Public Watchdog.org

Hamilton’s Tenure A Teaching Experience…For Those Who Want To Learn

05.24.16

The sudden resignation of City Manager Shawn Hamilton last week brings to a close a worthwhile experiment that produced mixed results.

The experiment? Hiring a city manager with limited public-sector experience.

Back in July 2012, a majority of the then-city council approved mayor Dave Schmidt’s appointment of Hamilton after the previous city manager – Jim Hock, a career bureaucrat – was sacked for unsatisfactory performance. Hock was a replacement for yet another career bureaucrat, Tim Schuenke, who should have been sacked for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was helping former mayors Wietecha, Marous and Frimark mastermind the Uptown TIF debacle.

Schuenke, however, was allowed to retire in 2008 with a healthy Illinois guaranteed pension. And he promptly moved back to Wisconsin where he could keep his Illinois pension benefits flowing while pulling down another six-figure salary as the City Administrator of Delafield, WI, until his second retirement (and second government pension?) in 2012.

The buffoonery and outright malfeasance of Hamilton’s predecessors is exactly why we welcomed him, noting in our 08.01.12 post that he was “a high risk, high reward selection” because he had less than a year of public sector experience – as Grundy County Administrator with only a $14 million budget – after working in banking and management consulting.

In fairness, Hamilton did some good things for the City.

He brought some needed youth and energy into the office after his two older predecessors pretty much sucked the life out of it. And he was willing to work for a smaller salary than they did, which was still a bump-up from his Grundy County paycheck as he continued to live in, and commute from, a lower-cost Coal City.

Hamilton also had some success in addressing the myriad problems he inherited from his predecessors, not the least of which was refinancing parts of the Uptown TIF. And after Mayor Dave and the Council set him off in the right direction, he helped move the City into a better overall financial position (so that, e.g., the City no longer had to borrow from the sewer fund to make payroll) while keeping tax increases – which had been held at artificially low levels by the aforementioned Wietecha, Marous and Frimark, even as infrastructure was being neglected – tolerable.

Unfortunately, his performance never reached the level of consistent excellence needed by this community and demanded by our City Council in addressing such difficult situations like flooding. And he did not appear willing to take ownership of, and provide the necessary leadership on, projects like the Storm Water Utility, the alternate water supply initiative, and strategic planning – leaving those to the Council to battle.

In a public sector where every job seems to be treated as an entitlement without accountability, finding a new city manager measurably better than Hamilton may be no easy task, especially if the rumors are true that, within the career bureaucrat community, Park Ridge is considered a “tough” assignment because our aldermen are not mindless rubber-stampers who treat every City employee as a Lake Woebegone trifecta: strong, good-looking and above average. That alone can be the kiss of death when recruiting career bureaucrats who expect kudos and annual raises just for showing up on a regular basis and avoiding indictment.

What does that mean for getting a quality city manager? For starters it might mean a salary near the $200,000/year mark.

When Schuenke left in 2008, he was pulling down $180,000 plus a few perks. Hock’s all-in package (including perks) totaled around $200,000. And that clown car known as the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 paid rookie Supt. Laurie Heinz more than $200,000, plus perks, for an undistinguished first year (2014-15) of a three-year contract – before hiding in several secretive closed session “reviews” around this time last year before emerging to announce both a one-year extension to Heinz’s contract and even more money in her pay envelope.

At a salary of around $160,000 and fewer perks than his predecessors, Hamilton actually was a bargain, even if only for 3.5 years.

Given Hamilton’s predecessors’ compensation and the fact that Heinz oversees a budget of roughly the same $70 million-plus as the City’s while serving less than 5,000 students to the city manager’s 37,000+ resident customer base, a city manager salary in the vicinity of $200,000 might be a rough midpoint between what Heinz is getting and what Hamilton got last year. And the taxpayers can count on this City Council being much more demanding of any $200,000/year city manager than the $250,000/year-plus Heinz’s milquetoast bosses on the D-64 Board could ever be.

Although the Hamilton experiment was far from a complete success, it did demonstrate that somebody with a private sector background and just a year of public-sector experience can pretty much do as well/poorly as career bureaucrats, if not better.

Merci et bon chance, Mr. Hamilton.

And bon chance to the new Acting City Manager, Joe Gilmore, whose upgrade from City Finance Director was unanimously approved at last night’s Council meeting.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Can Carla Owen Stop The Slide At D-207?

05.21.16

Carla Owen recently was elected as the new School Board president at Maine Township H.S. District 207.

Owen takes over from Margaret McGrath, who held that office for the past three years during which Maine South High School, the flagship of the D-207 fleet and once one of the top handful of Illinois high schools, has fallen to a most recent 45th in U.S. News & World’s annual rankings – behind even the likes of Elk Grove Village and Wheeling.

As we pointed out in our 04.22.16 post, that’s down 16 notches from its 2012 ranking, right before Ms. McGrath got the big chair on the D-207 Board. And she and this Board reacted to that news with deafening silence.

But even more troubling than the decline in rankings is the assertion, also by U.S. News, is Maine South’s 40.8% “College Readiness” figure.

Let’s be clear, however: That slide in the rankings should not be blamed entirely on Ms. McGrath’s leadership or her board’s stewardship.

Academic achievement and rankings involve many factors, with teaching quality and administrative competence first and foremost. After all, if teachers and administrators are being paid – quite handsomely at D-207, especially when salary and pension are added together (and even when they’re not) – to provide quality education, these declining rankings and college readiness figures suggest that those “educators” aren’t getting the job done.

And let’s not forget the students and their parents. If a majority of a student body is a confederacy of dunces, it’s unlikely to yield top academic performance – especially if their parents also are dunces and/or undemanding and under-engaged.

But we’re not ready to blame rampant dunce-ness, either of students or parents.

