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LINCOLNWOOD, Ill. (CBS) – It’s a small suburban school district that some say is spending big money on things like Chicago hotel rooms, fancy meals and a luxury car.
As CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, residents in Lincolnwood took it upon themselves to get the dirt on how school officials have been spending their money.
It’s not often you get everyday citizens tracking how officials are spending their tax dollars. Residents who live within Lincolnwood School District 74, which serves about 1,200 kids, issued Freedom of Information requests for records on district spending.
Overall, the district is in good financial shape, but critics said that doesn’t justify what they’ve seen in financial records obtained from school officials.
Mark Collens said he gets the impression that school officials view taxpayers as “a piggy bank.”
After years of seeing property taxes go up, Collens and his neighbor Joel Perzov wondered “what gives?”
Knowing the district wants to spend millions on a new school, Collens said they wondered “is this the proper group of people that you want handling these funds?”
So they and other local taxpayers used the Freedom of Information Act to get the low down on district expenses.
They got stacks of info from the district.
“We were horrified to say the least,” Collens said.
“At first it was astonishment and then a feeling of betrayal,” Perzov said.
That’s because they believe the people they trusted with their money weren’t spending it responsibly.
Receipts they obtained show district administrators spent taxpayer bucks on Chicago hotel rooms for conferences held in the city, rather than traveling to the conferences from the suburbs a relatively short drive away.
The receipts also showed big dinner tabs at some big name places and out-of-town trips for administrators and school board members.
One trip was to celebrate a student’s achievement; the cost ran into the thousands.
To all of this, Lincolnwood School Supt. Mark Klaisner said, “financially … we do try to be careful … and responsible.”
But he also said, “I understand why they might be concerned.”
Questionable spending found by Collens and Perzov also included an automobile allowance in the superintendent’s contract.
He drives a Cadillac and admitted taxpayers cover his fuel expenses and vehicle maintenance.
When we asked if taxpayers should pay for that, Klaisner told us that’s the way it’s always been done.
“They’re not gonna be done like that anymore,” Collens said.
The school board moved to pre-approve out-of-town trips and to limit eating expenditures.
The superintendent said some of the bills taxpayers obtained included spending by spouses who reimbursed the district.
But there seems to be a mindset; last week one school board member proposed using tax dollars to cover their cell phone bills.
That’s when another board member said, “I think we’ve lost our way.”