to in your poetic closing. I was in attendance at several Facility Planning Committee meetings. I have seen countless hours being put into this decision from the start. As well as hundreds of hours wrestling with the options based on the data. I do not think there is any smoke and mirrors here. Just a determined effort to do everything possible to meet the needs of the community and to safe guard money as well. Contruction costs are increasing by 15% each year. And I do not see “clocktower” is in the plan.

    I am a school district employee and hope that you will be in attendance at one or both of the two town hall meetings coming up this week. We want all citizens to have all their questions answered and all of their concerns addressed. We need citizen in-put to prevent any possible unintended “smoke and mirrors.”

  5. Then this section off the Web site:

    “Aesthetically, the school is designed to retain its appeal and architectural harmony with the area for decades to come. The new building will, in both its form and function, represent great value for the money spent.”

    should be this instead:

    “The school is designed to be appealing yet maintain the highest regard for functionality and cost effectiveness.”

    “Architectural harmony with the area” screams excess dollar signs to me–that is what I consider smoke and mirrors. Although, if the new high school will be next to the skateboard park, I hope that does not mean it will look like concrete covered with graffiti!! :-)

  6. I’ve scoured the ReNew Our Schools website and cannot find the answer I’m searching for. It pertains to the Sycamore school referendum:

    SYCAMORE – The Sycamore School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved putting a referendum worth as much as $30 million on the April ballot. The money raised would be used to build a new elementary school and renovate and expand existing ones.

    Assistant Superintendent for Business Luke Glowiak said the referendum would not require a property tax increase; the bonds the district would sell if the measure passes could be paid off with existing revenue sources.

    So how come passing our referenda always mean property tax increases?

  7. yinn… thanks again for posting my letter. I sent that letter to the Chronicle the same time as you and they still haven’t printed it.

    kay… you have many good points. I am a reluctant yes vote and not at all comfortable because that means I’m taking a position that is rolling the dice with other people’s money. I don’t know if you read my website much but I try to explain my reasoning in more detail. Bottom line is I recognize the need, agree with the bricks and mortar plan and I’m going to raise all the hell I can to lower the $110 million substantially. I’m hoping all the local bloggers and “Internet Commentators” bail my butt out if this passes and serve as an oversight committee whether they like it or not. I’m voting yes but I don’t want anyone else to unless they agree with you and demand that “The school is designed to be appealing yet maintain the highest regard for functionality and cost effectiveness.”

    I think we have the opportunity to right the ship if we get involved.

  8. yinn… ummm, can you fix my bad grammar in the above post? unless and unless you don’t I sound like an idiot. :-)

    the No Impact Referendum is the last one to have passed in DeKalb. George Shur was board president then. Usually a referendum that does not require additional tax dollars are because an older debt obligation (referendum) has retired the debt and voters are asked to “roll it over.” The result is no increase in new dollars from the taxpayer but its another reason why property taxes never go down.

  9. The last major expansion of Kishwaukee College happened with some sort of readjustment of the bond that had to go through a referendum, but it did not raise property taxes. I cannot remember all of the details on the money part. I do remember folks in Sycamore and DeKalb voted for it in large majorities but many folks in Rochelle did not vote for the expansion without raising taxes deal.

    I never expect taxes to go down and I do not think anyone else does either but most people seem to be at least relieved when their taxes stay the same.

  10. Mac: fixed, and sorry that we don’t have a preview function. When I am over the trauma of having nuked my sidebar, maybe I will see whether a later version of WordPress has it.

    Thanks for explaining the debt rollover thing. And Kay–I had forgotten the Kish College situation but I voted for it not only because it didn’t raise taxes but that I felt I understood exactly what they were trying to accomplish. The level of trust is just so different.

  11. A couple of comments about tonight’s meeting:

    The Sup. said right up front that without the recent new housing, school enrollment would be down because there are lots of “empty nesters.”

    Pat Bragg raised hell. She also interrupted a lot and that was downright rude, and that killed any credibility she might have gotten. At the same time, there were a bunch of ladies stationed at the back, probably on purpose, to yell, clap, and groan when they didn’t like what someone had to say. They were rude, too.

    Something called Iron Gate wanted to donate land somewhere near NIU student housing and people in the town didn’t like it. That’s probably a good thing; wouldn’t want a high school basketball game to let out on a Friday night and have lots of ‘neighbor’ kids drunk. So, Iron Gate then will allow the schools to buy the land on Dresser at a lower cost.

    Could someone please confirm who or what owns Iron Gate? At least it ain’t Watergate but it sounds like Stonegate, which is owned by this guy: http://www.niu.edu/board/trustees/moser.shtml. There is also something called Irongate in Moline but the Google gods weren’t too forthcoming with information on things called Iron Gate tonight.

    The place looked like the deck was stacked in favor of the referendum.

  12. Yeah, it was the hard sell all right. I thought Pat Bragg was rather restrained; I’ve seen her more excited than that.

    There were an awful lot of good questions nobody could answer.

    For me, the shocker of the evening was having my fears confirmed that we aren’t keeping up with the buildings we’ve got by a long shot, and apparently no one’s talking about the problem at all. We need to talk about space for that function, and to “repurpose” a few administrators.

