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Eww, that Smell: When it Comes to the District  2 Mess, We All Stink a Little  

                Like the pungent aroma of fresh  fertilizer on a warm day, something stinks in Nippersink District 2. Every year, folks can count on flattened corn stalks and snowfall to bury that familiar, fertile smell. However, district officials will find no such cover this winter as they tackle a rotten referendum decision and contemplate for the second year in a rowhuge program and staff reductions . Last year it was $600,000 in cuts and the loss of Spanish instruction, sports teams, and teachers. This February it will be another $1 million in cuts, and “everything’s on the table.” As kindergartners on a farm field trip would say, “P.U!”

                Whatever causes  the stench, it floats through the district on the winds of apathy, SUV exhaust, and our frenzied, overscheduled lives.

                Every spring, when that seasonal stink is enough to make our eyes water, we roll up our windows and zoom by the freshly fertilized fields, counting the days ‘ til sweet corn. Every month, when important district decisions are made, we zoom by freshly typed meeting notices, counting the minutes ‘til our next errand. 

                Like ripe Limburger cheese or the barn at a busy farm, the stinky stew in which the district finds itself has many aromatic layers.

                1.) Start with the bitter blood simmering in  the veins of taxpayers who foot most of the schools’ bill but have (until recently) lacked accessible information about district finances.

                2.) Add a hint of smokiness from the scorched backsides of our beleaguered (and unpaid)  board members as the thermostat on their hot seats cranks up a few notches.

                3.) Mix in the smell of rotting corpse, a byproduct of last year’s bitter contract negotiations and of  the “put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is” attitude toward those picketing teacher supporters. 

                4.) Pour in some ghastly emissions from our active, mostly well meaning but sometimes misguided, rumor mill. This machinery burps out juicy toxic clouds that pollute the atmosphere, especially when we  accept rumors as fact and fail to consider their second- or third-hand sources.

                5.) Toss in the freezer-burned frustration of teachers facing  another round of March Pink-Slip-and Program-Gutting Madness while at the same time being told by the feds to leave “No Child Left Behind.” Don’t forget the acid panic of our art, music, band, and gym teachers as the budget axe swings inevitably toward their programs.

                6.) Drizzle into the stew the increasingly perceptible whiff of flop sweat coming off  our smooth-talking superintendent as he struggles to keep the lid on this festering brew through staff directives, platitudes, and vaguely worded reassurances.

                7.) For the foul final touch  in our festering concoction, stir in everyone’ s fishy misperceptions about the district. Whether these beliefs are based on  cynicism, oversimplification, or “ conventional wisdom,” they gunk up working  relationships and make us say stupid things. In my efforts to report on complicated district matters, I’m probably guilty of spreading some too.

                But let’s take a whiff of some of the stinkers that have been floating around.  Is District 2 truly top-heavy with overpaid administrators? A popular question, but what would the answer be if the complainers could shadow these administrators for a week? In addition, many folks have grumbled that our Lake Geneva-residing superintendent thinks of us as bumpkins who need to be told what’s best. Or does experience and the title “Dr.”  earn him the right to spare us “misinformed” folks from our own ignorance? And another thing: do teachers technically work part-time, as at least one board member is presumed to believe? Or do they struggle to cram 12 months of hard work into a nine-month school year? What about that so-called “vast silent majority” of shining happy residents who’ ll drown out the pesky questions of the “small disgruntled minority” if given the right  forum? If they really exist, they had better speak up soon! I’ve also heard  board members whine that community meetings showered with reams of documentation are pointless when it’s only the same  handful of die-hards who ever shows up. They do have a point there...In any case, if we don’t clear the air of these destructive attitudes our kids are in deep doo-doo.     

                Want to get informed? Check out the district’s web site, call or  e-mail a board member. Board members work for you, so ask them what’s going on.

                Don’t know how to get involved? Ask  somebody who already is. Getting informed is the first step. Then your opinions will truly  matter.

                Want to know what’s on the budget hit list? Show up at a board meeting. Study a budget summary. Read meeting minutes on the district’ s web site. Ask knowledgeable people non-judgmental questions. 

                Turned off by formal  board meetings and teacher mumbo- jumbo? Attend a relatively unstructured Communication Council meeting. Ask questions. Demand explanations.

                Afraid of feeling stupid? When it comes to educating your own kids, common sense trumps a PhD. Refuse to be patronized.

                Did it feel right to support teacher raises last fall? Then climb back out on that limb to help balance the impact such raises have had on the budget against the latest foul financial realities. 

            Does the idea of a referendum make you want to spit nails? Do you prefer schools with no arts, enrichment,  or sports programs? Consider all sides of the issue. Then push state politicians to reform Illinois' unfair tax structure. 

                Angry about what’s going on in our schools? Stick around for a couple of years, stay informed, and consider running for a board seat in 2005. Actions really do speak louder than words.

                Everyone agrees that the school situation stinks. Let’s hope it’s a temporary problem, however, like  spring manure or mystery meat in the fridge. Over the next critical months, people involved need to plug their noses, air out all their “issues,” and work together.  With luck, this odious matter will turn out to be the messy but potent fertilizer for our children’s success.  

 Michelle Parsons is a freelance education writer and parent who has lived in Spring Grove since 1996 and has been covering District 2 for The Richmond Report.




Trustee Boards: keep watch on them

You elect your local trustees, be they for your village, your schools or your library. For most people, the closest contact they ever have with their elected officials is at the ballot box. Maybe you saw an ad on a neighbor's lawn and the picture looked good, so you voted for that candidate. Or maybe you actually do know the candidate personally and you like him/her. So you check the box to vote him/her into office.

