Public Watchdog.org

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 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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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.

LEX And ALF Expose City’s Developmental Disorder

03.21.16

Back on February 25 we published a post about two new construction projects within a block or so of each other in the Greenwood/Busse area.

One is a 25-townhouse project by Lexington Homes on the Greenwood and Elm site known as the City’s old public works headquarters (the “LEX”). The other is an assisted living facility (the “ALF”) on Greenwood between Busse and Northwest Highway.

At the City Council meeting on March 7, rezoning for the LEX – from R-2 single-family residential to R-4 multi-family residential – was defeated by a vote of 4 (Alds. Milissis, Van Roeyen, Shubert and Mazzuca) to 3 (Acting Mayor Maloney and Alds. Moran and Knight).

At that same meeting, the Council approved a “special use” to the ALF – because the site is currently zoned B-2 general commercial – by a vote of 4 (Acting Mayor Maloney and Alds. Moran, Milissis and Van Roeyen) to 3 (Alds. Shubert, Knight and Mazucca), even though the ALF will exceed the maximum 40-foot height permitted in the City’s Zoning Code by a sizable 12 feet, or 30%.

That 30% height variance is scheduled for final approval at tonight’s Council meeting.

We had no “stringer” at the meeting and we haven’t watched the meeting video. That means we’re relying entirely on the articles published in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge City Council says no to Elm Street townhouses,” March 8 and “Assisted living building gets early OK from Park Ridge City Council,” March 10), along with the Agenda Cover memos issued by the City’s Community Preservation & Development Director, Jim Testin, for the LEX and the ALF.

We’ve repeatedly been critical of the City’s unpredictable and seemingly schizophrenic way it deals with zoning. The way these two projects were dealt with would appear to be Object Lesson No. 1 in that regard.

According to the H-A articles, two of the “no” votes against both projects were from Shubert and Mazzuca.

Shubert’s objections to the LEX were traffic-related and because “[m]ost of the people [he’s] talked to were lukewarm or against this particular project,” according to the H-A article.

Mazzuca opposed the LEX – which could have accommodated up to 25 living units – on the grounds that such a multi-family development would be inconsistent with the single-family nature of that neighborhood. He opposed the ALF on a similar there-goes-the-character-of-the-neighborhood basis.

Frankly, we can see both sides of the LEX argument.

But it seems like there’s a lot more heavy lifting, policy-wise, to be done on the fundamental development issues that the LEX presents, such as: Does Park Ridge need 25 additional townhouses on land that reportedly could accommodate 11-12 single-family homes under its current R-2 zoning?

If you’re a local merchant, 25 new townhouses mean more doubling the number of households that standard single-family homes on that property could provide, which might mean roughly double the consumer sales that single-family homes might generate. The townhouses might also bring in more total property tax revenue than single-family homes, although that remains an open question.

But those same 25 townhouses also might double the number of kids enrolling in our public schools. And that might produce annual property tax deficits (per-household student costs v. per-household property taxes paid to the school districts) of ten, twenty or thirty-thousand dollars per residence per year – deficits that will need to be made up the majority of property taxpayers without kids in those schools.

Should overburdening the schools be a City concern?

We think that’s a great question that needs to be addressed by the City Council, and sooner rather than later – because only the City has the legal ability to regulate land development and thereby control the number of residences that can be built in town.

As best as we can tell, neither the City Council nor the Planning & Zoning Commission ever have had that particular “policy” discussion. And don’t expect the D-64 and the D-207 Boards to contribute much of value to such a discussion.

Over the last 25 years, neither school district has demonstrated that they either know or care about how many students they have to educate, so long as they can spend their respective districts into financial crises every so often – for D-64 it’s usually every 10 years or so (e.g., the crisis leading to the “Yes, Yes!” referendum in 1997; and the crisis leading to the “Strong Schools” referendum in 2007) – that enable them cry “Wolf!” and stampede the taxpayers into voting for yet another hefty tax-increase…“for the kids,” of course.

And irrespective of whether all that money actually improves educational quality, objectively measured.