  13. The Iron Gate project is owned by DeKalb Associates which is a partnership between Rivermist Development and Macom Corp. The Bridges of RiverMist and Park 88 are their two other local projects. I did the Rivermist and Park 88 websites and occasionally design brochures and ad stuff for them, because that’s what I do for a living.

    I counted 135 people right before the meeting started. I agree with yinn, the hecklers in the back were rude. I expected the audience to be weighted more towards the yes side because they’re organized but I was glad that some from the no side showed and spoke up. I think there were some from the “I don’t know” side and that’s good.

    As I’ve said here and at the meeting I’m a reluctant yes vote because I think DeKalb is falling further and further behind. I’m not with the choir, especially on construction costs… and I think it’s an uphill battle but worth the fight.

  14. I was in front of and across from the hecklers in the back. I hope you all noticed they quieted down a little after Pat Bragg finished because I gave them the look of, if you don’t quiet down, I’m going to get up out of my chair and ask you to quiet down. :-) They got up and left the room when someone talked and they disagreed and came back in when they liked what someone said. I do not know who those ladies were. I certainly hope they are not teachers because if so, our kids will have no chance of learning proper behavior. The thing about a democracy is we have events just like that, town hall meetings. Everyone has a right to speak, even if someone disagrees. Bad behavior is actually infectious (i.e. if one spends the whole day surrounded by jerks, it becomes hard not to become a jerk!).

    I did notice a couple of things on the plans and after a little checking, I will e-mail my questions. In looking at the design of the new school in Cortland, the building looks spread out all over, with lots of surface area being outside walls and many corners. I do not know if I explained that right but it looks like it will not be energy efficient compared to a building that is more compact. If this is a building to last the next 50 to 80 years or so, when gasoline is $20 a gallon . . . . I think there is an opportunity to make an energy efficient building. I was happy to see *no atriums* because those are energy hogs. The same is true of the gym, auditorium, and field house on the high school design but in those cases, those do need to be away from other parts of the building because we do want people to get out of the building in case of a fire. Those are all going to be energy hogs no matter what. I hope someone does think about doing something with the HVAC to separate those, i.e. not everyone is in the auditorium all of the time, so it does not need to have the heat cranked on ‘blast’ for every minute of the day. Yes, not only is my mother a retired elementary school teacher and assistant principal, the woman knows how to save money and she did raise me. I think about those things.

    For the high school, I know one of the biggest complaints is that the halls are crowded. In the plan, it looks like there are two narrow hallways. No doubt those will be up to code, but there is an opportunity to widen the hallways in a new school.

    In regards to separating the special needs kids for a year or two, I do not know enough about little kids to know if that is good or bad for their development. One lady pointed out how well older kids help out younger kids, and her comments I do agree with because that is also good for the older kids to learn how to help out the kids who may be different. Putting them all in one school probably does mean they would spend a lot of time on a bus. I have yet to meet a kid who likes to get up early to ride the bus! Plus, what about when gasoline becomes $5 a gallon, which may be sooner than what we want . . .

    Thanks to Mac for bringing up the idea of an oversight committee. There should be a mix of people, so it does not end up being construction people all making sure their buddies get the highest prices possible on the taxpayers’ dollar. I follow Chicago politics too much–again, that stuff is contagious; people think that if the clowns in Chicago can get away with helping their friends and relatives make money, then it is OK to do that here, and that is not OK anywhere, and should not be OK in Chicago either. There should be some construction people, there should be an accountant or two, there should be some educators who live in DeKalb but might work in another district or a couple of retired teachers (i.e. someone whose job would not be in danger if something went wrong and they needed to blow the whistle), and a couple of people with the highest standards of ethics who would have the guts to stand up and point something out as being wasteful, who can place the kids’ interest first.

    OK, I have to stop and get ready for work!

  15. On construction… regulations on public building construction price most if not all local general contractors out of any chance of building on either of the schools. Usually a binding Letter of Credit that is 110% of the bid tendered is required and always is the prevailing wage act a cost factor. Hopefully some of our union-shop construction tradesmen get hired in the mix but rest assured no non-union contractors or laborers will.

    I’m not sure the idea of building to last 50-80 years gets us the best bang for our buck and I am convinced that any notion of building in the ability to expand later is an unintentional hoax. City hall was built that way. Yeah, right. The current high school was built that way. Yeah, right. Demolition and land fill costs associated with the type of buildings we built for schools 40 years ago are prohibitive.

    Material is a key to the cost controls. So are “construction techniques.” Tilt-up construction, (like Nestle, 3M, Target), significantly speeds up construction time, reducing labor costs and time is money. Expect resistance to such techniques. I’d love to see our local tradesmen get work but I have no interest at all in creating jobs for the Chicago unions at our expense.

    I’d like to recruit members to an oversight committee from Nestle, 3M, Target, and perhaps Clayco, Krusinski Construction. The average resident of a $200,000 home will pay $20-something a month for this tax increase. I wonder what Nestle’s monthly add-on bill will be. I’m thinking they’d have some interest in lowering that $110 million and the “architects and experts” won’t be able to look them in the eye and say, “you’re not qualified to not trust us.”

    Cost is only one side of this. Revenue sources are another part of my thinking and I’ll explain on that later if I don’t wear out my welcome.

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