Which is why we must look to the teachers and administrators who never acknowledge that everything is ever less than than seashells and balloons at Maine South, if not at the District’s other schools.

When educational performance keeps sliding while the cost of that education keeps rising, however, it’s up to the School Board – the taxpayers’ elected representatives – n0t just to ask the teachers and administrators “Why?” but also to demand honest, understandable and unequivocal answers to that question. And to hold those teachers and administrators accountable for their failures.

That’s where Ms. McGrath and her boards, including the current one, failed.

Hopefully, Ms. Owen – an attorney who should know how to ask tough questions and how to see through evasive answers – will have more success than her predecessor, also an attorney but who, along with her fellow board members over the past three years, seemed more concerned with going along to get along with both the teachers and the administrators.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

As reported in the May 4 edition of the Park Ridge Journal & Topics (“Owen Succeeds McGrath As Maine Township High School Dist. 207 Board President”), at least two Board members seem focused on more frolic and diversions than on the basic learning that might realistically bump-up that 40.8% college readiness figure.

Per the Journal story, Board member Jin Lee and and Supt. Ken Wallace are working on an initiative to match up one or more D-207 schools with a school in Korea “to learn to share experiences, to learn cultures” which, if successful – by whatever measure they might make up – could be expanded to Europe, Africa, or South America. And Board member Mary Childers thinks that’s swell because of the District’s multicultural student body.

How typical of educators – and rubber-stamp Board members – to ignore ranking slide and the fact that more than half of their students/clients/customers aren’t college-ready when they graduate

But, hey, look on the bright side.

Rankings and college readiness might not improve, but at least D-207 students could learn how to make kimchi .

To read or post comments, click on title.

First Generation Of Chromebooks Prove Tarnished

05.14.16

It was just two years ago that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 rolled out its new Chromebook-based curriculum to great fanfare and applause, almost all of which was generated by the D-64 Board and Administration.

We wrote about it in our 07.21.14 post and our 08/26/14 post.

The Chromebooks were going to be the latest “magic bullet” for raising the District’s stagnant-to-sliding academic performance – as demonstrated by those pesky standardized test that provide those annoying objectively-measurable test results. Or maybe they were only intended to be $778,000 worth of new shiny objects to divert attention away from those test scores and related rankings.

Anybody who dared question the power and accuracy of this latest “magic bullet” was ridiculed as old fashioned, an unenlightened naysayer, and/or anti-child. That’s the strategy of choice by the “professional” education establishment, although just typing those words makes us laugh.

So far, however, we’ve neither seen nor heard about any improvement in academic performance. And if one entertains the possibility that the performance of Maine South students is affected by the educational quality of its D-64 feeder schools, the slide in Maine South’s performance becomes a tad ominous.

So we have to shake our head over a recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article reported (“All Chromebooks to be replaced in District 64, officials say,” May 2) how all of the District’s 2,782 “Generation 1” Chromebooks are going to be replaced, reportedly free of charge, with “Generation 2” Chromebooks by the manufacturer, Dell. The reason: more than half of them underwent repairs just this year alone, including a 25% breakdown rate for the computers’ logic boards.

The H-A article places the District’s cost of those repairs at $103,000 worth of parts and labor. So far, there’s no word from D-64 as to whether Dell will reimburse the District for those costs.

Two years ago the chief D-64 propagandist, Bernadette Tramm – still on the job today, sad to say – and a coterie of her sub-spinners were assuring anyone who would listen that those Generation 1 Chromebooks would have a four-year life cycle. Less than two full years later, however, Mary Jane Warden, the District’s director of innovation and instructional technology, and Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad are singing a very different tune.

“Expecting a product like a Chromebook to last a full four years of wear and tear may be too ambitious to sustain.”

What a difference two years makes.

We can’t figure out how Warden and the District’s other tech gurus didn’t see this coming two years ago because, according to Warden’s and Kolstad’s memo to the D-64 Board, “the Chromebooks are so new to the market, [and] there has been no history of product reliability or performance that we can put full confidence in.” But two years ago there was even less of a history.

Not surprisingly, that didn’t stop Warden from recommending the purchase of, or our School Board members and administrators from spending $778,000 of the taxpayers’ money on, 2,782 of the untried and unreliable critters.

And now they’re going to replace the Generation 1 Chromebook with Generation 2 Chromebooks, even though – according to Warden – Dell has not explained why the Generation 1s failed.

“I’m confident going forward we’ll have a better product,” she told the school board.

Just as confident as she was two years ago.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

New D-64 Survey Doesn’t Pass Jon Stewart’s B.S. Test

05.09.16

Over the weekend we were working on a post about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s replacement of all its 2,782 Chromebooks after more than half of them underwent repairs just this year alone, according to an article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“All Chromebooks to be replaced in District 64, officials say,” May 2).

But then we received an over-the-transom gift: a forwarded e-mail from D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz announcing “a new style of online forum called Thoughtexchange.

With apologies to The Who: Meet the new cooked survey, same as the old cooked survey.

That caused us to look at the Report for tonight’s Board Meeting, where we discovered even more propaganda about this new Thoughtexchange survey in Appendix 4 – starting with all the usual buzzwords and phrases designed to excite and mesmerize the usual simpletons, like “very innovative new format,” “online outreach tool,” “various stakeholder groups,” “360-degree online dialogue” (Wouldn’t that be talking in circles?), “very engaging,” “fresh approach” and “engage them in the process,” all of which we’ve highlighted in yellow for your convenience.

