Four of the seven candidates running for the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 school board said last week at a candidate forum that they support the April 5 referendum to increase property taxes to raise revenue for RB.
Two candidates refused to take a position for or against the referendum while only one candidate, former RB school board member Laura Hruska, said she opposed the referendum and would vote against it.
“I may be the only person up here who has enough guts to say no,” Hruska said at the forum held March 15 at S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield before an audience of slightly more than 50 people. “I have no more money, and won’t vote for it.”
A few people in the audience applauded in response.
Hruska said she is running as the representative of the people who live in fear of losing their homes.
“There is no more money,” Hruska said. “We are cutting back on groceries. We’ve got the house down to 62.”
Hruska pointed out that she was the only member of the District 208 school board who voted against the current five-year teachers’ contract approved by a 6 to 1 vote in 2008.
“I was the only one who voted no on the teachers’ contract,” said Hruska who was defeated when she ran for re-election two years ago. “Money is finite and we have to start looking at it as a business, because nobody has a money tree in their backyard.”
Candidates Lenora Giurini, Tom Powers, Lou Surprenant and Tim Walsh all said that they supported the referendum, while Garry Gryczan and John Keen refused to state a position on the referendum.
Giurini, who has no children, said she is supporting the referendum in part because a strong school makes for strong property values.
“I’m voting yes based on property values,” Giurini said. “Schools have an impact on your property values.”
Surprenant said that he is voting for the referendum, because RB has not had an increase in funding beyond what is allowed by the state tax cap laws in more than 10 years.
“Yes, I’m for it,” Surprenant said, while noting that he would be especially hurt by a property tax increase, because he owns real estate in the district beyond his own home.
Powers said that school districts need to go to a referendum on average every seven years and RB is overdue.
“If you do not pass the referendum, it is coming back until it is passed or RB is a shell of itself,” said Powers, who noted that the candidates had no influence on the referendum and the winners will have to deal with the results of the referendum no matter what happens.
“The real question should be, if it doesn’t pass this time will you support it next time,” Powers said.
Walsh said that he supported the referendum, though he wasn’t sure whether RB could make do with a smaller increase in the tax rate than what it is asking for.
“I support the referendum,” Walsh said. “Is 44 cents right? I don’t know.”
Gryczan and Keen refused to directly answer the question posed by the debate moderator, LaGrange Park Village President Jim Discipio.
“I think it’s irresponsible for people to advocate for something when they don’t even necessarily understand why the 44 cents is there,” Keen said. “I’m honest with you. I don’t understand why it’s 44 cents.”
Keen said that if the referendum passes it would make life easier for the school board, but that he would not want to see another referendum for a long time.
“If the referendum does pass, we’re not going to have another referendum for 20 years,” Keen said. “I’ve heard statements like in every five years we need another referendum. I think we need to do a lot better.”
Gryczan and Keen, who are running as team, emphasized financial issues.
“One of my goals is financial accountability,” Keen said. “What we need to do is keep expenses in line with revenues. Whatever happens in this referendum we’re going to do our best, Garry and I, to promote financial responsibility and to promote trust.”
Both Keen and Gryczan hold MBAs, although Keen works as a radiologist for Cook County Hospital. Gryczan has worked as a corporate chief financial officer.
They agreed with Hruska that RB needs to be run like a business.
Powers, an architect, disagreed with that analogy.
“We aren’t supposed to reduce the bottom line,” Powers said. “We are supposed to take the money that is entrusted to us by the community and spend it in a judicious way in preparing our students as best we can.”
Keen and Gryczan said that RB is top heavy with administrators.
“Definitely someone has to go,” Keen said.
Hruska, who works as a manager of examinations at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, has had three children graduate from RB. She said RB needs to do better in certain areas.
“We need more science training,” Hruska said. “I’m not that impressed with their technology skills, and I’m not impressed with their writing skills. RB needs to focus on technology skills and writing.”
Giurini, a vice president of a risk management firm, said that she will represent everyone, especially those without children at RB.
“I will be an advocate for the students to ensure that their educational objectives are met,” Giurini said. “I will be a voice for all members of the community.”
Surprenant, a contractor, said that he too will represent everyone. He said that he is very impressed with the education his daughter, a junior at RB, is receiving.
“I love RB and what it stands for,” Surprenant said. “I’ll listen to everybody. You can call me at home, I don’t care, but I will listen to everybody before I make a decision.”
Surprenant admitted that he is no politician.
“I am in no shape or form a politician,” Surprenant said. “I don’t like to have to straddle the fence.”