The main reason we have boards of elected officials overseeing all those paid-to-play bureaucrats who operate our various local governmental bodies on a day-to-day basis is to ensure that the taxpayers who pay the bills are getting fair value for their money.
One of the reasons we have been highly critical of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is because it keeps on hammering the taxpayers with ever-escalating teacher and administrator pay, and ever-escalating per-pupil costs, without any commensurate increase in student performance as measured by those standardized tests our teachers and administrators love to hate.
Worse yet, D-64 is the principal “feeder” school system for Maine South, which has seen its academic ranking drop from the top-5 around 1990 to the mid-20s – suggesting that D-64’s under-performance may be contributing to Maine South’s decline, despite the latter’s own escalating teacher, administrator and per-pupil costs.
Against that backdrop comes last week’s flip-flop decision by the D-64 Board to have the taxpayers pick up the tab for $500,000 of Chromebooks for its middle school (grades 6-8) students. That half-million is in addition to the cost of Chromebooks and other tech hardware for grades K-5 added to the taxpayers’ tab in April in connection with Board approval of the District’s “1:1 Technology Initiative.”
According to the District’s announcement on its website, this Chromebook-fueled initiative is “a further investment in student learning.” But don’t expect the Board to identify any measurable return on investment (“ROI”) from this latest $500,000 tech buy. D-64 has a long history of disdain for objective performance measurements, so this Board wasn’t about to require measurable ROIs for which its members, the administrators, and/or the teachers might be held accountable.
Shifting this $500,000 expense from middle school parents to the taxpayers at large ostensibly was based on the July 14, 2014 Updated Recommendation of D-64’s new Director of Innovation & Instructional Technology, Mary Jane Warden. Like almost everything that comes out of D-64 these days, however, it reads like it was quarried, cut, polished and set by the District’s minister of disinformation, Bernadette Tramm: phrases like “an exciting 21st Century Learning Plan” and a “21st century learning ecosystem” with “appropriate controls [on Chromebook use] in order to establish classroom and cultural expectations” are classic Tramm-a-ganda.
“Learning ecosystem”? “Cultural expectations”? C’mon!
Back on April 28th the Board approved the 1:1 Learning Initiative by a one-vote majority: Heyde, Zimmerman, Lee and Cameron v. Borrelli, Paterno and Collins. For reasons that appear to have been arbitrary and purely political rather than policy-based, however, that resolution included “cost-sharing” that hit the taxpayers for the cost of the Grades K-5 devices but had middle school parents paying for their kids’ Chromebooks. And with typical D-64 secrecy the relevant portion of those meeting minutes discloses nothing – NADA – about either the total cost of the new devices or the costs to the taxpayers and parents, respectively.
The “political” nature of that arbitrary April baby-splitting exercise, however, was confirmed with last Monday’s do-over vote, which demonstrates how D-64 blithely increases spending just because it has the money to do so.
In this case, a mid-year budget review by the District’s $200,000/year wonder girl, business manager Rebecca Allard, revealed that the year-end deficit she had projected had somehow morphed into a surplus of $1.7 million. Given the spend-and-spend-some-more mindset at D-64, the effect of that kind of revelation was tantamount to a drunk stumbling out of a tavern with an empty wallet, only to discover a crumpled hundred in his coat pocket.
So with that newly-found $1.7 million burning a hole in their pockets, the Board members promptly shifted the responsibilty for that $500,000 of middle school Chromebooks from the parents to the taxpayers by a 5-1 vote (Zimmerman absent).
Dan Collins cast the only “no” vote and was the only Board member who expressed any concern about the taxpayers funding what effectively are $322-per-Chromebook gifts to middle school parents. Notably, Collins also was the only Board member to identify himself as the parent of kids in D-64. So his “no” votes back in April and last week not only could be viewed as pro-taxpayer but also were against his own economic self-interest, to the tune of $644 worth of Chromebooks for his two kids.
Collins’ disclosure and his “no” votes got us thinking about the other Board members who have children in D-64 schools, specifically whether 5 of them may have had conflicts of interest when they voted last Monday to shift Chromebook costs from parents to the taxpayers – and maybe also back in April when 4 of them voted to place the costs of the Grades K-5 computing devices on the taxpayers instead of the parents.
Shouldn’t those Board members with children in the District’s schools have abstained from voting in favor of something that would directly benefit them economically? Or, at the very least, shouldn’t Board members announce before voting that they have children in the District’s schools and will directly benefit financially by how they cast their votes? Isn’t that what the taxpayers deserve from their elected officials?
Didn’t these Board members comprehend the possibility of such conflicts of economic interest, or is it that they just didn’t care?
It can’t be that they considered $322 per Chromebook such a nominal amount as to be irrelevant, especially with Borrelli quoted in a Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article as having “felt the addition of the fee of the computer on top of student fees was going to be a burden for some folks.” (“District 64 to pay for student Chromebooks,” July 18) Unfortunately, he produced no data or other evidence to prove that what he “felt” was actually true and not just misplaced empathy for the greedy impersonating the needy.
If there are parents who truly can’t afford to buy Chromebooks for their middle school kids, why not let them petition the District for financial assistance and demonstrate the legitimacy of their hardship claims with sworn financial statements and signed income tax returns? Or let the Elementary Learning Foundation (“ELF”) help out?
But, as best as we can tell, means-testing wasn’t even discussed - perhaps because these Board members are afraid of the vocal minority who demand free Chromebooks because the $13,000+ per kid worth of education they’re already getting for the $2-3-4-5,000 they pay in property taxes to D-64 just isn’t a good enough ROI for them. And maybe because these Board members are simply dismissive of the battered and beleaguered taxpayers for whom THEY are supposed to be looking out.
Or have these Board members simply become so financially jaded that they view $500,000 as just another slice off a cut loaf that won’t be missed?
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