According to Heinz and the District’s propaganda minister, Bernadette Tramm, the Thoughtexchange process got an “enthusiastic response” from Heinz’s handpicked “Community Relations Council.” And we would expect no less of the CRC, which we wrote about in our 10.08.15 post. In fairness, not every one of those CRC members are stooges or shills for Heinz, but you can be sure that one of the reasons Heinz picked them in the first place was that she subscribes to the “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent” Chicago-style of politics – as do most bureaucrats in this corrupt state.

And the reason Chicago-style bureaucrats pick stooges and shills is that they tend not to have the ability and/or the desire to detect all the “bullsh*t” – as Jon Stewart so keenly and eloquently elucidated it in his final monologue (see the video here, read the transcript here) last August – that is regularly dispensed by the likes of the D-64 Board and Administration. Or to actually possess the courage to say something even if they did detect it.

Notwithstanding all of Heinz’s and Tramm’s buzzwords and phrases in Appendix 4, we’ve highlighted the real b.s. in orange, starting with calling the result of this goat rodeo “a satisfaction survey that can be used primarily with staff and parents.” [Emphasis added.]

That’s because this survey is being designed to pander to the basest concerns and desires of the folks with the most to gain from manipulating the process to justify spending even more money with no better results: “staff,” who already appear to be overpaid based on D-64’s lackluster (if not declining) performance – as measured by standardized testing, not intramural havel-gazing – yet are in the process of negotiating for more, more, more; and “parents” for whom money is no object so long as they can get away with paying only around 25 cents on the dollar in RE taxes for the D-64 $14-15,000 education for their first kid, and ZERO for every additional kid.

That’s one big reason why “[a]ll parents and staff will receive direct email invitations to participate” in this survey “through May and into early June.” That way, D-64 can hope to receive as many of those special-interest responses as possible (and as few of the regular taxpayer responses as possible) before the District announces the latest sweetheart contract it has been negotiating in secret with the teachers union – a report about which is listed on tonight’s meeting agenda as one of two items scheduled for a special two-hour secretive closed session, starting at 5:30.

Will dinner be served…at taxpayer expense?

And don’t think it’s any coincidence that neither Heinz’s e-mail nor Appendix 4 lists any of the “3 open-ended questions about our schools and District” the Thoughtexchange survey allegedly will be asking, even though those questions must already have been vetted by the Board (or at least we would hope so, although we can’t find any evidence of it) and are locked and loaded if the plan is to collect all the responses “through May and early June.” By not listing the questions, it’s a lot tougher for our flummoxed local media (or any pesky bloggers and taxpayers) to shoot holes in them before the answers start rolling in.

So we’ll offer three open-ended questions of our own, just for grins:

  1. Why has D-64’s standardized testing performance been stagnant-to-declining compared to other districts with similar economic profiles and per-student spending?

  2. How will D-64 schools help Park Ridge taxpayers maintain and increase their property values in the face of those stagnant-to-declining comparables while RE taxes keep increasing?

  3. Why does the D-64 Board keep rewarding administrators and staff with more money for stagnant-to-declining student performance?

Don’t expect those questions, or anything like them, being asked by Thoughtexchange.

And as best as we can tell from perusing the Thoughtexchange.com website, what we can expect is another typical collection of easily-manipulable anonymous data points collected through a process that might not even be immune to the kind of “ballot-box stuffing” – multiple responses by the same people – that characterize all those half-baked SurveyMonkey surveys and Change.Org. petitions so many of our local elected officials and bureaucrats prefer for their finger-to-the-wind management decisions.

The sad truth is that this isn’t even intended to be a legitimate “community” survey focusing on what two-thirds (or more) of Park Ridge households who DON’T have kids in D-64 schools think about D-64. It’s a charade and a  propaganda exercise by a dishonest Administration conspiring with a bumbling School Board to cover up the District’s pitiful lack of educational, managerial and financial competence.

And, worst of all, it cheats both the taxpayers AND the students.

To read or post comments, click on title.

No-Bid Hot Lunch Program Yet Another D-64 Diversion

05.03.16

One thing the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board and Administration have proved themselves quite adept at is distracting attention away from the District’s lackluster (compared to other upper-income communities) academic performance and directing that attention at semi-meaningless issues.

This current side show is a school-run hot lunch program for the District’s five elementary schools.

As reported in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“District 64 board rejects hot lunch program for elementary schools,” April 28), Supt. Laurie Heinz and Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad want to institute a hot lunch program in all five K-5 schools similar to what is currently in place at Emerson and Lincoln middle schools.

Despite some decent Googling, we could not find any hits for local newspaper articles reporting on why and how Emerson and Lincoln middle schools got their hot lunch programs. But by reading through a bunch of School Board meeting minutes we discovered (in the April 5, 2010 minutes) that Arbor Management, Inc. was “selected in June 2009.” Unfortunately, the District’s meeting minutes on its website don’t go back to 2009, so we can’t tell if that selection process was the result of competitive bidding or some sweetheart no-bid deal.

The March 18, 2013 minutes indicate that the original contract was for five years and would have expired during the 2013-14 school year. We also discovered a vendor report for that same school year showing that D-64 paid Arbor $538,647.

Not too shabby for what may have been a no-bid contract.

But after Arbor picked up around $2.5 million over those five years of its contract, did our representatives on the D-64 Board even think about putting the contract out to bid again?

Shirley, you jest!

At the March 24, 2014 meeting the Tony Borrelli-led Board unanimously extended the Arbor contract on the consent agenda, without even any discussion – unless the discussion went on in one of D-64’s trademark secretive closed sessions.

And they did the very same thing at the February 23, 2015 meeting.

So when we heard that Heinz and the Czarina now want to give Arbor an additional no-bid $1 million/year deal for the elementary schools, while spending $90,000 to facilitate Arbor’s servicing of those schools, we started wondering about just who might know whom.

Because this sounds like a chapter right out of the kinky Barbara Byrd Bennett/CPS playbook.

