Cop Shop “Improvements” Down, Not Out


Over a year and one-half ago the Police Chief’s Advisory Task Force (the “PCATF”), in an obvious attempt to stampede the then-City Council into approving a $1 million-plus three-phase police station “improvement” project, issued a 75-page PowerPoint presentation – titled “Cost Effective Strategies to Address Risk Factors at the Police Facility.”

That presentation described the police station as an unhealthy and unsafe facility buried in the basement of City Hall.  And mold was portrayed as the most demonstrable of those health and safety problems – so hazardous that a discussion of it comprised Pages 33 through 38 of the presentation.

Yet remediation of that mold problem was put off until the final year of the proposed three-year improvement program, even though Chief Frank Kaminski publicly acknowledged the possibility that the Council could choose not to fund the second and/or third years of the program.

Guess what?

At its November 25 COW meeting, the City Council voted to postpone the $389,500 Phase II of the project for budgetary reasons.  That postponement helps the City hold its property tax levy increase to 2.2%.

And guess what else?

According to an article in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (City Council postpones Park Ridge police station improvements,” 11.29.13), in response to Mayor Dave Schmidt’s recent request that City Staff re-assess the air quality of the police station and formulate a cost-effective proposal for addressing the mold problem, Chief K said that problem might be remedied by hiring a cleaning company to clean the cop shop at least twice a year.

Golly, who would have figured that this hazardous mold problem that supposedly needed more than one-half million dollars of preliminary work – via the first two phases of the three-year project – before it could be addressed can now be remedied after just one phase by…wait for it…cleaning?  Okay, cleaning at least twice a year.

Why wasn’t  “cleaning” – even four times a year – the FIRST solution that occurred to Chief K and the PCATF?  Could it be that mold was just the most convenient scare tactic available to people who cared more about the ends – one million dollars-plus of non-essential wants rather than needs – than about the honesty and transparency of the means?

We sure hope not.  But we find it hard to believe that Chief K and the PCATF members could be so clueless.

Ald. Nick Milissis (2nd) proposed the postponement, suggesting that Phases II and III of the cop shop project might be reconsidered after the City decides whether and when it will sell two City-owned buildings: the old public works garage at Greenwood and Elm, and the Fire Dept. house/office next to the Devon Avenue fire house.  That’s the kind of fiscally-sound thinking the taxpayers need to see more of from aldermen other than Milissis and Ald. Dan Knight (5th).

Our concern, however, is that now that sale of those two properties has been identified as a possible source of revenue for Phases II and III of the cop shop project, there will be a new single-minded push to get those properties sold without any thought given to the City’s future property needs.  According to the H-A article, Chief K already is talking about selling the old public works building “as soon as we can”; and a property needs analysis is underway, with completion scheduled for February-March 2014.

That raises our suspicions even further.  Hopefully, this Council won’t allow itself to be sold the same lame bill of goods that so easily bamboozled a majority of the previous Council back in 2012.

Ronald Reagan is known for his “trust, but verify” admonition.  When it comes to anything involving the Park Ridge police station, however, the Council should drop the “trust” part and just go with “verify.”

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Civics Lesson Lost On City Officials And Freeloaders Alike


Talk to any Park Ridge alderman and he probably can tell you about how often a Park Ridge resident complains to him about some problem involving the Park Ridge Park District, or Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.

That’s because too many residents apparently don’t know enough basic civics to realize and/or understand that the City is a different governmental body from the Park District or District 64 – or that each of those bodies is basically autonomous, with their own separate budgets and tax levies.

That means if the Park District or D-64 were to run out of money, the City wouldn’t cover their bounced checks.  And vice versa.

While most of the City’s taxpayers are also taxpayers of the Park District and D-64, the populations of all three are not identical because their borders are not the same.  For example, certain parts of Park Ridge (such as Park Ridge Pointe) are not within the Park District’s boundaries, and certain parts of the Park District and D-64 are in Niles.

Not only is this concept lost on many ordinary residents, but it seems to be lost on certain City officials, according to a story in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Officials looking into Park Ridge Baseball’s rent-free use of city building,” Nov. 21).

As reported in that article, for the past two years Park Ridge Baseball/Softball, Inc. (“PRBS”) – a private corporation that runs the Park Ridge Park District’s baseball and softball programs as an “affiliate” of the Park District – has been using the City’s former public works building at Elm and Greenwood, rent free, for winter practices.  In the process, PRBS has run up approximately $9,500 a year in gas and electric bills.  Not surprisingly, the idea was initially approved by then-city mgr. Jim Hock, which should make it suspect on that basis alone.

