Public Watchdog.org

Not-Really-Secured Vestibules No Match For 12-Year Olds With Guns

07.21.17

We’ve written several posts about what a stupid and money-wasting idea the “secured vestibules” for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 schools are, including posts on 03.11.16, 03.29.16 and 04.04.16. The sad fact is that they are so stupid and ineffective that we took to calling them “not-really-secured” vestibules.

Which they are.

We also suggested that metal detectors and either police or security guards (off-duty police?) would be more effective and economical than those not-really-secured vestibules in dealing with any actual threats.

So we weren’t at all surprised to hear those not-really-secured vestibules talked up in response to the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the aftermath of the recent incident where one 12-year old Lincoln Middle School student, along with a 15-year old fellow knucklehead/delinquent, posted some kind of gun-related threat to Maine South summer school students on Snapchat.

It also came as no shock that D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz, her puppet Board president Tony Borrelli, and a few School Board members reacted to this incident as if they had just woken up in the middle of a minefield without a minesweeper.

When a parent of Washington and Lincoln school students showed up at last Monday (July 17) night’s School Board meeting and beefed about the four-day delay in the District’s notification of D-64 parents about the incident, then asked what plans were in place to prevent school shootings, Borrelli jumped at the opportunity to assure the woman and everyone else that the Administration has been so concerned about security that it is installing those not-really-secured vestibules – thereby “increasing the security atmosphere in all of our buildings to prevent these kinds of horrible events should they occur,” according to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Parents concerned after learning District 64 student was accused in Maine South threat,” July 18).

Note that bit of Orwellian Doublespeak: “[T]o prevent these kinds of horrible events should they occur.” [Emphasis added.]

President Borrelli, your Freudian slip is showing.

Making sport of Borrelli’s shortcomings as School Board president is not a fun assignment, but it’s something that needs to be done – if only as an object lesson in the kind of bad government we tend to get when we keep electing open-minded, non-judgmental, glad-handing “pleasers” who immediately “go native” and become witting or unwitting dupes of the bureaucrats we are paying quite handsomely to blow smoke up our kilts and mislead us while positioning themselves for their next job.

Can you say non-resident carpetbagger Laurie Heinz? We knew you could.

That’s why it’s so easy for Heinz to lead Borrelli and certain other Board members around by the nose, getting them to blow around $1 MILLION per school for these not-really-secured vestibules that are so worthless that…wait for it…they couldn’t have stopped either that 12-year old or his 15-year old partner had they shown up at any D-64 school with guns and ammo in their backpacks.

As we’ve pointed out many times before, the lack of metal detectors effectively gives students, parents, teachers, vendors, service people, etc. carte blanche to walk into any D-64 school “strapped,” “packing,” “heeled,” “heavy,” “Roscoed,” or any of the myriad other terms for walking around with a gun.

Nor will those vestibules stop those same people from bringing in knives, grenades, or ball bearing-laden suicide vests.

And for anybody hell-bent on shooting schoolkids, all they need do is drive by the playgrounds at recess, or the main entrances when school lets out and the schools themselves create target-rich environments.

So what’s the point of the not-really-secured vestibules?

Giving the Board and the administrators an excuse for spending millions of taxpayer dollars to create a façade of top-shelf security that merely conceals the vulnerability.

Not unlike their spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars creating a façade of top-shelf educational quality.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Impact Fees” Just More Snake Oil For The Masses

07.18.17

We rarely agree with anything Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board member Tom Sotos says or does when it comes to the D-64 schools. But when “Tilted Kilt” Tommy gets something right – or even half-right – it deserves some recognition.

As reported in a current Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Study to address proposed Park Ridge development’s impact on District 64,” 07.11.17), during a recent D-64 Board discussion of the City of Park Ridge’s possible assessment of “impact fees” on proposed new residential development on the current Mr. K’s site on Higgins just east of Dee, Sotos correctly observed that such fees aren’t “going to solve our problems” of more residences being constructed and burdening the schools with students who cost far more to educate than whatever taxes are paid on their parents’ residences.

Where Sotos missed the boat, however, was with his observation that “[i]f we assess an impact fee on the 31 units considered for the Mr. K site, that impact fee won’t be enough to help us potentially work around our particular problem if all 31 units end up having children in them.”

He’s right, but in the same way that getting the right answer on a math problem is undermined when you have to show your work and, in so doing, you demonstrate that you really don’t understand the applicable math concept.

That’s because the taxes on that 31-unit development can’t even cover the cost of 16 students attending D-64 schools, much less the cost of 31 school kids.