Heinz’s and Kolstad’s recommendation allegedly was based on a March 2015 survey of over 1,000 respondents, 65% of whom supported such a program even though that survey – in typical local government style – made no mention of what the per-meal cost would be. That’s like asking somebody whether they want a new Mercedes (“YES!”) without telling them it will cost them $100,000 (“Um…er…maybe not right now, thanks.”).

Not surprisingly, the survey results, and especially the 373 comments that go with it, highlight the shortcomings of this kind of “don’t tell ’em the cost” proposal, as well as the unrealistic expectations of too many parents who want somebody else to make their kids’ lunch but also want the program to operate like a restaurant (e.g., “A daily lunch program that is available regardless of if you signed up ahead of time would make my life so much easier”), albeit a health-food restaurant (“Organic, low carb and include steamed or raw veggies and fruit”; “Dye free and no high fructose corn syrups, etc.”).

Of course, many parents also want that cost to be “reasonable” without saying exactly what “reasonable” means to them. But judging from all the whining that regularly occurs every time some of these folks have to pay a modest fee in connection with their kids’ $14,000 “free” educations, “reasonable” is likely to be defined by “How much of the cost can we push onto our fellow taxpayers?”

Amazingly, however, the Heinz/Kolstad proposal was rejected by Board president Tony Borrelli and his usually complicit rubber-stamp Board, reportedly because of the cost of the program to the District, staffing concerns and concerns about food waste.

That’s puzzling, considering that the cost of the program shouldn’t be a factor if the participating parents pay the fully-loaded costs of the program, including ALL costs attributable to staffing, utilities, etc. And why should the costs be a concern in light of the Finance Czarina’s projections of an annual program surplus of about $69,000?

Could it be because even these rubber-stamp Board members realize that the Czarina’s projections of an average lunch costing $3.75 and 50% participation at each school are total bull-shinola?

Or all those Board members except Bob Johnson, apparently, who voted for it while arguing that school-provided hot lunches “could result in better nutrition than what they’re bringing to school today.” Because, of course, schools that can’t seem to educate their students on par with other comparable districts have nothing better to do than also take on the parents’ nutritional duties.

Park Ridge isn’t Englewood or Lawndale, where even a pedestrian school meal might be the only decent food those students get each day. If a D-64 parent can’t slap some bologna between two slices of bread – or lovingly lay a grilled salmon filet with dill sauce into a ciabatta roll – and stick it in a bag with some chips and an apple, that’s the parent’s problem.

It shouldn’t become the District’s or the District’s taxpayers’ problem just because Heinz is looking to curry favor with parents while ringing up some kind of faux-accomplishment to excuse her failure to move the needle on student performance and justify another contract extension and raise like she got last year.

Negotiated in secretive closed sessions, Borrelli-Board style, of course.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Living In The Library’s Past Condemns Its Future

04.25.16

Not all that long ago the Park Ridge Library Board of Trustees was the sleepy backwater of local public service.

Trustees quietly and consistently rubber-stamped pretty much anything and everything the Library’s senior staff recommended. Rather than actively manage the Library and its collection, the trustees and staff passively let socio-economic conditions – e.g., the 2007-09 recession and the 2010-present “recovery” – do the managing.

Consequently, as recently as 2012-13 it was a notable event when any reporter from one of our local newspapers – either the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate or the Park Ridge Journal – attended the regular monthly Library Board meeting. And it was almost a portent of Armageddon when one of those reporters attended a “lowly” Library Board committee meeting.

Even getting a three-year appointment to the Board tended to be fairly quiet and uneventful.

Boy oh boy, has that ever changed.

Starting around the Fall of 2013 the Library Board suddenly became the focus of all sorts of attention. Regular meetings that were lucky to draw a couple of residents started drawing 5, 10, 20 or more.

Not only did one, and sometimes two, reporters start showing up at every regular Board meeting, but the H-A reporter began adding committee meetings to her appointed rounds. And once the Board adopted the Committee Of the Whole structure – where all committee meetings were held on one night instead of two – she became a virtual fixture at those COWs.

Tonight the Mayor’s Advisory Board begins the process of selecting nominees for the three seats whose terms are expiring this summer. There are eleven applicants – a record (?) – for those three vacancies, including the three trustees currently holding those seats: Joseph Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Jerome White. The challengers are: Kim Biederman, Karen Bennett Burkum, Marcin Grochola, Stephen Kahnert, Josh Kiem, William McGuire, Mary Wynn Ryan and Herbert Zuegel.

The applications for all 11 of them can be found here .

These applicants will be interviewed by the Mayor’s Advisory Board, comprised of the four City Council committee chairs: Ald. Dan Knight (Finance), Ald. Marc Mazzuca (Procedures & Regulation), Ald. Nick Milissis (Public Safety) and Ald. Roger Shubert (Public Works). The aldermen will recommend three nominees to Acting Mayor Marty Maloney, who can either accept or reject each of them. Any nominees Maloney accepts them will be voted on by the full Council, with a simple majority needed for approval.

While a few of the usual social media suspects have rattled their balsa-wood sabers over the past few months about monitoring this year’s selection process to ensure who knows what, it was left to former Library board member Dick Van Metre to make the first overt attempt to directly influence the selection process – which he did at last Monday’s Council meeting.

Van Metre is Park Ridge’s version of Bernie Sanders. He seems to share Weekend at Bernie’s view that government is the answer to every socio-economic question, with the highest and best use of private funds being the payment of taxes so that government can grow bigger – and do more “free” things and provide more “free” stuff – even for people who could afford to pay but just don’t want to.

As can be seen and heard from 25:45 to 35:54 of last week’s meeting video, Van Metre claims to be speaking for the “vast majority of the people who voted for [the November 2014 Library referendum]” and for “the citizens of Park Ridge [who] have no leverage with the Library Board.”

