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posted: 1/9/2010 12:01 AM

Watchdog group: Grayslake Dist. 46 needs to be more open

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A self-described bipartisan government watchdog group is asking that Grayslake Elementary District 46 make it easy for taxpayers to track spending.

Joseph Calomino, director of the Americans for Prosperity Illinois chapter, said the focus on District 46 is the kickoff of the group's effort to create more transparent government in Lake County.

Calomino said some District 46 residents approached him with concerns after the organization hosted a Grayslake event about spiraling property taxes late last year.

"They had a variety of issues with the school district," he said Friday.

In a recent letter to District 46 officials, Calomino requested creation of an online check register. He said the system should be easy to use on the district's Web site so anyone who's interested can see where the money is going.

Superintendent Ellen Correll said in an e-mail she never heard of Calomino's group until receiving his letter. She said she met with Calomino to discuss the online check register idea Monday.

Correll said she's not opposed to the concept, but has concerns about how much time would be needed to answer questions about checks posted on District 46's Web site. She said school board members will determine whether to act on the request.

"You need to remember that the community elects seven board members whose job it is to review all finances each month," she said. "I am very proud to tell you that they do review the register and they do ask questions. In my mind, they are doing the job and the community should trust who they have elected."

Some residents began raising public questions about District 46 finances after the board eliminated 29 jobs for the 2009-10 academic year as part of an effort to fill a projected $2.3 million budget hole. Officials are now grappling with a tentative $2.2 million deficit for the 2010-11 school year.

In the wake of the budget woes, a public forum was held for taxpayers to address spending with school officials. Some parents launched an online message board dedicated to District 46 issues.

Calomino said his group has chapters nationwide, with about 22,000 members in Illinois. He said the organization wants to spend more time on local government.

District 46 resident Lennie Jarratt, who's been involved in school issues, said groups such as Americans for Prosperity may have a better chance in seeking changes at local governments than individual taxpayers. He said he's been unsuccessful in trying to get an online check register at District 46.

Correll said District 46 already is being open by providing live streaming video of board meetings on its Web site and by posting presentations online.