Let’s assume, just for Schlitz and Googles, that each of those 31 residences will have total RE tax bills of $20,000 per year – an unrealistically high assumption, for sure, because that would make them some of the highest-taxed residential real estate in the City. But it makes the math a little easier.

Of those $20K tax bills, roughly $8K per residence would go to D-64 each year. But the cost-per-student in D-64 is around $16K annually, so do the math: 31 units @ $8K/unit of RE taxes = $248,000 of revenue to D-64. Divide that by $16K per student and the whole development starts swimming in red ink if only 16 of the 31 units have just one student living in them.

Even if the developer were forced to pay an $8,000 per unit “impact fee,” the resulting revenue would barely cover the cost of 16 school kids.

And only for one year!

Add any more D-64 school kids above that 16 threshold and the District’s taxpayers will no longer be swimming in red ink, they’ll be drowning in the stuff.

So why is the D-64 Board even discussing such impact fees?

Ignorance and political posturing.

It seems and sounds like many/most of the D-64 Board members and Staff don’t really understand impact fees and how, historically, they have been used almost exclusively to address infrastructure problems anticipated from new development; e.g., the cost of sewer and water service improvements needed to handle increased demands from the new development, or the widening of nearby streets to add turn lanes and traffic lights for access and traffic flow, etc. Because that kind of infrastructure has predictable costs and lengthy useful lives, a municipality can calculate a one-time impact fee that puts the new development on the same financial footing – cost wise – as more established neighboring areas, and at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

Not so with the highly variable and annually recurring expenses of educating elementary school kids.

And that doesn’t even address the question of whether it would be legal for the City to impose impact fees on developers in order to obtain City approval of their developments, but then turn those impact fees over to D-64 or D-207.

As for political posturing, some of our local politicians are realizing that merely sounding fiscally conservative can fool many Park Ridge residents who desperately want to believe that their elected representatives truly are looking out for the interests of the taxpayers as much as (or more than) for the interests of the tax users. Spouting anything that sounds like it might save those taxpayers money, therefore, becomes a valuable political tool, especially for those politicians who don’t believe one word of their spiel but don’t have the honesty and integrity to publicly admit that they are big-government tax/borrow/spenders.

That makes a term like “impact fees” a wonderful substitute for real knowledge, understanding and principles.

So expect to hear the shallow-thinkers toss that term around for at least a little while longer, if only to avoid addressing the much more difficult problem of figuring out whether, and how, Park Ridge draws the line on allowing more housing for more residents who will drain the taxpayers’ pocketbooks with more and more kids using increasingly expensive public education.

And that’s irrespective of how good or mediocre the quality of that education might actually be.

To read or post comments, click on title.

New Park Board Members Bid Adieu To Freebies (Updated)

07.07.17

Every so often one of our units of local government does something that is unequivocally good and right.

Today that accolade goes to the Park Ridge Park District for its June 15 vote to eliminate free use of the Park District’s facilities and programming by our elected District officials.

What a difference a change in Board membership makes!

Back at the Park Board’s November 19, 2015 meeting, Commissioner Mel Thillens was the only Board member in attendance (Commissioners Biagi and Phillips were absent) to vote against an amendment to the District’s Policy 3.03 – somewhat deceptively titled “Opportunities for Oversight of Park District Programs and Facilities” – that slightly modified, but nevertheless continued, the District’s policy of letting Commissioners use District facilities and programs free of charge.

Those kinds of benefits are known as perquisites, or “perks”: a privilege, gain, or profit incidental to the holding of office.

They very well also may be unlawful “compensation” because the Illinois Park District Code prohibits compensation of Park District commissioners.

But that didn’t stop then-Board member Joan Bende and Richard Brandt, along with still-Board members Cindy Grau and Jim O’Brien (Rick Biagi and Jim Phillips absent), to retain those perks back in November 2015. Only Mel Thillens voted “no” that night, stating (according to that meeting’s minutes) that “he believes the amount of free stuff Commissioners receive should be limited.”

Not a Lincolnesque statement, to be sure, but accurate nonetheless.

The leader of this successful effort to ban Commissioner freebies appears to have been new Board member Robert Leach, who was concerned about the perks being prohibited “compensation.” He was joined in his repeal vote by fellow Board newbies Jim Janak, Jim O’Donnell and Harmony Harrington (all of whom we endorsed in April) agreed, joined by veterans Thillens and O’Brien, the latter of whom apparently finally found religion.