Because both districts are masterful in manipulating and hiding the full impact of their respective financial situations from the taxpayers, however, they can pretty much dictate when those tax-increase referendums are held. That means steering them to the odd-year local elections when voter turnout is significantly lower – and can be more easily dominated by a wellorganized and uber-motivated “for the kids” campaign committee – than in the general elections in November of the even years.

Which might explain why, this year, the D-64 Board appears to be hell-bent on locking in a boxcar’s worth of non-referendum debt for various construction projects (including $7 million for those not-really-secure vestibules) while also giving the PREA (teachers union) a three-or-four-year contract that will almost certainly be, once again, of the sweetheart persuasion. Such profligacy – combined with the enrollment increases likely to come from all those new multi-family residences – can help create another financial crisis suitable for leveraging into another tax-increase referendum in 2017 or, more likely, 2019.

Is there an actual plan for our community’s development; and, if so, is it actually being followed?

Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Stupid, Dishonest And Irresponsible Is No Way To Run A School District

03.11.16

Over the course of our many years of writing about local government, we’ve often used the terms “stupid,” “dishonest” and “irresponsible” to describe various ideas, actions and people. To the best of our knowledge, however, we have never used all three to describe one idea, action or person.

Today we get to plow new ground.

Our jumping-off point is an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate titled “District 64 approves $2.2 million roof repair plan”   (March 8), which superficially addresses some of the ways D-64’s architect of record, FGM Architects, and its construction management firm, Nicholas and Associates, are planning to generate some fat fees for themselves by selling all sorts of construction projects to such a bovine School Board and Administration that the members would follow a cow with a bell around its neck.

That’s because this School Board, like its predecessors, seems to lack the thing that D-64 brags about teaching its students: critical thinking.

That lack of critical thinking is why the Board members so quickly and so unthinkingly said “Yes!” when the architects, the District’s “security” consultants – to whom everything is a security threat, just like to a hammer everything is a nail – and our local constabulary recommended $6.9 million of “secured vestibules” that really won’t protect the students, faculty and administrators from any kid, any parent, or any visitor from strolling in with one or more knives or guns under their clothing or in their backpacks.

Nor will they protect the assembled multitude from some suicide vest-wearing terrorist, if that’s your preferred bogey-man du jour.

Which is why we criticized such stupid and dishonest expenditures in our posts of 11.10.15 and 11.23.15.

But such criticism didn’t deter the herd mentality of this Board – or deter Board president Tony Borrelli from making such hollow-as-a-drum proclamations of competence and fiscal responsibility as his latest canard: “We’re doing our job by flipping over every rock and looking at every alternative.”

That’s just plain nonsense, of course, and probably dishonest to boot.

This Board and administration would need Google Maps and a GPS system just to find the rocks worth flipping. And then they wouldn’t flip them for fear that they’d find even more evidence and arguments against their stupid not-really-secured vestibule concept that, without metal detectors, won’t be able to screen for and detect guns, knives and the ball bearings that tend to be the shrapnel of choice for explosive-vest bombers.

But where the stupid and the dishonest meet up with the irresponsible is demonstrated by a quote from Board member Tom Sotos, in response to a suggestion by Board member Vickie Lee to get new bids for the highest-cost secured vestibule at Lincoln Middle School, thereby likely delaying that project beyond the completion dates for the other schools’ secured vestibules.

“I don’t want to go to bed at night and say, “I voted not to approve that one school’ and then something happens at that school.”

Seriously?

If Sotos envisions not being able to go to bed with one school out of seven not having a not-really-secured vestibule, how the heck is he sleeping even a wink RIGHT NOW – knowing that NONE of those schools currently has a truly secured vestibule?

The answer: He’s sleeping just fine, thank you, because this whole secured-vestibule brouhaha is nothing more than a charade.

For months now Sotos and the Board have been grandly wringing their hands with Kabuki-style consternation and woe, while telling anyone who will listen about how terribly vulnerable the District’s students are under the schools current security systems. Hence the unequivocal, non-negotiable, absolute “need” to spend almost $7 million on not-really-secured vestibules that won’t keep a student, parent, visitor or disgruntled employee from bringing in lethal weaponry.