 I happen to be an elected member of the Nippersink Library District board of trustees. The reason I am there is that I've always loved my local library; I've always found it to be a warm place (or cool in the summer) where I can pick up the local newspaper and read it - relatively undisturbed. Or I can peruse the latest novels. I can also borrow DVD's and audio books to keep me company when I'm in my car. And I felt that I needed to become involved in my community. I'm always amazed at the number of different things you can do at the library. So I ran for the office and won (unopposed, I should add).

I have also attended village and school board meetings. But that was always when I had a burning opinion to relay to the boards. For instance, in 1999 the village of Richmond was scheduled to vote on whether a parcel of land next to my property should be annexed and rezoned. I was against it. So were a whole bunch of other citizens in Richmond who attended that meeting. The village board passed the annexation over our objections, or, it seemed to me, to spite our objections.`

I had similar experiences with our school boards. No matter how many people showed up for a particular meeting, we always felt that the school board trustees turned a deaf ear on our appeals. Or as the grade school superintendent said, "We agree to disagree!" Well, hot damn!

Earlier this month (July 2002) the Richmond Zoning Board agreed to recommend the annexation and rezoning of a hotly contested piece of property to the village board. Two citizens, Rommy Lopat and John Drummond, took it upon themselves to hire a few high-priced attorneys and city planners. They attempted to give the village board a different perspective about the annexation than what the board was hearing from the developer  the Village President and the Zoning Board President.

This was a beautiful thing to watch. Fifty or so village residents filled the meeting room and they were allowed to express their opinions. The result was that the board voted to delay their decision until September so that they might be allowed to review the information that was presented.

At first I was elated. Then reality set in. I began to realize that to fight power you need power. Money equals power. What if Rommy Lopat and John Drummond could not afford to bring in expert witnesses? I think the citizens would have been quickly rolled over and buried. This is the way, I realized, that government works. You must have power to be heard.

The awful truth is that I leave the meetings feeling that we had just done battle with the opposition. We always lost. I felt that the outcome was predetermined, that the board attitude is a bit condescending. I do believe that, generally, boards feel they have a duty to the public to help the public, but I think they also think that we citizens are uneducated and bothersome, like mosquitoes which must be squashed to be quieted.

Maybe your local boards DO listen to you. Maybe Richmond's boards are the rare exception. But I think not. I think that most boards around the entire country reflect the attitudes of the Richmond boards: the citizens are nuisances to be endured because the law says they must endure us.

Why are the boards so adversarial in nature? Does it have to be that way? Do we not, as taxpaying citizens, deserve to be listened to CAREFULLY and HONESTLY?

It's time to stand up and be counted, folks. Do go to your local board meetings, if only to show them that you are watching!

Greg Cryns

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Dear Greg,

When it comes to battling village boards, stand in line and take a number. I live in Spring Grove and we face the very same problem you described as going on in Richmond.

I agree that village boards don't listen to the citizens of their community, even when the citizens make it crystal-clear how they want an issue decided.

A classic case of village board politics in Spring Grove was when a decision supposedly was to be made if Spring Grove was going to allow that friggin' gravel pit and asphalt plant to be plopped in it's midst, right off Route 12. I attended that meeting (which had huge attendance) and not a single citizen stood up and said they wanted that gravel pit allowed  to open in the village. The board listened patiently to everyone's concerns and the digging started a few months later.

A fellow citizen at that same meeting told me that was exactly how Spring Grove ended up with Scot Forge. Citizens were universally against allowing the company into the village, the board sat through the meeting, listened to all and then allowed Scot Forge to build their foundry in spite of all the objections.

Same thing is now going on over commercial development being allowed to be established here. People moved in droves to Spring Grove to get away from the noise, lights, congestion and traffic that's found in built-up suburban areas closer to Chicago. They wanted to live in the country. They moved to Spring Grove to find peace and quiet. Spring Grove allowed them to move here and build lovely homes in nice subdivisions.

Once they were here, the village invited in an outside group to decide where to plunk shopping centers, supermarkets, strip malls, kwik-marts, gas stations and other unwanted services designed to turn the village into precisely the sort of place everyone moved here to get away from in the first place. Neither the board or the outside firm cared one whit if these commercial establishments were both unwanted and designated to be built within a stone's throw of expensive private homes. They didn't care if the owners of those homes objected and suffered a loss of property value because of the plans the village was endorsing. The decisions on commercial development in Spring Grove were drawn up prior to the meeting and virtually carved in granite when presented at the village board meeting. The meetings on this issue were a farce, convened for the board to put a veil of democracy on the proceedings while cramming their unwanted plans down everyone else's throats.

It all goes so smoothly and is done so consistently against the wishes of the village residents, one has to wonder if there's a little something made of silver that's crossed  palms to ensure certain outcomes are guaranteed in advance.

So no, you are not alone in Richmond, dealing with a village board that's gone rank and turned against the people who put them in their position of power. We have the same problem here.

I suppose, if all else fails, we can take a lesson from the good citizens of California. Don't like the people you voted in to represent your interests? Do a recall vote and put someone else in that WILL listen. Just a thought, of course, but if this nonsense continues it might come down to that simply to protect our residents and communities from the very people who told us they'd do exactly that if we'd just give them our vote.

Sincerely,

Pamela Guevara
 

Towns in McHenry County, Illinois
(click for more info about each town)

Algonquin Cary Crystal Lake Harvard Hebron Huntley Johnsburg
Mchenry Marengo Richmond Spring Grove
Woodstock Wonder Lake


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