Or maybe he just didn’t want to be the only dissenter, given that freebie-lover Cindy Grau was absent.

Perks had been a mainstay of the Park District for decades, interrupted only when a Park Board majority – of which this blog’ s editor was a member – voted to discontinue them in the late 1990s, before a new Board majority reinstated them.

Freebie-loving Commissioners always have argued that free memberships and programs enable them to better observe and evaluate the facilities and programs. Not surprisingly, rarely if ever did any of the Commissioners partaking of those freebies report back to the Board or Staff on the facilities and programs they were using.

And since they weren’t paying for the perks, their ability to do any cost-benefit analyses was totally compromised.

The elimination of the perks was termed “a great idea” by veteran Park District attorney Thomas Hoffman – although he refused to opine on their legality, according to an article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District board ends free classes, memberships for elected commissioners,” June 27).

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Association of Park Districts (“IAPD”) – a shameless self-promoting, fluff-and-stroke organization that serves as a quasi-union and lobbying arm for career park district bureaucrats statewide – is quoted in the H-A story as justifying such perks as being “within the discretion of these elected boards.” Of course, the IAPD has never seen a taxpayer dollar it didn’t like or couldn’t find a way for its members to spend, so its attempt to justify perks of any and all stripes was to be expected.

But the good news is that we appear to have four new Park Board members – a majority – who may actually represent the taxpayers every bit as much as, if not more than, the tax spenders and tax consumers.

In the State of Corruption and profligacy that is Illinois this new jerk-the-perks policy, led by the newest Board members, is a good start.

Updated 07.14.17.  Glad to see the Chicago Tribune editorial board agrees: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-park-ridge-perks-free-edit-0713-jm-20170712-story.html

Another group of freeloaders bites the dust.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Fourth Of July 2017: Never Take Freedom For Granted

07.04.17

It has been 241 years since the Continental Congress ratified the revolutionary words of the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson – ably assisted by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

At that time, “all men are created equal…[and] endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…among [which] are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” was both novel and radical. So was declaring independence from a monarchy that commanded one of the world’s largest armies and its pre-eminent navy.

But perhaps the most courageous aspect of the Declaration was its signers’ mutual pledge of “[their] Lives, [their] Fortunes, and [their] sacred Honor.”

They knew that they were serving a purpose well beyond themselves, beyond their families, their friends, their businesses, and any provincial special interests – a purpose that defined them. Paradoxically, even for those who knew slavery firsthand (including the many who actually owned slaves), “liberty” was not some abstract concept.

They never took freedom for granted, Which is why they were so concerned about government power.

They understood, far better than most of us do today, that once you arm imperfect, fallible public officials with the power to protect you, those same imperfect, fallible officials can just as easily oppress you. See, e.g., James Madison’s warnings in Federalist No. 10: “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.’

The Founders understood that because they themselves were imperfect, fallible individuals.

And because freedom and limitations on government power were so important to them, they often viewed their rivals as fundamental threats to the emerging nation.

Consequently, President Trump’s tweets had nothing on the Founders’ opinions of their opponents.

For example, Hamilton compared Jefferson and his followers to the French revolutionary extremists of the Jacobin Club. Adams described Hamilton as “[t]hat bastard brat of a Scottish peddler!” and suggested that Hamilton’s ambitions “all arose from a superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off!”

Crude and petty? Of course.

But they were the products of the deepest concerns about, and honest passions for, the future of our new Republic by giants like Thomas Paine, who observed that “[h]e who dares not offend cannot be honest”; and George Washington, who saw that government “is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.”

Unfortunately, those noble concerns and passions for the future of our Republic have been replaced by today’s politicians’ craven obsessions with being re-elected and retaining their membership in what has come to be known – with appropriate disgust – as the “political class” that operates with equivalent cowardice and duplicity in Washington as in Springfield.

On this Independence Day we need to realize that true patriotism requires more than mere flag waving. It requires our continuing dedication to this country’s founding principles and the courage to pledge our own “Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” in furtherance of those principles.

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Parking Study A Good Start, But…

06.26.17

Ever since Park Ridge’s Uptown area was reborn a few years ago as a dining and drinking mecca, enough folks have complained about a lack of parking that it spurred the Park Ridge City Council to engage the firm of Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc. (“GHA”) to perform a parking study.

The Uptown Parking Study dated June 8, 2017 makes several noteworthy points, not the least of which is that “the Uptown area has a sufficient amount of parking” (Report, page 2) – even if any difficulty in finding parking is perceived by some residents as a shortage. GHA explains the perceived shortage as “a lack of balance in parking supply at primary locations or destinations” (Report, page 18).