SPOILER ALERT: Van Metre mentions my name several times, never favorably. That’s probably because we often clashed when he and I served together on the Library Board in 2011-12; and because our respective views of government are substantially different – as evidenced by three of this blog’s posts (03.03.08, 04.25.08 and 07.18.08) going back to 2008.

Early on in the meeting video, Van Metre proclaims how he was part of a group that “put an awful lot of time and effort into the Library referendum” before ripping into un-named more-reccently appointed Library Board members “who seem to take the passage of the Library referendum as something of an insult.”

The delicious irony of that criticism is that there never even would have been a referendum – which raised $4 million of extra property tax revenue for the Library over four years – if it had been left up to Van Metre and his cronies still on the Board from 2011 through 2014: John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous. John Schmidt and Jerry White. Or to Director Janet Van De Carr. Their preferred way of solving the Library’s funding shortage was to beef and moan about “the guys across the street” (i.e., then-mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council) for cutting the City’s discretionary/supplemental Library funding in order to meet the growing burden of the Uptown TIF debt.

So when I, supported by Board members Egan and Foss-Eggemann, proposed a funding referendum question for the November 2014 ballot, Van Metre’s crony-majority rejected it – with not one complaint from Van Metre, naturally. But Mayor Dave and the Council respected the taxpayers enough to give them the chance to vote on a higher tax levy for the Library. And those voters came through.

Which is how Van Metre was able to become the crowing rooster claiming credit for the dawn.

Van Metre goes on to say, again grandiosely speaking for some nebulous constituency, that “[w]e want our Library back,” which he goes on to explain as being the Library “as it has been.”

Although he offered no real details on those points, we assume he means the Library as overseen by those previous bobble-head, rubber-stamp boards whose members couldn’t stop themselves from deficit spending by hundreds of thousands of dollars even after the Council told them no addtional funding would be forthcoming in the foreseeable future. That’s the same Library whose board, despite all its deficit spending, nevertheless neglected replacement of the Library’s roof and windows until the leaks began causing interior issues.

That must also be the same Library whose board, despite being chronically short of funds, insisted on keeping the Food For Fines program that enabled Board members and staff to enhance their self-esteem by giving away thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars in forgiveness of book and material fines. And it’s certainly the same Library whose board preferred closing its doors on summer Sundays in 2014 so that it could give $20,000 of raises to some of its 90+ employees. Van Metre – who insists he’s the champion of “the people’s Library” – said nary a word about that closing even though “the people” got stiffed for one of only two weekend Library days.

He apparently also isn’t too enthused over the current Board’s pursuit of the first significant reconfiguration and renovation to the Library’s interior space in a couple of decades, a project intended to bring the building more in tune with current user needs and to attract the one-third of our residents who don’t even hold a Library card – or the almost two-thirds of our residents who don’t regularly use the Library at all.

And he clearly wants to return to days of yore when unidentified and un-regulated private tutors could run their for-profit businesses out of the Library while letting the taxpayers cover their overhead costs.

I repeatedly have challenged Van Metre – assuming he truly believes that a majority of taxpayers agree with his characterization of the new business/tutor policy as a way to “extort money from the people who were using the Library for tutoring” – to ask the City Council to put a policy repeal referendum question on the November ballot, or to collect the signatures needed to put such a question on the ballot by direct citizen action.

He didn’t ask the Council to do that last Monday night, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Van Metre or his fellow travelers to do that between now and the mid-summer deadline for such citizen initiatives.

That’s because, despite how they regularly invoke “the people” and claim to speak for a majority of them, their dirty little secret is that they are anti-democratic elitists who seem to view “the people” as rabble who can’t be trusted to vote on what they want and, more importantly, what they are willing to be taxed for. So instead of referendums where the questions can be debated, and support and opposition can be objectively measured, they anoint themselves as “the people’s” spokespersons. And they occasionally float some bogus “Survey Monkey” or “Change.Org.” survey question with for support.

At the close of Van Metre’s 10-minute spiel last Monday night, he had a semi-ominous warning for the Council:

“I and…some other people will be paying attention to what transpires from here on [regarding the Library Board appointment process]. If you continue to appoint allies of Bob Trizna to the Board, then we will have to conclude that you approve of the changes in the Library that he wishes to make and is slowly making.”

We’re pretty sure Van Metre is aware of the famous Santayana quote: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For Van Metre and his allies, being condemned to repeat the Library’s irresponsible past is their paramount goal.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the Editor in that capacity, and not in his capacity as Library Trustee. None of these opinions should be viewed as representing those of the Library, its Board, its staff, or any other Trustees.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Will Latest School Rankings Produce More Sound Of Silence At D-207?

04.22.16

U.S. News & World Report’s latest ranking of Illinois high schools have just been released and they aren’t likely to be music to the ears of the Board and Administration of Maine Township High School Dist. 207.

Not that those folks will admit it. Or even acknowledge it.

In these 2016 rankings the flagship of D-207’s fleet, Maine South, clocks in at an unimpressive 45th place. And Maine East fills the 63d slot. Maine West? Um…don’t ask.

For Maine South, that’s a drop of 16 slots from its 2012 ranking. But that slide in the rankings is compounded by more ominous signs, such as a 40.8% “College Readiness” figure and some of the schools Maine South is trailing.

Stevenson, New Trier, the Glenbrooks North and South, Deerfield, Highland Park, the Hinsdales Central and South are givens. But Wheeling (41)? And Elk Grove (28)??

Seriously?

With the high teacher and administrator salaries, high cost per pupil, and 16-1 student-to-teacher ratio, shouldn’t Maine South almost have to be doing better than that?

