Name: Donna Kurtz
Town: Crystal Lake
Office sought: Community High School District 155 school board
1. What skills, qualities or experience do you possess that separate you from your opponents?
I have served as a McHenry County board member since 2009. During this time I have earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative who understands how to challenge unnecessary spending, eliminate waste and excess, and ultimately support an overall flat tax levy for the taxpayers of McHenry County. In addition, I successfully led reforms such as the Mental Health Board to stop millions of tax dollars from being wasted on frivolous and expensive expenses.
From 2004 to 2009 I served as a McHenry County College trustee. During that time we consistently maintained balanced budgets. In addition, I successfully led the fight to prevent a $40 million baseball stadium from being built by MCC. This baseball stadium would have placed tremendous costs and tax burden upon the taxpayers of McHenry County. This project was a significant learning experience for me. I learned a lot about how government can grow in a very sneaky way unless elected officials are vigilant, skeptical, and courageous in defending the rights of the taxpayers.
2. What can School District 155 do and what should it do to ease the property tax burden on homeowners?
As you probably know property taxes in McHenry County are more than twice the national average and are in the top 1 percent of all property taxes in the nation – District 155 is approximately 27 percent of your tax bill. This tax burden is crushing many local families and destroying home values. The cost of running District 155, which drive our taxes upward have not been well managed. It doesn’t make sense that in the last 10 years D155 taxes have gone up 28 percent while enrollment has declined by almost 500 students. In fact, during the period in which enrollment has declined, the number of administrators at District 155 has more than doubled resulting in increased payroll by millions that the tax payers must fund through higher taxes. The fiduciary responsibility of the board should dictate that expenditures are reasonable and in-line with the needs of providing excellent education. The benchmarking study provided by MGT Consulting indicates areas where District 155 spending is not in line with many other schools who are also providing excellent education. I would use this study as a guide to prioritize where cost-cutting should ensue.
3. Do you support school building consolidations in the near future? If so, when? If not, why not?
Our four high schools, Prairie Ridge, Central, South, and Cary Grove high schools define our neighborhoods, lifetime relationships with friends and family, and our businesses and local economy. Closing any one of these high schools would be detrimental to the community and could result in unrecoverable damage to our quality of life, our economy, and our property values. Interestingly, the MGT Consulting Group study that was commissioned by the District 155 Board made only a passing reference to consolidating and selling the beautiful office building provided for District 155 administrators. The cost savings for closing this building and moving administrators into appropriate available spaces in one of our high schools would be one of the first steps that should be taken in terms of consolidation. My preference is not to close our four major high schools because I think that there are other more appropriate ways to reduce costs that will have a far less detrimental impact on our community.
4. What will be the biggest challenge that School District 155 will face over the next four years and how will you meet it?
When D155 is compared to D158 in Huntley, D158 spends 40% less than D155 to deliver quality education. When D155 is compared to other similar high school districts such as D121 Gurnee and D210 New Lenox, these districts are spending significantly less, but provide equivalent, if not better, academic achievement. (Note: Both Districts 121 and 210 have award winning high schools on the US News & World Report List of Best High Schools in Illinois - 2016.) This situation underscores my concern that District 155 has maintained a culture of spending money without appropriate levels of restraint and without significant effort to economize and cost cut wherever possible. Changing the culture of District 155, so there is a sense of responsibility to provide the highest quality of education at the most reasonable cost, will be a challenge for board members, administrators, teachers, and staff. However, we must work hard to develop this common understanding and value system if we are to be responsible to our taxpayers. As a result, I believe an important job of District 155 board members will be to change the current culture of spending freely by demanding more accountability and rewarding efforts to do more with less.
5. Do you believe the school funding formula in Illinois should be changed? If yes, how? If no, why not?
Efforts to equalize school funding between districts should not come at the expense of higher property taxes for our District 155 taxpayers. Without this assurance, I do not support any changes to the current school funding formula in Illinois.
6. Do you believe most students are prepared to enter the workforce or attend college by the time the graduate from high school? Why or why not?
District 155 has done a good job in providing student preparedness for workforce and college entrance per Illinoisreportcard.com. However, when District 155 preparedness scores are compared with peer high schools such as Lincoln Way, we spend $2,000 more per student, yet achieve similar levels of excellence in our educational outcomes. We need to continue the good work in the area of student preparedness. However, we must also seek to assess and learn how other schools are leading efforts in managing their costs and providing value that benefits students, parents, and our entire community for years and years to come.