That’s almost SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS for continuing non-security. And, based on the H-A article, only Board member Mark Eggemann had enough sense to propose holding off on the not-really-secured vestibules in order to “get the community more involved and get their feedback on whether they want to spend $6.9 million” on not-really-secured vestibules.

Hey, folks! There’s still plenty of time left to put a $6.9 million not-really-secured vestibules referendum question on the November ballot.

Meanwhile, however, Sotos and those same Board members and administrators seem fine and dandy with leaving the kids completely at the mercy of every fanatic and whack-job imaginable for however many more months it will take until the not-really-secured vestibules are constructed. According to the H-A story, the Board couldn’t reach a consensus on “temporary security” at the schools, whatever form that might take.

But $7 million for not-really-secured vestibules is more of a “Look, there goes Elvis!” distraction from the more problematic stagnation, if not decline, in the objectively measurable performance of the District’s students. And it also allows FGM architects and other construction-related vendors to pocket a lot more of the taxpayers’ money on brick and mortar, their forte.

The simple truth is that the threat of such catastrophic violence is no more measurably real today than it was six months ago, or six years ago; or that it will be six months or six years from now. That’s just panic peddling and fear-mongering by a variety of folks who either are shilling for one special interest or another, or who inexplicably believe their own nonsense.

If the threat were real and significant, any responsible Board members and administrators would have insisted on the posting of armed security guards at the entrance to EVERY D-64 school, where they would remain until the not-really-secured vestibules were completed.

That there aren’t proves three very important points about this D-64 Board and administration:

They are stupid. They are dishonest. And they are irresponsible.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Stump Is Not A Tree, A Shed Is Not A House

03.09.16

Count us among the folks regularly amazed by all the wondrous structures Pete Nelson and his “Treehouse Masters” crew can build in all sorts of trees.

But even though some of the designs can be a bit exotic, we’ve never seen anybody come to blows over them.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for what has become Park Ridge’s most famous/infamous “treehouse” at 916 N. Western Ave. Unlike the lush canopies in which Pete and his crew construct their dwellings, however, this one isn’t lodged among serveral sturdy limbs. Instead, it’s perched on what looks to be a five-foot stumpSo it’s actually a “stumphouse” rather than a treehouse, despite its almost 15-foot height.

With its elevated walkway and slides, and at a reported cost of $26,000, we’re surprised the owners didn’t spring for some artificial leafy branches – and maybe even a few Ewoks – to complete the tableau.

A few fake leafy branches, however, probably wouldn’t have been enough to smooth the feathers the stumphouse has ruffled among some of its neighbors.

As reported in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Support for Park Ridge treehouse led to fistfight, neighbors say,” March 1) and on last Tuesday (March 1) night’s WGN news, an altercation occurred between the stumphouse’s next-door neighbor, who posted a yard sign supporting the structure, and another neighbor whose critical review of the stumphouse was a one middlefinger up. The result: battery charges pending against the supportive neighbor.

One reason we have building and zoning codes is to provide some uniformity and predictability in the appearance and use of private properties in the community. Designed and administered properly, such codes smooth the rough edges and should, at least indirectly, reduce tensions between neighbors over how they use and maintain their property.

So when a structure provokes fisticuffs, it’s probably a good idea to take a closer look into how it got built in the first place. And when we checked the stumphouse documents posted on the City’s website we found some very curious things.

For starters, we found only one permit, No. B1401057 (issued May 29, 2014), having been issued for a “Deck/Deck Addition” valued at $2,400 and carrying a $156 permit fee. That sure doesn’t sound like a permit for a $26,000 stumphouse, so we dug a little deeper. And what we discovered is that about five months after that permit was issued, things started to take a turn for the strange.

According to an October 29, 2014 “Hi Joe” e-mail from the City’s then-Zoning Coordinator, Ed Cage, the permit’s “Deck/Deck Addition” description had mysteriously morphed into what Cage was calling a “deck/treehouse.” Curiously enough, Cage actually warned Solomon against seeking a “variance option” which, according to Cage, “is going to be tough because your neighbor will come to the meetings and it will not go smoothly.”

Can’t you almost see the Chicago-style winks and nods in Cage’s words?

