Candidates for District 428 Board of Education; Vickie Hernan-Faivre, Marilyn Parker, Victoria Newport, George “Joe” Mitchell and Mary Hess presented their ideas and qualifications at a Tuesday night forum held at Feed ’Em Soup in DeKalb. The forum was moderated by Cindy Lofthouse. Amy Barnes volunteered as time keeper.
The $21 million construction grant given to District 428 in 2010 is still intact. In the face of a proposed $2.6 million operating deficit with similar projections through 2018 the candidates were asked what the best uses for the grant funds were.
According to the Illinois Capital Development Board the state issued the school construction grant to District 428 in October 2010. The state share ($21,156,874) was a matching percentage amount to the local share ($39,291,338). See page 16 on this PDF. It is likely that the local share was obtained from construction debt bonds authorized by the $110 million referendum.
Construction grants authorized by the Capital Development Board are governed by the Joint Committee of Administrative Rules – Section 71. That document appears to prohibit use of such grant money on any on-going operational costs (Section 40.130-b). But according to input provided by Kerry Mellott, a member of the Finance and Facilities Advisory Committee, Assistant Superintendent Andrea Gorla was told that because the necessary matching funds on qualified academic facilities was already spent according to the rules, the $21 million is now unencumbered.
George “Joe” Mitchell believes the intent of the grant was for construction and expenditures from those funds should be restricted to capital improvements to bring the older school buildings infrastructure up to par. He attended LittleJohn Elementary School growing up and said that building is unchanged still now some thirty years later. To attract quality teachers, he said, you had to offer quality facilities.
Vickie Hernan-Faivre reminded the audience that those funds were unencumbered and as much as possible of it should be used to cover the operating deficit. She felt it important to pay off the impact fee credit owed to ShoDeen Development. Noteable deficiencies between school facilities district wide was also on her list.
Marilyn Parker said it was the current generation’s obligation to not leave their children their debt. Parity among schools are important to her because her priority is to ensure that all children receive the opportunity of a good education.
Mary Hess suggested that at least a portion of the grant be used to pay down the $110 million debt obligation the district’s taxpayers owe. She acknowledged that the looming deficit and the crisis in the state’s finances could erode the reserve funds very quickly. She thought that space and technology issues at some of the existing schools were needed.
Victoria Newport offered three ways to use the funds. She though improving parity among the schools were important so that a child attending Lincoln school had the same experiece as one attending Cortland. She though some funds should be set aside to leverage the deficit. She thought an investment in reducing class size in K-2 might lower costs with better reading performance by third graders.