Tell that to our local merchants, especially those who need parking to accommodate both their customers and their employees.

One potential problem identified by the consultants is that Uptown parkers have become used to free and cheap parking. Commuters can park all day in the 125-space Summit “lot” along the METRA tracks (from Euclid down past St. Paul of the Cross) for a mere $1.50, or in the 58-space Prairie Ave. lot for a mere $2.00. Based on an average of 21 work days per month, that’s a paltry $31.50 and $42.00 per month, respectively.

“Prime” commuter parking can be found in the 38-space triangle lot just west of the Uptown METRA station. Those permits cost $350 per 6 months, or $2.70/workday – a slight convenience premium based on its proximity to the METRA station.

Even the 12-hour meters on the south side of Summit between Prospect and Euclid are only $6 for 12 hours – although with the current meters you’ll have to suffer the inconvenience of feeding them 24 quarters.

The Council needs to face the basic fact that commuter parking, although a necessity for commuters, is an economic drain on Uptown: The parking spaces taken up by commuters from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. produce no other direct or indirect parking revenue, or indirectly help generate sales tax revenue from parkers who presumably are purchasers of products or services.

Should commuters be charged more than $1.50 or $2.00 per day? Given the perceived shortage of Uptown parking – and the 10-12 hour occupancy of spaces – just the basic concept of supply and demand would dictate “yes.” And based on the Summit meters, the appropriate amount would appear to be at least $6 per day.

Another noteworthy conclusion is that “[a]t this point GHA does not recommend a parking garage be constructed anywhere within the Uptown study area” (Report, page 19), either on the City lot at Summit and Euclid or on the Park Ridge Library lot. GHA believes such a garage would cost too much and be hard-pressed to pay for itself, at least if constructed and owned by the City.

That might be the case IF the current fee structure for commuter parking remains in place. At $2 per day for 252 workdays per year, a 125-space parking structure – that could basically replace the Summit 125-space Summit lot – would generate $63,000 per year of revenue even with full occupancy. At that rate, paying off a $2 million parking structure would take 32 years without even factoring in any debt service or maintenance!

Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard about any private developer who is chomping at the bit to build a parking deck.

Instead of a parking deck, GHA suggests that the City “repurpose” 20 spaces in the Library lot and treat them the same as the triangle lot parking, with 6-month permits.

Because the Library closes at 5:00 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, its 151 spaces now become available for patrons of the Pickwick Theater and the other Uptown businesses on what would appear to be their 3 busiest evenings.

The Summit lot spaces, serving primarily commuters Monday through Friday, also tend to become available by 5:00 p.m. most week nights.

Although we tend to agree with GHA’s findings that there is not a true “shortage” of parking in the Uptown area, their study seems to equate a $1.50/day parking space down by St. Paul of the Cross with a $1.50/day space at Euclid. That might be the case for an all-day commuter, but we doubt that somebody looking to buy a box of Fannie May or a Hallmark birthday card would agree. And providing 8-10 hour parking for employees of Uptown businesses is a problem the GHA report appears to have given short shrift.

At the end of the day, however, it looks like the City Council and Uptown businesses will need to find more innovative ways of balancing commuter and customer parking if Uptown is going to continue to thrive and grow as a shopping and entertainment destination for locals and visitors alike.

The GHA parking study is a good start, but it’s nowhere close to the final word.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Council Right To Opt-Out Of Crook County Minimum Wage Hike

06.09.17

Kudos to newly-minted 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening for some recent spot-on observations about the City of Park Ridge opting out of Crook County’s graduated minimum wage increase from Illinois’ current $8.25/hour ($1/hour above the federal version) to $13/hour by July 2020.

“The market will decide what we need to pay people,” she opined, adding: “Anything Cook County wants, I usually don’t want.”

“Amen!” to both sentiments.

Don’t get us wrong: A minimum wage is a good thing to the extent it reduces the opportunities for outright worker exploitation, especially of the lower-wage workers whom it tends to affect most strongly. On the other hand, it’s an arbitrary, non-market based number that is much more of a temporary palliative than a cure for the underlying problem of lower wages for lower-skilled (or lower-risk) work.

Notwithstanding some hyperbolic claims by proponents, the minimum wage was not designed to enable the minimum-wage worker to raise a family of four, or to become a homeowner instead of a renter. It was designed to provide a wage above a welfare-level subsistence for the person earning it and perhaps one “dependent” – back in that day, often/usually a stay-at-home wife.

