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updated: 3/15/2011 11:48 PM

Finances on questioners' minds at Geneva election forum

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No surprise that a group that is focused on taxes and spending would ask school board candidates at its forum a lot of questions about school spending.

Candidates for Geneva school, city and park offices faced questioning Tuesday night from Geneva Taxpayers For Accountability and Controlled Taxes and Spending, at the Persinger Recreation Center. About 30 people, besides the candidates, attended.

The school board portion had the most questions, 14. Thirteen of them involved money.

The district's school bus buyback practice came up again, with a question asking the candidates if they thought seeing new buses on the road every year made it look like the district is wasting money.

They also asked about how much money the district should keep in its reserve fund, whether the district has considered using grade centers or reopening Coultrap Elementary, whether it should move administrative offices to Coultrap, and how to pay debt when the new growth that was counted on for picking up part of the bill has dropped off.

All six of the candidates -- incumbents Mary Stith, Kelly Nowak and Leslie Juby and newcomers Robert Cabeen, George Jackowiec and Michael McCormick -- attended.

TaxFACTS solicited the questions from the community ahead of time, via its subscriber e-mail list and announcements in newspapers. As time permitted, audience members were also allowed to submit questions.

"I am less concerned with how it (the bus buyback program) looks than how it is working," Nowak said. Noting circumstances have changed since it was initiated -- the state proposes to send Geneva $1 million less in aid for busing, the bus company wants to change terms of the buy-back -- she said she is open to re-examining the program.

Jackowiec said he was disturbed by her statement about appearances: "You don't care about what people think," he said. He then segued into how he has found it difficult to get detailed financial information from the district without having to file a Freedom of Information Act request, as another example of a disconnect he perceives between board members and the public.

Jackowiec also disputed the amount of money the district has in reserves, saying it was closer to an equivalent of 62 percent of the budget than the 30 percent the district cites.

Juby defended her decision not to give a public opinion on how she would approach teacher contract negotiations, saying that doing so would prejudice the bargaining.

Stith was the only one who did not favor using the shuttered Coultrap Elementary School to handle enrollment overflow from Geneva High School, saying state law would prohibit opening it up again without extensive rehabilitation to bring it up to current school building safety codes.