CRYSTAL LAKE – Property taxes, the federal Common Core curriculum standards and the accompanying state tests and the controversial bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School rose again and again as issues at a candidate forum Thursday evening.
Five of the nine candidates running for the Community High School District 155 Board attended the forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters of McHenry County. Of the four unable to attend, three submitted written statements.
The crowded field – with only one incumbent running for re-election – follows a lawsuit filed by the owners of property neighboring Crystal Lake South, a lawsuit that is now waiting to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court.
“Very, very clearly in my mind, some pretty serious mistakes were made,” candidate Adam Guss said. “We have to fix it. I know the court case is sitting right now waiting on the Illinois Supreme Court, and I don’t know how soon that’s coming. I think that we need to start fixing that before that case is necessarily done.”
The issue for several of the candidates came down to transparency, something Rosemary Kurtz said was an issue in other areas as well.
Karen Whitman, who currently sits on the board, disputed that there was a lack of transparency. She emphasized that the projects were originally looked at because of safety concerns and that the district went to the Regional Office of Education as it is required to.
The board’s meetings were also posted, and the district did try to talk with the neighbors although a lawsuit was filed before that meeting could occur, she said.
“One side of me thinks to myself, ‘You knew when you were buying a house by the high school, there might be some screaming teenagers in your backyard on Friday nights. There might be some adjustments that need to be made,’” candidate Titus Mielke said. “Do I think they should suffer for the rest of the time that they’re in Crystal Lake? No, but it didn’t seem like that big of issue. I think some of that had to do with the transparency of how the board works.”
Communication between the public and the district also is an issue on Common Core, the federal standards that the PARCC tests are based on, Kurtz said, adding that at this point, she thought the board’s job was to monitor the impact and implementation of the new standards and tests and adjust accordingly.
The tests need to be looked at again in the context of whether they’re really necessary and whether they’re in the best interests of the students, Amy Blazier said, adding she doesn’t necessarily agree with parents pulling their kids from the tests since it can have a negative effect on the school’s funding and rankings.
The amount of money the district has in the bank was also raised as an issue by several candidates, especially in light of the board’s decision to keep raising the property tax levy each year as much as is allowed under the state tax cap.
Kurtz and Blazier said they would vote against that practice. Guss and Mielke agreed that keeping the levy level was their goal, too, although they added that a situation may arise over the next four years that might change their minds.
The board has changed how it looks at its increases, trying to quantify what that tax increase means to individual property owners, Whitman said. She said she sees the reserves as similar to a savings account and something necessary in light of the changes that could be coming from the state.