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updated: 7/29/2014 9:46 AM

Kaneland school board meeting gets heated over budget

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The Kaneland school board Monday night tentatively approved a $66.5 million budget with a $3 million deficit in the education fund portion, over the objection of board member Tony Valente.

Valente said administrators should have trimmed expenses. And he again criticized collecting more in property taxes for transportation than needed, calling the plan "immoral and unethical."

A $1.9 million transportation fund surplus is projected for the end of the fiscal year, but the district intends to transfer some of that to the education fund. In December the board increased the tax levy for the transportation fund because the education fund has hit its legal limit on its tax rate.

Monday, the board declined to budget such a transfer. It could transfer funds, however, at any time.

Valente again called the practice a "back-door-ish" tax increase, meaning voters haven't approved it. And when Assistant Superintendent for Business Julie-Ann Fuchs said she was confident district taxpayers would support raising the education fund levy if the value of property rose, he disagreed with that.

"I'll bet you my house that it would not pass, because there is a lot of distrust with how we are moving money around," Valente said. "If you need more money, let's go to the people."

The district can't legally do that, Fuchs said, because of the amount of debt it is carrying relative to its equalized assessed valuation.

Valente said Fuchs had circumvented the intent of the law with the transportation levy. "To me it is not only unethical, it is despicable," he said. "You are cheating the taxpayers and you are cheating the law."

He also said if board members were moral and ethical people, they would not support such a practice. That angered several board members, including Peter Lopatin, who used an expletive when he said Valente shouldn't accuse him of being immoral or unethical.

Valente then accused him of name-calling, and Lopatin apologized for swearing.

The budget could change before it is finally approved. The district is negotiating pay for the third and final year of a contract with the teachers union. It also doesn't know if state aid will increase, decrease or stay the same.

A public hearing on the budget will be held Sept. 4, and the board will vote on it that night. The budget is funded mostly with property taxes levied last December and collected this year. The fiscal year began July 1, but the budget doesn't have to be approved until the end of September.

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