Not surprisingly, considering that this initiative was produced by the head-scratchers comprising the Crook County Board, that $13/hour, 2020 target rate would provide a minimum-wage employee working 40 hours per week for 50 weeks a year with $26,000 – or roughly the poverty threshold for a family of four in today’s dollars, without taking into account any inflation over the next 3 years before that full $13 wage is achieved.

Three nights ago (June 5) the Council voted unanimously in favor of opting out of this latest Crook County attempt at selling activity as achievement. Under City procedures, however, a second vote is needed to pass the opt-out ordinance, which will be taken at the Council’s June 19 meeting.

Although last Monday night’s vote was unanimous, Alds. John Moran (1st) and Marc Mazzuca (6th) explained their votes, in part, by arguing that a minimum wage standard is best left to the state or federal government.

Exactly right.

Crook County’s intrusion into minimum wage policy reminds us of Evanston’s 1985 enactment of an ordinance declaring Evanston a “nuclear-free zone,” ostensibly to prohibit Northwestern University professors from conducting research that might be used in the development of nuclear weapons. The ordinance was unenforceable, but that’s Evanston for you.

Should our City Council complete its opt-out at its June 19th meeting, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, that will have on Park Ridge’s economy. Given Park Ridge’s borders with Chicago and Des Plaines, one of the suburbs that has chosen not to opt-out of Crook County’s latest sideshow. Will Park Ridge suddenly become a haven for small businesses, or for cheaper goods/services, because of a lower wage for low-end workers?

We doubt it.

But we think the opt-out is a win for folks who are tired of further intrusions from a unit of local government that has been mismanaged for decades and shows no signs of improving.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Time For City Council To Consider Population Issues

06.02.17

How many residents should Park Ridge have?

We don’t know.

But the recent proposed 34-townhouse development for the Mr. K’s property has caused us to once again consider that question. And we think the Park Ridge City Council should do likewise – sooner rather than later, given how regularly the issue pops up, directly and indirectly, in the context of re-zoning or zoning variances for new developments.

New 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening apparently is thinking about this. So are two of Park Ridge’s zoning and land use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan.

All of them cited one of the most significant reasons why the size – and demographics – of Park Ridge’s population is important: More school-aged children mean more students receiving expensive Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207 educations that will end up being paid primarily by the majority of taxpayers whose kids aren’t getting those expensive public educations, including some of whom are also paying out-of-pocket for private/parochial educations.

That situation already is producing some problematic responses.

From talking to a few local RE brokers, we’re hearing that empty nesters are downsizing sooner than they used to, or are moving out of Park Ridge entirely and heading to lower-taxed communities. And in most instances, the homes they are moving out of are being purchased by young families with multiple school-aged kids – and the prospect of more on the way.

The math is simple, albeit a bit rough because of all the variables that need to be taken into consideration. So to make it a bit easier, we’ll use a residence with a $15,000 RE tax bill as our example.

Almost $6,000 of that $15,000 tax bill goes to D-64, while D-207 gets around $5,000. The City of Park Ridge gets a meager $1,700 and the Park District even less.

So with D-64 per-pupil costs closing in on – if not already at – $16,000, our sample residence creates a $10,000 deficit  if only one kid from that residence attends a D-64 school. If two attend that deficit grows to $26,000 and likely crests at $42,000 for those homes where three kids are in grades K-8.

Which means that it takes 7 empty nests being taxed at that same $15,000 rate to subsidize the educational costs of just that one 3-student residence.

Or looking at it another way: If each of D-64’s roughly 4,500 kids were dispersed as tax-optimally as possible, each of them would reside in one of 4,500 individual homes, each of which would be paying $6,000 in taxes to D-64 while drawing out $16,000 in education, producing $10,000-per-home deficits totaling $45 MILLION overall. And that $45 MILLION deficit would have to be absorbed by the other 9,500 of the roughly 14,000 Park Ridge residences, at an average cost of roughly $4,700 per residence per year.

Ouch!

Yes, we know: These calculations aren’t adjusted for variables like the contributions of commercial taxpayers, or the fact that D-64 also takes in some areas outside of Park Ridge proper, etc. That’s why we labeled them “rough.” But these calculations also aren’t adjusted to reflect the reality – as we understand it – that more Park Ridge residences have RE bills below $15,000 than above; and that the students are not distributed in that tax-optimal manner.