Maybe there’s an explanation for this continuing slide despite D-207’s spending more and more money. But we’re unlikely to hear it from the D-207 Board and Administration. Like their counterparts at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, any time ranking or scores come out that allow taxpayers to make comparisons between our schools and those of other communities, those officials get all sphinx-like.

So we’ll offer a few possible explanations just to break the ice, or the dead air.

1. Maine South teachers and administrators are doing a poorer job than in the past?

1a. Maine South teachers and administrators are doing a poorer job than their counterparts in other districts?

2. D-64 is doing a poorer job than in the past, thereby feeding less-educated kids into Maine South?

2a. D-64 is doing a poorer job than its counterpart districts in feeding better-educated kids into high school?

3. Park Ridge is attracting dumber residents who produce dumber offspring?

Park Ridge is a great town. It’s got a great mature character and a prime inner-ring location roughly 20 minutes (off-peak) from the Loop and even less to O’Hare. But it also has some drawbacks, such as airplane noise/pollution and flooding. And the taxes ain’t cheap.

So when non-residents look at Park Ridge as a possible relocation destination, sliding school rankings don’t make the welcome mat any more inviting. Neither does that 40.8% “College Readiness” figure for a community this affluent and that spends so much on its schools.

Let’s face it: Local Realtors can only get so far with their spiels about “our outstanding schools” when a couple of mouse-clicks make liars out of them – unless the prospective re-locators are trading up from unranked schools like East Leyden, Ridgewood, or Taft.

But don’t expect the D-207 folks to own up to this most recent ranking decline, or even to acknowledge it. They’re still selling the sizzle instead of the steak. Or the hamburger.

The only thing we’re likely to get from them is the sound of silence.

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Palling Around, Or Just A Clown-Car Ballet?

04.19.16

One sure sign that appointed or elected officials are way over their skis, or just haven’t done their homework, is when they ask “What are other communities doing?” – before they express their opinion on some difficult or controversial issue.

Implicit in such a question is not only the official’s cluelessness about the issue being debated but, also, the official’s foolish belief that other governmental bodies are doing things the right way AND that they have developed methodologies that can be successfully replicated elsewhere.

Look around Cook County and its collar county communities, however, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any local governments that are actually doing things “right,” much less doing them in a reproducible or transferable way.

But if another object lesson on that point is needed, it was provided in last Thursday’s Chicago Tribune editorial, “When a suburban Chicago school district loses its way — and its money” (April 14) about the under-the-radar waste and mismanagement at the Lincoln-Way High School District, a situation that should resonate with anybody who pays the lion’s share of their property taxes to support the schools.

The editorial noted how Lincoln-Way taxpayers either were kept in the dark or chose to remain oblivious about the overspending, sweetheart deals and outright corruption at the highest level of that district’s administration. But that all changed when a group of parents – upset by the closing of one of the schools – began some aggressive investigating and even filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the school board voted to close one school in order to keep Illinois State Board of Education officials from reviewing the district’s finances.

What they discovered was that the school superintendent was given a $368,148 annuity account (a/k/a, a slush fund?) above and beyond his generous salary. And that he wasted bundles of tax dollars on personal expenses.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that, having finally been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he retired to a pension of around $312,000 a year.

That’s right: a $312,000 pension…based on salary increases that seem totally unrelated to objectively-measurable school performance. And that pension will increase by 3% per year until its recipient finally takes his dirt nap.

Worse yet, all that overspending and corruption occurred right under the very noses of elected school board members, a gang of seven which the editorial board considered so lax and clueless it wrote the following:

“Really, you have to wonder if school board members read any agenda items before approving them. Perhaps a zombie checkup is in order.“

That’s because school boards, more than any other local governmental bodies, seem to attract the simple-minded “pleasers” – folks who see their main duty as keeping teachers and administrators happy while unquestioningly buying into whatever propaganda they are fed by those very same teachers and administrators.

Which is why the most trenchant observation made in that Tribune editorial is applicable to all public bodies, but especially school boards:

Too often, school board members don’t understand that their role is not to pal around with administrators but to serve as a check on these day-to-day executives.

We don’t know if D-64 Board members “pal around” with Supt. Laurie Heinz, Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad, or other top administrators, including school principals. But the timid, obsequious and servile ways in which those Board members deal with Heinz, et al. is reminiscent of the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion approaching the great and powerful Oz.

We wrote about their collective unctuousness and butt-smooching less than a year ago (in our 06.22.15 post) when, after an unremarkable first year by Heinz as superintendent, Board president Tony Borrelli choreographed a clown-car ballet of board members falling all over themselves to unanimously vote to extend Heinz’s original three-year contract an extra year as the first year of it expired. That’s a guaranteed $250K-plus reward for, as best as we can tell, no significant objectively-measurable improvement in student performance.

Only in professional sports and public employment can mediocre performance get you a contract extension.

And, even worse, virtually all of the discussions about her performance and the extension – including her allegedly glowing “evaluations” that still do not appear to have seen the light of day – were conducted in…wait for it…closed sessions.

Once again we remind our readers that closed sessions are NEVER REQUIRED under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, even though they have become a regular feature of D-64 Board meetings. So even when citizens attend meetings, or watch the meeting videos, much/most of the heavy lifting on important issues is often done by the Board after it goes into hiding.

And when Board members do emerge from hiding and attempt to create the appearance of transparency, citizens who address the Board more often than not receive a “talk to the hand” response, especially if they dare say things those officials don’t want to hear. See, e.g., the Board’s and administration’s response (Borrelli: “Anybody else?”) to Joan Sandrik’s spot-on comments at the 2:31:30 mark of the March 21, 2016 meeting video about not trusting anything the District’s architects, FGM, say.

