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     Before the voters in Spencer Van Etten vote on the school budget, they should be aware of the frauds and manipulations that they have been subjected to in past years. I was a Board member 2002-2008 and am all too familiar with the way things happen behind closed doors in our district.
I noticed soon that there was something fishy with the district’s documentation. My feeling that something was irregular was heightened by the fact that the superintendent Tom Bailey prevented me from seeing documents which, by law, must be shown to any board member who so requests. In 2005 the district adopted a contingency budget that the superintendent claimed would cause a 12% tax increase. The passing of this contingency budget happened just before Superintendent Tom Bailey left, and it was up to his successor Steven Schoonmaker to implement it. Schoonmaker declared his predecessor’s budget "as phony as a three dollar bill." He detected a million-dollar deficit in the books, so now instead of taxpayers being subjected to a 12% increase, Schoonmaker would almost double that amount to a 21% tax increase. The public was locked out from the process and it was the board who adopted what they thought to be a 21% tax increase. (I voted against this.) This apparently wasn't enough for Schoonmaker who then took matters into his own hands and cranked up the tax increase to 29.9%. Shortly thereafter, our district was audited by the state. The audit was not distributed to the voters; but State auditors found about a million dollars of unauthorized claims that had been paid by the previous administration. Auditors further found $580,000.00 of "assets" in the books that had to be written off because it was phantom money that did not exist. The bill for this cooking of the books was eventually paid for by the taxpayers.
Most board members had supported the "phony as a three dollar bill" budgets for years and they certainly wanted to keep what they had done quiet, so no one was held responsible for the cooking of the books.
     The practice of fooling the voters to vote for budgets is alive and well. Last spring, every home in the district received budget vote propaganda from our superintendent stating "More specifically, any increase in the overall tax levy will be limited to no more than 1.72%." The budget passed and the tax levy went up with 6.6%. The actual tax hike for many people was 8% because of increases in assessments.