Meanwhile, according to the “Illinois-At-A-Glance Report Card” for the 2015-16 school year, the D-64 per-pupil cost of $15,613 was $2,600 more than Glenview D-34 ($13,013); $5,000 more than Mt. Prospect D-57 ($10,663); $3,000 more than Arlington Hts. D-25 ($12,610); $5,000 more than Western Springs D-101 ($10,602); and $800 more than Wilmette D-39 ($14,804).

And according to that same source, the average D-64 teacher salary (“for teachers over the past 5 years… calculated by using the sum of all teachers’ salaries divided by the number of FTE teachers.”) was $85,970, while Glenview D-34’s was $61,207; Mt. Prospect D-57’s was $57,996; Arlington Hts. D-25 was $72,962; Western Springs D-101’s was $60,417; and Wilmette D-39’s was $76,425.

Needless to say, D-64’s average teacher salary accounts for a significant part of D-64’s higher costs.

Hence our, and many of our readers’, concern when facially-legitimate third-party ratings, rankings or other evaluations show our schools performing below many of its competitors.

It’s one thing to pay less and get less, but quite another to pay more and get less.

That’s why we think it’s time for the City Council to start a public debate about the further proliferation of multi-family residential, especially through up-zoning and variances, that could – because of its impact on our schools – adversely affect the value of Park Ridge property in ways that have the potential for becoming more significant than flooding and jet noise now are.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Mr. K’s Should Not Get A Special-K Deal

05.24.17

For years various developers reportedly have sought to acquire the Mr. K’s Garden and Material Center at 1440 Higgins for commercial development. And for years the owner apparently has said “no.” Or his asking price was too high to make development feasible.

But suddenly a developer wants to stick 34 townhouses on that 2.19-acre parcel and the owner sounds willing to say “yes” – even though the site is zoned “B-2 Commercial” and the City of Park Ridge’s “Higgins Road Corridor Plan” (the”Plan”) identifies that site as one of the City’s last prime office/commercial properties.

At least a couple of the members of the City’s Planning & Zoning Commission (“P&Z”) appear to be taking the site’s B-2 zoning and Plan status seriously. According to a recent article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Developer shares plan for townhouses on site of Park Ridge landscaping business,” May 14), Commissioners John Bennett and Jim Argionis criticized the idea of multi-family residential on that site – with Bennett suggesting a low-rise hotel might be a worthwhile goal and Argionis saying that the space “screams commercial.”

Indeed it does.

And two of Park Ridge’s unofficial zoning and land-use mavens, Pat Livensparger and Missy Langan, warned of the effect of more multi-family residential on Park Ridge schools, a concern echoed by new 3d Ward Ald. Gail Wilkening.

Back in our 09.12.13 post about the Trammel Crow development just east of Whole Foods, we pointed out how almost every multi-family residential project in Park Ridge is an overall money-loser for Park Ridge taxpayers IF they house children who will be attending our public schools. Just one public school student per residence eats up double or even triple that portion of the average RE tax bill paid to either Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 or Maine Twp. High School District 207.

Trammel Crow persuaded the City to permit that 116-unit rental project on the basis that it was designed for individuals and younger couples, not people with school-aged children. And if we recall correctly, Trammel Crow’s project was a “planned development” that did not require re-zoning, just some density relief which it obtained by offering not only to retain all of its own run-off water but, also, to double the size of the City’s adjacent water detention basin.

We have not heard whether the actual demographics of that project have matched the no-schoolkids sales pitch, although we would expect that somebody at D-64 or D-207 would have said something by now if they didn’t.

But for the past 20 years or so, residential development has been the lowest-hanging fruit in Park Ridge. In part, that’s because the risk to developers of residential is minimal and short-term – as opposed to the greater, more long-term risk of commercial development.

And the cash-strapped City has too often been lured by the Sirens’ song of more property tax revenue coming from residential developers, and also from the City’s real estate brokerage community that understands how there will be far more profit-making opportunities from 34 townhouses – that may flip owners every 5-10 years – than in 1 or 2 commercial/office structures that may flip every 10-20 years, if that.

In addition to the re-zoning needed for the Mr. K’s townhouses, the H-A reports that the project would require a 3-townhouse variance from the City’s density requirement, a height variance, and variances for front and rear yard setbacks. In other words, the developer wants to create a sardine-can subdivision and needs a lot of City help to pack the can.

The main reason for shoehorning that many townhouses onto that site? “The cost of the site is very high,” said the project’s architect, Guido Neri.