Which might explain, at least in part, why handfuls-and-more of folks will show up at City Council meetings while most D-64 (and Maine Twp. High School District 207) Board meetings play to empty rooms – even though the D-64 Board spends about the same amount of money educating less than 5,000 kids as the Park Ridge City Council spends on running the whole City of 37,000-plus people.

Unfortunately, scarecrow Board members and empty meeting rooms are an invitation, if not a recipe, for Lincoln-Way style results.

Which seem to get discovered only after the superintendent qualifies for retirement.

And only after several of his enabler board members resign.

To read or post comments, click on title.

School Shooting Statistics An April Fool’s Joke…On The Taxpayers

04.04.16

We just saw the April 1, 2016 statistic-based comment on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page by resident Josh Kiem, made in response to the March 22 post by Kathy Panattoni Meade about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s plan to spend $8-$10 million on not-really-secured vestibules.

Kiem cited a Wikipedia compendium of school shootings since 1764. Not shooting deaths, mind you, just shooting incidents. And he decided to focus on shooting data from 1990 to the present. Basically 25 years.

The statistics he found will likely surprise nobody but the usual flock of Chicken Littles who think kids – or at least their kids – deserve to be bubble-wrapped and garage kept, at the taxpayers’ expense; and most members of the D-64 Board and Administration, who apparently were born without the common sense gene.

According to the Wikipedia post, from 1990 to 2015, there were 7 shooting incidents in elementary schools and only 35 such incidents in middle schools. That’s 42 incidents over 25 years in schools like D-64’s. Or an average of 1.7 incidents per year throughout a system of 66,689 elementary and middle schools.

Frankly, that minimal level of risk doesn’t even justify the $840,000 the D-64 Board voted, at its March 21 meeting, to spend this summer on a not-really-secured vestibule just for Washington School.

That doesn’t matter to Supt. Laurie Heinz and the District’s new business czarina Luann Kolstad, neither of whom pay Park Ridge property taxes while reaping fat salaries and benefits funded by people who DO pay those property taxes. But expect Heinz and Kolstad to cite these “security achievements” as performance achievements when it comes time for another one-year, one quarter-million dollar-plus contract extension and raise (Heinz) and raise to her solidly six-figure salary (Kolstad) – even though neither Heinz nor Kolstad seem able to improve either student performance on benchmark standardized tests, or the related rankings of the District’s schools against schools in comparable communities.

That’s because improving academic performance is a lot tougher and uncertain than blowing $8-10 million on brick and mortar.

Meanwhile, these not-really-secured vestibules won’t make the D-64 schools measurably more secure against a student, parent, teacher, repairman or deliveryman who gains access to the schools with a MAC-10, a ball bearing-filled suicide vest, or even a knife or two.

We’re not saying that reconfiguring entranceways so that they funnel visitors into the school’s office is not what currently passes for a “best practice.” But unless that office is operated like a sally port that can effectively lock in armed visitors – assuming they can be identified as “armed” – funneling them into it doesn’t prevent those visitors from opening fire in there before extending the carnage to the rest of the building.

And it does nothing to detect weaponry being carried in by off-kilter students or teachers.

Throwing big money at not-really-secured vestibules, however, does meet the purely political needs of school administrators like Heinz and Kolstad, and Board members like Tony Borrelli, Scott Zimmerman, Vickie Lee and Bob Johnson – who voted 4-2 (Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos “no,” Dathan Paterno MIA), to appear to be doing something about school safety, no matter how half-baked and cost-ineffective that something might be. And new brick-and-mortar becomes a convenient and tangible prop with which those administrators and Board members can dazzle gullible residents.

Ask yourself: Is this the best way D-64 can spend $8-10 million of the taxpayers’ money? Or even the $860,000 for Washington’s not-really-secured vestibules?

If your answer is “no,” then it’s time you contacted Borrelli, Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson to demand they make a motion to reconsider (only somebody who voted for the Washington School boondoggle can move to reconsider) at the Board’s next meeting and then vote to kill this stupid and wasteful expenditure.

But if your answer is “yes,” you’re probably already spending a fortune on bubble-wrap.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Is District 64 Dishonest Or Irresponsible About Not-Really-Secured Vestibules?

03.29.16

If you believe the propaganda Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Supt. Laurie Heinz, Chief School Business official Luann Kolstad, and a majority of the Tony Borrelli-led D-64 Board has been spouting about the state of “security” at the District’s eight school buildings, the under-secured entrances to each of those schools currently put every schoolchild at risk of being injured or killed by:

(a) an “active shooter” like Sandy Hook’s Adam Lanza;

(b) some unbalanced parent looking to settle a custody or child-support score with a Glock;

(c) a radical extremist deliveryman wearing a suicide vest; or

(d) whatever other threat a fertile imagination can conjure up.

So, what are that Board and Administration doing to address these threats that, according to them, exist right here, right now…today?

NOTHING!

If you want or need proof of such recklessness, look no further than the meeting video of last Monday (03.21.16) night’s Board meeting.

Once again, the topic was “security” – assuming you can use that term with a straight face when discussing the not-really-secured vestibules on which D-64 wants to spend $8-10 million of our tax dollars. More accurately, however, much of the meeting dealt with the seemingly bogus-and-escalating cost estimates foisted upon this gullible Board by the District’s architect of record FGM Architects (“FGM”) and construction manager Nicholas & Associates (“Nicholas”), heavily aided and abetted by Heinz and Kolstad.

In just 18 days – since March 3rd – the projected costs of those vestibules has reportedly soared a whopping $807,000 from FGM’s/Nicholas’ previous $6.9 million figure. And that $6.9 figure itself was a boxcar increase from the dynamic duo’s initial $5.1 million projection last November.

This vestibules project has gone so far off the rails, so quickly, that even a dependable rubber stamper like Board member Scott Zimmerman balked at the 66% cost escalation – claiming that “I’ve never seen a miss like that” by FGM and Nicholas, before calling what they produced a “half-baked pie.”

