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Candidate Night explores old, new issues facing DeKalb, District 428

Candidates Night explores old, new issues facing DeKalb, District 428

DeKALB – Sarah Moses used her one-minute candidate-response time during a school district election forum to make an emboldened declaration that residency checks for DeKalb School District 428 students were unlawful.

“If we do have any undocumented immigrants attending our school, there’s a law called McKinney-Vento that requires we educate them,” Moses said. “There’s also a law that says where students lay their head at night is where they are to be educated.”

Moses spoke during Candidate Night at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 S. Second St., along with Orion Carey, Samantha McDavid (wife of Maurice McDavid, DeKalb High School dean of students), Jeremy Olson, David Seymour, incumbent Rick Smith, December Richardson, Stephen Irving and incumbent Fred Davis. They’re all vying for four spots on the board.

Smith and Davis were not in attendance because they were at the District 428 Board meeting. Irving, of Irving Construction and the chairman of the board at Kishwaukee Country Club, did not attend.

The evening also included a short forum between the candidates for the only contested race for DeKalb City Council, with 3rd Ward hopeful Tracy Smith, a retired police officer, and Steve Kapitan, a former city clerk.

Eric Olson, general manager of the Daily Chronicle, moderated the forums. The event, presented by the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, the Daily Chronicle and WLBK Radio 98.9 FM and 1360 AM, began with a meet-and-greet at 5:30 p.m. at the theater. About 60 people attended.

Moses was responding to fellow District 428 Board candidate Orion Carey’s response about a 2017 lawsuit filed by DeKalb-based developer Jim Mason against District 428, alleging that 75 percent of students attending school in DeKalb did not live in the area. The lawsuit was found to be largely false.

“Every member of a school board is an elected official bound to follow the letter of the law,” Carey said. “It is illegal for people who are not residents to attend the schools in this community. If you’re illegally attending the school and you’re not a resident, who’s paying for that education? The taxpayer.”

Seymour, who also is not in support of the residency checks, said he was running for the district board on a platform focused on diversity, accountability, respect and engagement.

“I believe my upbringing [on the South Side of Chicago, and Schaumburg] has provided me with great benefit of being a translator of the various cultures that I’m familiar with,” Seymour said, who also is a senior pastor at Logan Street Baptist Church in Batavia. “I often have had to make the difficult yet compassionate choice to move the body forward.”

McDavid said the district needs to give classrooms and teachers the resources they need to address the social-emotional needs of students. She said she’s been attending District 428 Board meetings for three years.

“Our school district is not a business,” McDavid said. “I will serve with integrity and transparency. I will listen to the voices of teachers, parents, and taxpayers. It is frustrating that current board members don’t know what they’re voting on and don’t know what they’re serving our community for.”

Jeremy Olson also said his professional and volunteer experience would make him an ideal candidate. He is the chief executive officer for a public construction company in DeKalb, and ran for the district board in 2017 but lost. He also serves on the district’s Facilities and Finance Advisory Committee.

He responded to an audience question about reducing the burden on taxpayers, since the district receives the largest portion of property tax dollars on a homeowner’s bill.

“We’ve come up with a proposal that will actually allow us to take some [tax increment finance funds] and monies that have been set aside, $2 million in two years and $10 million total, toward the debt we already have,” Olson said. “The outcome is saving $10 million out of our pockets as taxpayers.”

December Richardson – who said she’s running to increase academic achievement and accountability, improve the district and school culture for students, develop staff, and ensure fiscal responsibility, transparency, strength, communication and collaboration – said taxes are just a part of offering high-quality education.

“It is my hope that residents would want the highest education possible,” Richardson said. “And in the same regard, I hope they won’t object to taxes that will go to our schools.”

Revenue needed for the city

3rd Ward candidates Tracy Smith’s and Steve Kapitan’s forum touched on increasing revenue for the city, recent staffing cuts caused by budget shortfalls, snow removal on arterial streets, tax increment financing, and the rental code enforcement.

“In this time of budget issues, until we figure out where the city’s going, I think this is a good status quo for us,” Smith remarked in response to a question about the city’s department heads being laid off March 1. “We must all remember: We asked everybody to do a job here and someone down there has to do a job.”

Both Smith and Kapitan agreed the biggest issue facing the city was a lack of revenue. Smith said better marketing efforts were needed to boost the city’s reputation.

“I think we need to rethink where we get our revenue,” Kapitan said, adding growth is needed from loss of sales tax revenue since Northern Illinois University has lost enrollment and people are buying more items online now. “We need to focus on basic city services and infrastructure to accommodate future growth until that growth restarts.”

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