Bingo! Mr. K’s owners want to cash out at a top-shelf price, and the developers want to maximize their profits.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

But the City, a/k/a the taxpayers, don’t owe Mr. K’s owner(s) or any developer a zoning change, a basket of variances, or windfall profits – especially if it means losing one of the last significant commercial parcels in Park Ridge. That neighborhood has accommodated Mr. K’s for decades, and it can continue to do so while the owner decides whether a lower sales price might entice some commercial development instead of simply pandering to the low-hanging residential fruit pickers.

After all, a lower sales price usually beats no sale at all. And once that commercial site is lost to residential development, it’s gone for good.

Meanwhile, we have yet to hear a persuasive, or even rational, elevator-pitch for adding to Park Ridge’s population, especially if it includes more public school students and further exacerbates the already-onerous tax burdens from D-64 and D-207.

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“College Ready”? Don’t Bet On It

05.19.17

We got a few constructive criticisms about our previous post that caused us to look a little more closely at – and drill down a little more deeply into – those U.S. News & World high school rankings, which this year had Maine East soaring from 63d place to 37th place among Illinois high schools while Maine South plummeted from 45th to out-of-the-money.

A couple of commenters faulted our suggestion that South’s 44.6 College Readiness Index (“CRI”) score indicated that the Maine Twp. High School District 207 administration was “incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of ‘college readiness’.”

And those commenters are correct.

The CRI is not the percentage of students in a given school who are “college ready.” Rather, it’s a number that reflects how many students take Advanced Placement (“AP”) tests and how many “pass” by scoring at least a “3” out of “5” possible points.

As one of our commenters speculated, South may have been penalized because not as many of its students took as many AP exams as other schools’ students.

Or maybe South students just didn’t pass as many of the AP exams they did take.

But South didn’t fall out of the rankings because of its CRI, which was higher than East’s and a number of the other schools ranked a head of it.

South fell out of the rankings because it could not get past Step 1 in the ranking process: A determination of whether its students “were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state” – based on its percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

According to U.S. News data, 46% of Maine East students are considered “economically disadvantaged, while a mere 7% of Maine South students fit that description.

So the bottom line of South’s rather dismal ranking performance is that it under-performed its expectations for a school with such affluent students.

That under-performance was totally side-stepped by D-207 Supt. Ken Wallace, who keeps on getting raises for reasons we can’t begin to understand. As we noted in our 05.08.17 post, he basically blamed PARCC testing, Park Ridge’s lack of diversity, and the U.S. News rating system.

If D-207’s or D-64’s rankings, or their objective performances on standardized tests, don’t match up with those for the schools in Glenview, Northbrook and all those other communities that compete with Park Ridge for highly-educated, high-income transplants from Chicagoland or out of state, you can count on Wallace and D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz to come up with more alibis and excuses than you can count…using both your fingers and your toes.

Almost all of them boil down to: We’re better than they say we are. And the standards they use to say we aren’t are fatally flawed.

In that vein we encourage you to read an article in today’s Chicago Tribune (“Tribune analysis: College prep courses not preparing kids for college”, May 19), which raises yet another warning flag about Maine South’s 44.6 CRI: That South’s “general” curriculum may be under-performing in preparing South’s students for college.

That Tribune story points out how the general curriculums in too many Illinois high schools are not rigorous enough – absent “honors” and AP classes – to get their students college-ready. So if South’s CRI is lower because of a lack of AP course/test takers and AP test passers, a less-than-rigorous general curriculum may be part of the problem.

Is it?

We don’t know. Getting a handle on the quality of public education in this country is like trying to catch a greased pig, squealing (by administrators, teachers, teachers’ unions and politicians) included.

But one thing is clear: When it comes to local public school education, it’s always sunny in Park Ridge. Our schools are great…just ask all our highly-paid educators. And according to them, anyone or anything that suggests otherwise lacks credibility, or is using faulty data, or is manufacturing fake news.

Will we ever have a school superintendent or school board member who actually accepts accountability for the continuing under-performance of our schools occurring on their watch?

And will the Park Ridge sheeple who have every right to demand more, and better, for the children of this community – because they already are paying for much more, and much better – ever stop mindlessly buying the propaganda churned out by the likes of D-64 Propaganda Minister Bernadette Tramm and her D-207 counterpart, David Beery, presumably at the direction of Heinz and Wallace?

The folks who run D-207 and D-64 have bet heavily on “No.”

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Maine East Up, Maine South MIA In Latest U.S. News Rankings

05.08.17

A year ago the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings of Illinois high schools had Maine South at 45th, Maine East at 63rd, and Maine West MIA. In our 4.22.16 post we bemoaned the fact that Maine South’s 45th place ranking was down 16 places from 2012, and that the “college readiness” rating was an unimpressive 40.8%.