Given the funny numbers tossed about at that meeting and mentioned in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s account of it (“District 64 struggles to balance school security upgrades with high price tag,” March 22) – $7.1 million, $8.9 million, or $10.1 million – we’re not sure any of those numbers is remotely close to real.

Yet Heinz, Kolstad, Borrelli and a majority of the Board weren’t going to let FGM’s/Nicholas’ cost WAGuess-timates stop them from finding some way of moving this ill-conceived and profligate project forward that same night. They made that clear by the two alternative motions (A” and “B”) contained in the Board packet, as well as by numerous comments made during the discussion.

Which is why we want to send a big Watchdog bark-out to resident Joan Sandrik, who showed up to once again speak truth to power – albeit this embarrassingly low-voltage School Board and Administration.

Check out the video (starting at the 2:31:30 mark) to see and hear how Sandrik pulled no punches, opening with a head-snapping left jab of “I don’t trust the architects” followed by a right hook of “I don’t trust anything they say.”

BAM!

In response to the cost escalation of these not-very-secured vestibules, Sandrik quite reasonably asked whether the architects “have…given us a Rolls Royce when all we need is a Buick?”

Although we haven’t seen FGM’s or Nicholas’ contracts with the District, the general rule of thumb is that the more “Rolls Royce” brick-and-mortar projects the District does, the more money flows into FGM’s and Nicholas’ bank accounts. That means it’s in their economic interest – as it has been for D-64’s “security” consultant, RETA Security, Inc. – to peddle as much panic as possible. And the District’s senior administrators and Board majority have been all over that panic-peddling like cats in heat, desperate for some catnip.

$8-$10 million worth of catnip.

Listen to Heinz’s five-minute aluminum siding pitch (starting at 22:40 of the meeting video) in which she invokes the opinion of “numerous security experts” (un-named and therefore un-verifiable) before panic-peddling the “active shooter scenario” (it “could happen”) and then shifting the focus of the vestibules to a more innocuous controlled-movement purpose: restricting where people go once they get inside.

Memo to Heinz: If you don’t have metal detectors at the school entrances, you can’t prevent people from bringing in concealed firearms and ammo. Or a suicide vest filled with ball bearings and metal shrapnel.

And unless you have school personnel escorting visitors (e.g., parents, siblings, grandparents, deliverymen, repairmen, etc.) to whatever room or area of the building he/she is authorized to visit, you have no practical ability to control where that person goes – assuming they have a specific target in mind rather than the desire for random acts of carnage.

Which is why we have to also send a Watchdog bark-out to Board member Tom Sotos, who suggested (starting at 1:10:25 of the meeting video) that the District look into the comparative value of posting an armed security guard at each school entrance for the next 10 years instead of spending roughly the same $8-$10 million on these not-really-secured vestibules.

And another bark-out goes to Board member Mark Eggemann for proposing a referendum on the question of whether a majority of taxpayers casting votes on the issue would support spending multi-millions of dollars on not-really-secured vestibules. He also joined Sotos in calling out Heinz, Kolstad and Borrelli for their insistence on rushing to judgment with a decision while so many options remain under-explored:

“We came here with [options] A and B, and now we’ve got C, D, E and F,” noted Eggemann.

While that kind of reasoning couldn’t completely deter the majority of this Board from blowing taxpayer money, however, it did cause at least a temporary downsizing of the project to a “pilot program” of one school – Washington – which will get about $428,000 of “critical infrastructure” and an $840,000 not-really secured vestibule.

If you believe the Board’s and Administration’s propaganda, that leaves the other seven schools, their students and their teachers sitting ducks for shooters, bombers and various other assorted n’er-do-wells.

It also begs the question of how the District will measure the success of this “pilot” program? Perhaps with an announcement like:

“The new secured $840,000 vestibule at Washington has been every bit as successful at keeping out random active shooters and ISIS terrorists as its predecessor vestibule, so we’re declaring the pilot program a success and rolling out the vestibule program for all the schools”?

Actually, that might be about as forthcoming as D-64 historically has been about the success and failure of many/most of its “pilot” programs.

Despite his professed concern over FGM’s and Nicholas’ 66% cost underestimate, Zimmerman happily endorsed the “pilot program.” So did Board member Vickie Lee, whose predictably mindless support for almost anything and everything the D-64 administration proposes was demonstrated once again by her thinking-is-too-hard “we hired experts” two-minute monolog, starting at 1:43:35 of the meeting video.

So Borrelli and Board member Bob (“Inaction guarantees inequality”) Johnson joined Lee and Zimmerman to approve that pilot program, with Sotos and Eggemann voting “no” and Dathan Paterno MIA. That means Washington will be getting its $840,000 not-really-secured vestibule this summer.

If you’ve got about two hours to spare, and a high pain threshold, you really should try watching the whole “vestibules” segment of the meeting video to see for yourself what passes for informed and intelligent deliberation about multi-million dollar expenditures at D-64. And if your pain threshold is low, you might want to accompany the viewing with an adult beverage of choice, holding the fixings for one or two reinforcements in reserve in case additional numbing is needed.

But whether you finish the video before your beverages finish you, one thing is troublingly clear: This whole not-really-secured vestibules program appears to be, basically, a multi-million dollar fraud.

Either that, or this Board and Administration are AT THIS VERY MOMENT recklessly and callously endangering the lives and safety of thousands of children, teachers and administrators by leaving all these currently under-secured schools “as is” – without trained and armed security personnel on-site to address all the alleged threats and dangers.

You can’t have it both ways, D-64. You’re either lying about the danger, or you’re totally reckless and irresponsible in dealing with it.

To read or post comments, click on title.