Next, the City’s then-Building Administrator, Lonnie Spires, sent Solomon a November 24, 2014 e-mail in which Spires references the original “deck permit” as having been revised according to some unspecified “drawings.” But we could find no new or revised permit referencing a $26,000 “deck/treehouse” (or “deck/stumphouse”). Nor does it appear that the Solomons paid any additional permit fee for a stumphouse costing 10 times the declared cost of their original “Deck/Deck Addition.”

By March 2015, Cage had departed for a similar job with the City of Wood Dale, and Spires was gone to the Village of Plainfield by June 2015. As best as we can tell, their respective tenures with the City were less than three years. We also hear they were hand-picked hires of the City’s Community Preservation & Development Director, Jim Testin, although we do not yet have confirmation of that.

Irrespective of how they obtained their City employment, however, they were Testin’s subordinates. And if they screwed up, Testin most definitely should be held accountable for that.

Upon inheriting this odd situation, Cage’s successor, Howard Coppari, inspected the stumphouse before e-mailing Testin on July 6, 2015, to advise him that the Solomons’ “Deck/Deck Addition” violated Code because the “deck” was actually an “elevated walkway” more than 8 feet in the air and not attached to the house. He also advised Testin that the Solomons dropped Cage’s and Spires’ names “constantly when [he] was on their property.”

You know, the way some Chicago folks might drop their alderman’s or ward committeeman’s name in the course of dealing with some pesky inspector.

But apparently it didn’t work with Coppari, who sent an August 19, 2015 letter to the Solomons reiterating some of the things he told Testin, and calling the stumphouse “a shed” that was taller than the Code’s 12-foot height limit for sheds.

From everything we’ve been able to check, Coppari’s findings seem to be correct. Which calls into question Cage’s and Spires’ judgment, actions and motives.

The Solomons appealed from Coppari’s determination, and their appeal was addressed at the January 28, 2016 Zoning Board of Appeals hearing. At that hearing the Solomons – through their attorney – focused on the Cage and Spires e-mails, and on the verbal assurances they allegedly gave the Solomons about the structures.

Although the ZBA members empathized with the Solomons’ situation, they noted the Code violations and the gaps in the Solomons’ paperwork before choosing to uphold the Code requirements and Coppari’s decision.

Now the Solomons are saying they will take the City to court on the ZBA’s rejection of their appeal.

Sadly, this hasn’t been the first instance where the building department’s seeming incompetence and slipshod paperwork have caused rather than resolved problems.

For example, we wrote several posts about the residence at 322 Vine (e.g., 05.23.12) and how the then-Building Administrator, Steve Cutaia, since departed for parts unknown, appears to have botched the City’s inspection and certification process so badly – and reportedly gave such ill-advised verbal assurances to the owners – that the then-City attorney couldn’t even use Cutaia as a witness to prosecute the Code violations.

We can’t help but wonder if that would be the case if Cage and/or Spires were subpoenaed to testify in a court hearing regarding the stumphouse. Assuming, of course, that the Solomons actually follow through and sue the City.

And we also can’t help but wonder if the mere sight of the stumphouse would make Pete Nelson and his Treehouse Masters crew cringe.

To read or post comments, click on title.

One Year After Mayor Dave’s Death, City Remains On H.I.T.A. Course

03.04.16

Mayor Dave Schmidt unexpectedly died one year ago today.

We published his obituary in our post of March 10, 2015. In it we noted how he first ran for mayor as “a reluctant Cincinnatus with a simple campaign platform: ‘H.I.T.A.'”

Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability.

His steadfast adherence to those principles not only earned him easy re-election but, also, inspired people espousing those same principles to win aldermanic seats.

Not surprisingly, therefore, upon Mayor Dave’s death those aldermen came together without ego, ambition, or rancor and selected 7th Ward Ald. Marty Maloney as Acting Mayor. And to his credit, Maloney has held himself and the Council to those vert same H.I.T.A. principles.

Which is why Park Ridge City government remains THE most transparent and accountable local governmental body, by far. And why it continues to recover from the pre-Mayor Dave politics of special interests, obfuscation and denial.

That’s a big part of Mayor Dave’s legacy, to which every public official should aspire.

To read or post comments, click on title.