But that was then, this is now. But once again we now have good news and bad news.

First, the good news: Maine East leaped from 63rd place to 37th!

Now the bad: Maine South fell out of the rankings entirely – meaning it didn’t even come in among the top 1oo.

According to the article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Maine East ranks 37th in state on new ‘Best Schools’ list,” May 2), U.S. News ranks schools based on: (a) reading and math results on high school proficiency tests; (b) whether “disadvantaged” student groups — identified as black, Hispanic and low-income — “performed at or better than the state average for the least-advantaged students; (c) graduation rates; and (d) how the schools prepare students for college-level work using data from Advanced Placement exams.

Maine Twp. High School District 207 Supt. Ken Wallace, not surprisingly, offered explanations that don’t seem internally consistent.

According to the H-A article, Wallace blames “flawed” state PARCC testing, unequal comparisons between schools, and Maine South’s failure to meet the performance threshold for black, Hispanic and low-income students. He also claimed that while District 207 gave the PARCC math and language arts exams to its freshman, other districts tested older students; and other districts may have selectively tested only their better students.

That might explain South’s plummet, but how does that explain East’s simultaneous rise?

We don’t know but, not surprisingly, Wallace’s explanation didn’t wash with Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. As reported by the H-A, Morse claimed the test score comparisons across schools “are generally reliable” and that “[t]o the extent that any comparisons are unfair, in this particular case, Maine South and Maine West would have both been advantaged by the fact that they tested their students in ELA I, the easier ELA assessment.”

Morse went on to explain that because South and West didn’t pass step one of the U.S. News methodology because their performance was no better than might be expected, “given their proportion of students identified as economically disadvantaged.”

Wallace remained defiant, claiming that once D-207 schools start using the SAT the comparisons with other schools will be “apples to apples.”

Let’s hope so.

Wallace was quick to point out that typically high performers like Barrington, Deerfield and Highland Park high schools also didn’t make the rankings cut, and that the “metrics that matter the most is [sic] really the CRI [College Readiness Index],” But South’s CRI – according to U.S. News – is a disappointing 44.6, although up almost 4 points from last year.

Compare that to not only the three top suburban schools — Stevenson (71.6), Hinsdale Central (62.8) and Prospect (61.5) – but also to less prestigious schools like Hersey (58.9), Buffalo Grove (52.9) and York (50.8).

Even the three also-unranked schools that Wallace noted did better than South: Barrington’s CRI was 46.8, Deerfield’s was 58.6 and Highland Park’s was 58.3. Even our out-of-the-money neighbor to the north, Glenbrook South, clocked in with a 55.6.

What does all of this mean?

We don’t know, because we’re not willing or able to figure out how many U.S. News testing metrics – or Supt. Wallace’s metrics, for that matter – can dance on the head of a pin.

But one thing we are pretty sure of is that when parents from the City of Chicago or outside the Chicago area are looking at relocating to suburbs with the highest-quality schools, Park Ridge takes a big hit – justified or not – when its flagship high school gets beaten out by so many schools from other communities where the taxes are so much lower, especially when 70% of our property tax bills are attributed to our local public schools.

And irrespective of how Maine South compares to schools in those other north, northwest and west suburbs, we didn’t hear Wallace trying to justify South’s 44.6 CRI number.

Think about that for a minute: An affluent suburb like Park Ridge, taxing and spending near the top of the pack (at approx. $18,000 per student per year), appears incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of “college readiness.” And all we get from Wallace and the D-207 School Board is…crickets.

Are those kids arriving at South, primarily from D-64 – itself among the highest-priced elementary districts – under-prepared for high school? If so, it’s time for Wallace and the folks at South to say so. Then let Supt. Laurie Heinz, her heretofore puppet school board members, and her administrators defend their stewardship of their schools’ students.

If not, then it’s time to start questioning the stewardship of Wallace, his puppet school board members, and his administrators.

We’ve had more than enough of what appears to be a conspiracy of mutual silence and back-scratching by the folks running both D-64 and D-207.

Meanwhile, it’s well past time the Illinois State Board of Education started producing its own official “apples-to-apples” comparisons of Illinois schools – both elementary and secondary – rather than leaving the task to the likes of U.S. News, Schooldigger, et al.

Because, like it or not, comparative school shopping and community shopping is here to stay – especially when those schools consume a whopping 70% of a community’s hefty property tax bill.

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