Is Kildeer Countryside School District 96 doing enough to be transparent to its parents and taxpayers?
For Gregory Smith, who's challenging four incumbents for a seat on the school board in next month's election, the answer is no.
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Smith is running for one of four seats at stake in the April 9 election. To win, he'll have to defeat one of four incumbents: Marc Tepper, Renee Klass, Robert Gauthier and James Strezewski.
The challenger believes the district needs to be more transparent, providing, for example, webcasts of school board meetings.
"Not everyone is able to attend," Smith said, adding that posting meetings online would encourage public participation. "I think that's a common process now. Many school districts do that. "
Smith also wants documentation and meeting agenda packets on district's website.
"You look on the website right now, you can't really see trends," he said. "You need to be almost an expert activist to really determine how the district is doing."
Gauthier, however, believes the district is doing plenty to be transparent. He noted, for example, that meeting minutes are regularly posted online.
"I actually have people look at them and ask me questions about them," he said.
Meetings are open to the public, which is free to address the board, he added.
"We let people address if there is an issue," he said. "So from the transparency point of view, I'm not sure what more we can do."
Gauthier said he is leery of webcasts because of both cost and concerns some might attend meetings just to be seen.
Klass said the district has taken steps to improve communications with the public.
"We have monthly superintendent messages that go out to the parent body, both in an email and in a podcast," she said.
Online surveys also have been implemented.
"I feel that it's satisfactory, but I (also) feel like there has been much improvement in the last couple of years," she said.
Tepper agreed that communications have improved, citing the creation of the State of the District report that stemmed out of efforts to become more environmentally friendly.
"Three years ago we made an initiative to go green. Everything was then done electronically. We realized somewhere along the line that we missed over half of our taxpayers because over half of our taxpayers do not have kids in our schools," he said. "And so we (followed the lead of surrounding districts) and came out with an annual report to give information to the taxpayers at large about what's going on in our district and what's happening. The information is there." Strezewski believes the district puts out enough material to keep residents informed.
"That newsletter that we put out was intended to really cover that, cover it for a family that has children in the district and those that don't," he said. "We're responsible for the taxpayers' money. That really reports to them and tells them what's happening with their money, but it also does it in a user-friendly way."
Rather than make a flood of documents available that the average person would have trouble digesting, Strezewski said the district should focus on passing along relevant, easily understood information.
"It's incumbent upon the board to be able to take (the information) and turn it into something that makes sense to them," he said. "Report the facts and numbers that actually hit home with the average taxpayer. So transparency yes, but in a way that means something to the user."