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.
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