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Local News

Stakes high in Crystal Lake-based District 155 school board race

Opposing slates, incumbents running for 4 open spots

Graduates toss their caps at the conclusion of the Crystal Lake South High School commencement Saturday, May 31, 2014.
Graduates toss their caps at the conclusion of the Crystal Lake South High School commencement Saturday, May 31, 2014.

CRYSTAL LAKE – A slate of three union-backed candidates running for spots on the Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 Board faces competition from two incumbents and a slate of four candidates who have promised to cut property taxes.

With nine candidates running for four open seats on the school board, control of McHenry County’s largest high school district could be up for grabs April 4 at the ballot box. The district oversees Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge and Cary-Grove high schools. It also is responsible for the alternative programs at the Haber Oaks campus in Cary. All told, the district serves 6,500 students taught by 376 teachers with an annual budget of about $97 million.

The candidates on the union slate are Ron Ludwig, Jason Blake and Nicole Pavoris. All three are supported by the union that represents district employees, including teachers. Devin Hester, president of the District 155 Education Association, said he wasn’t sure how much the political action committee has spent on the race. At the start of the year, the union’s political action committee had $5,190 in the bank, according to state records.

“Our slate is for academic excellence and fiscal responsibility,” Hester said. “Taxes are high. We don’t advocate raising taxes.”

He said the three candidates, if elected, would look for ways to cut spending that “are compatible with the district’s educational mission.”

Pavoris, a public school teacher, said the money the district spends is worth it.

“The educational product that D-155 provides is well worth the money being spent on it,” she said. “That being said, the board should always be looking for ways to more efficiently use the taxpayers’ money.”

On the other slate are candidates Donna Kurtz, Raphael Kamner, John Pletz and Scott Vetter. They have promised to reduce property taxes in the district while improving the schools. Kurtz said the first place she’d look to make cuts was the district’s administration. She said the number of administrators in the district has doubled in the past 10 years. Cutting teachers would be a last resort, she said.

Incumbents David Secrest and Ann Somers both said they were frustrated by high local property taxes. Neither promised to hold the levy flat or reduce property taxes.

Although the school board has held the district’s property tax levy flat for two years, that hasn’t necessarily translated into lower bills for residents.

“Unfortunately, there are long-term funding repercussions when we keep the tax levy flat, which we have done for the last two years, precisely to alleviate some of the tax burden on our community,” Somers said in response to campaign questions from the Northwest Herald. “When we do that, it translates into an accumulative funding loss to the district, so we have to make adjustments.”

On the board, Secrest said he had supported $6.5 million in property tax rebates in recent years.

The “cut taxes” slate is opposed to consolidating the district’s schools.

“I am not in favor of closing any of the high schools at this time,” Pletz said. “We must have engagement from all stakeholders before this decision is even considered. The economic fallout would probably preclude this from happening.”

The union slate wasn’t as firm on the issue. Both Ludwig and Blake said they were open to the idea of consolidation in light of the district’s declining enrollment, but said more information and community input would be needed before they could reach a decision. Pavoris said she doesn’t support consolidation and questioned the numbers used in a consultant report on the matter.

Secrest said that although he wouldn’t rule it out, consolidation would be a “last resort.”

Somers said the district should consolidate if that is shown to be most efficient way to use the district’s resources.

Hester called the opposition slate’s pledge to cut property taxes before taking office and getting familiar with the district’s finances “irresponsible.”

“You ought to be suspicious when someone offers you a simple solution to a complex problem,” he said.

Candidates on the “cut taxes” slate disagreed with that characterization.

Kamner, who’s in line with the positions of the other candidates on the slate, said they have reviewed the district’s finances, but haven’t mapped out specific areas for reduction. He said he moved to the area for the schools and wants the district to be among the best in the state.

“We want District 155 to be a premier district, and we think we can do that without spending as much money,” he said.

The school district’s seven-member board is unpaid. Board President Ted Wagner and longtime board member Gary Oberg are not seeking re-election. This week, the board approved its first reduction in force in its history, laying off or reducing hours for 10 full-time and five part-time teachers, amid declining enrollment.

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