Past Kendall County GOP chairman offers suggestions for cash-strapped Oswego school board
The Oswego School District 308 Board of Education is exploring how best to close its $1.3 million deficit following the failure of a 30-cent tax referendum earlier this month.
However, a prominent area Republican whose son's run for Oswego Village trustee was part of a GOP sweep of board and mayoral races during the April 2 election said during an interview that he has more than a few ideas for the school board.
"Absolutely," Past Kendall County Republican Central Committee Chairman Jim Marter told Kendall County Times. "Let me in there with a team of financial auditors, we'll solve the problem."
Marter is Kendall County Republican Central Committee's immediate past chairman, following his decision not run for the position in 2018.
Marter's ideas include deep cuts in administrators salaries, replacing non-teaching staff with contractors, ending contract buyouts and other such reforms that the school board did not mention in the run-up to this month's referendum.
"For once, I would actually like to hear them – the school board – say we need to cut positions, freeze pay (like many of us in the private sector have experienced for a decade or more), roll back benefits, or simply stop giving away golden-parachute pensions to 'executives' in the administration that stay with Oswego schools for a mere few years, collect big salaries and leave the state with even bigger pensions," Marter wrote in an email interview.
Marter co-chairs the Illinois Conservative Union and ran for the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 2016 and as a Congressional primary candidate last year.
The problem for the Oswego School District Board is what to do now that area voters rejected the 30-cent tax referendum on the April 2 ballot. Before the referendum, the board publicly considered what to do in a worst-case scenario, if the referendum failed as it did, to deal with what cuts would be necessary to balance its 2019-20 budget.
Kendall County residents already pay some of the highest property taxes in the state and nation, and that might have played its part in this month's election results in Oswego. Marter's son, James Marter II, an IT consultant who ran on an anti-tax platform, was one of the top vote-getters for Oswego Village Board trustee.
His election, along with the other two board trustee-elects, Brian Thomas and Terry Olson, and Mayor-elect Troy T. Parlier, seemed to gauge Oswego's anti-tax mood as those Republican candidates swept into those seats. Neither the 30-cent tax referendum, nor the board's public threats about what would happen if they did not get it, were necessary, the senior Marter told Kendall County Times.
"It is unbecoming of a dignified board to use threats and scare tactics to cut programs that teachers, parents and students alike embrace; programs that enhance the learning process and build a sense of community," he said. "Programs that students from lower-income families will be left out of first. Others will find their own solutions to that problem."
Marter also offered a six-point list of recommendations for the school board:
1. Cut all administration salaries by 25 percent immediately and freeze them for the next five years or when the budget is balanced, whichever comes last, not first. Eliminate these positions through retirement and attrition and replace with point #2.
2. Take all non-teaching jobs and hire contractors and consultants at no more rate than current salaries, then cap them at no more than the inflation rate or CPI, whichever is lower year-to-year.
3. No more contract buyouts for anyone leaving or being fired. Never again.
4. Cut all administration positions by 10 percent, meaning consolidate job responsibilities and eliminate positions. This can be done by simple attrition, no one gets fired. Just don't replace the next leaving or retiring administrator.
5. That the board formally ask our local state representatives (we have four Reps. and four Senators representing Oswego Schools) introduce a serious bill with one purpose and performs one focused task: Repealing at least 100 past items from Springfield that are unfunded mandates on our schools.
6. That the board formally ask our local state representatives to pass the school-choice voucher program, where any parent can choose where their child goes to school by allowing them to direct their child’s tax allocation to their school of choice – public, charter, private – and also provide for some significant portion of that for home-schooling parents and home-schooling networks.
On the sixth point, Marter urged the district to "be pro-choice and practice real school choice for all, especially working families and the poor," saying that resulting competition would make area schools more efficient and effective.
"All children should be the purpose of education funding publicly, not just those attending public schools," he said. "Fewer students in the public schools [means] lower costs, lower staff levels and smaller class sizes."
Lastly, Marter assured that his six points "do not mention taking anything away from our primary educators, the teachers."