District 208’s former school board president, James Marciniak, lambasted the current school board during the public comment portion of the board’s regular meeting on Sept. 13.

Marciniak harshly criticized the board for approving a budget with an operating deficit of more than $900,000, for charging fees to parents and for short-changing fine arts and academic activities in favor of athletics.

“I think the expectation from the community, by the 80/20 referendum loss, was balance your budget, restore your district to financial health,” Marciniak told the board. “That’s the smell of reserve money burning. That was supposed to stop. I thought that was going to stop when we got this new era of fiscal responsibility on this board.”

Marciniak said that recent fee increases are just another form of taxation.

“You’re taxing the families who just happen to have kids the right age to be attending this high school,” Marciniak said

He complained that academic clubs and fine arts activities were cut while water polo was saved.

Marciniak, who left the school board in May after deciding not to run for re-election after serving one term, also blasted the decision to give raises to administrators and suggested that the outgoing school board had left a plan to balance the budget.

“Administrative raises after all of that, after all we’ve done to keep dollars in the classroom,” Marciniak said. “Dollars for administrators. Frankly I’m stunned. There was a plan, I don’t understand what happened here, but you failed to execute. I hope to see some improvement.”

After the meeting District 208 school board president Matt Sinde responded to Marciniak’s comments.

“Mr. Marciniak was part of the group that developed that budget which stated that we had to have a 20 percent fund balance,” Sinde said. “This budget has a 23.5-percent fund balance, so I think we’re a little bit ahead of the game, more than the budget of Mr. Marciniak’s board.”

After the meeting Marciniak’s expanded on his comments insisting that the board could have balanced the budget had they followed a plan left for them by the outgoing board. He also blamed Jerry Buttimer and Chris Robling, two former allies of Marciniak who supported five of the current seven board members in their school board campaigns, for what Marciniak said was the board’s shortcomings.  

“You’re going to have to ask Buttimer and Robling why their hand-picked board failed to pass Budget 101 when they had a crib sheet that told them exactly how to do this,” Marciniak told the Landmark. “They need to own this. This budget was supposed to be balanced, and it’s far from balanced.”

When informed of Marciniak’s comments, Robling fired back, blaming RBHS’ financial troubles on the teachers’ contract Marciniak and then-school board President Larry Herbst helped negotiate in 2008.

“The board is hand-picked by the voters,” Robling said. “It will take years for us to recover from the budget-busting choices of the Herbst-Marciniak era.”

Marciniak’s claim that the outgoing board had a plan to balance the budget does not appear to be supported by any publicly available documents.

In 2010 the school board and the District 208 administration put together a plan of budget cuts to make if the April referendum failed, which it did. According to those financial projections distributed by the administration last year, even when all the planned cuts were implemented and fees increased, the operating budget deficit was still projected to be $884,867 only $35,000 less than the deficit forecast in the budget that the school board unanimously passed at last week’s meeting.

The current school board did restore boys and girls water polo, which was scheduled to be eliminated at a cost of around $21,000, saved the Ecology Club and tweaked the pay-to-participate athletic fee but otherwise pretty closely matched the planned cuts.

Board member Dan Moon rejected Marciniak’s claim that the current board veered far off the plan.

“I guess I was a little shocked to hear what Jim said, because we weren’t off script at all,” Moon said. “He shouldn’t have been shocked by anything. We have a bunch of fiscal hawks there who are even more severe than I am. They voted for this budget.”

Ironically, Marciniak ran for the school board on a team with Robling in 2007. Marciniak was elected, but Robling was not. In 2009, Marciniak wrote a letter to the Landmark endorsing Moon, Sinde and Mike Welch. When all three won, he even went to a victory party on election night at Buttimer’s home.

But after Marciniak was elected board president by the votes of Moon, Sinde and Welch in 2009, relations gradually became strained.

Marciniak clearly doesn’t think much of the current board, and he seems to be relishing the opportunity to dish out criticism rather than take it as he had done when he was board president.

“We were supposed to be seeing this all-star team of financial tigers, and they still wind up losing a million bucks before they’re even out of the gate,” Marciniak said. “I’m not impressed with anything I saw in there.”