We have a problem with $9,500 being charged to the account of the City’s taxpayers, some of whom are not even Park District taxpayers, just so a private corporation affiliated with the Park District can have a free practice facility for its program participants.  That’s not a king’s ransom, to be sure, but it is another one of those situations where the principle is what counts – as well as the concern that, if the little things can be botched, then bigger things also are at risk of of going awry.

Like those no-bid contracts for $32,000 of fire hydrants, $150,000 of defibrillators, and million dollar-plus professional service fees for sewer and flood control consulting and design.

How do our highly-paid City officials explain PRBS’s free use of a City facility?  Like they took a crash course from the Bill Clinton School of Parsing and Dissembling.

City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton says he doesn’t think the free use constitutes a violation of the City Council Policy No. 36 because PRBS is an affiliate of another public body, the Park District; and those baseball practices constitute “approved meetings” of “other governmental bodies.”  Amazingly, City Attorney Everette “Buzz” Hill seems to agree with Hamilton, claiming that the phrase “approved meetings of other governmental bodies” can be broadly interpreted to include a gathering of baseball or softball players organized by a private corporation that effectively serves as a vendor of the Park District’s baseball and softball programs.

The silliness, if not outright disingenuousness, of such a tortured interpretation of Policy No. 36’s plain language should be obvious to any plain-speaking, plain-hearing person.  Unless, of course, the first thought that pops into your head whenever you drive past Kalina Field or Hinkley Park while a baseball or softball game is in progress is: “Gee, I didn’t know the Park Board was meeting tonight”; or “What number on tonight’s agenda is ‘runners on the corners, two outs and your .091 hitter at the plate?’ ”

Then again, you have to remember that Bill Clinton didn’t have “sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” either.

Don’t expect the absurdity baseball practices being treated the same as Park Board meetings to bother the folks who run PRBS, or the parents of the li’l sluggers who get to sponge off City taxpayers, if only to the tune of $9,600 a year, and thereby avoid having to pay the City to use the old City garage space.  That way, those parents can more easily afford to pay the $200/hour it reportedly costs to rent space at The Dome in Rosemont, or to pay the costs of “supervision” whenever PRBS uses the Park District’s own facilities.

Not surprisingly, long-time PRBS czar Garry Abezetian calls the arrangement “a great partnership” that “saves the kids and families in the program from having to rent space.”  He must have taken the Bill Clinton course, too, because all partners in a “partnership” are supposed to benefit from the “partnership’s” activities; and, try as we might, we can’t see what benefit the City and its taxpayers are getting out of this deal.

According to Abezetian, PRBS has paid for some “improvements” to the old City garage, like “new carpeting and lighting and a fresh coat of paint.”  Of course, all of that just happens to benefit…wait for it…PRBS!  The City previously was able to rent that facility to NICOR for $250,000 in the last year of NICOR’s tenancy, without any of those “improvements.”  We seriously doubt any prospective purchaser of that property is going to care one whit about, or pay one dime more for, those amenities.

We don’t begrudge PRBS, or any other community organizations which satisfies the eligibility requirements of Policy No. 36, the use of City facilities.  Section I (A) of that Policy, however, permits non-City use of City facilities – other than the current Public Works Service Center and the Library – only for “[a]pproved meetings of other governmental bodies (i.e., Maine South Clinical Government Class and the Cook Co. Zoning Board).”  Kids’ baseball practices and games are not “approved meetings,” nor are they conduct of another “governmental body.”

That means we have yet another instance of “what’s-in-it-for-us?” private mooching – like with those D-64 “boycotters” we wrote about in our 11.18.13 post.  And our City officials don’t seem any more inclined or competent to deal with such moochers than are our D-64 officials.

So just stick that $9,500 of gas and electric charges on the taxpayers’ bill, and chalk it up to the shameless once again prevailing over the spineless.

Who, in this instance, also have shown themselves to be clueless.

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Fifty Years Later, Can JFK’s Spirit And Promise Be Recaptured?


Fifty years ago today this country lost the promise of a limitless future.

It wasn’t really limitless, of course.  As Einstein taught us, the only two things that are limitless (his term was “infinite”) are the universe and human stupidity.  But to people of a certain age, attitude and experience back in 1963, if felt limitless…and exhilarating!

President John F. Kennedy – “JFK” – wasn’t a great president.  No president can become “great” in less than three years on the job.  Even the few true “greats” (with the exception of Lincoln) needed at least two full terms.

And JFK had enough political failures (the Bay of Pigs fiasco), misadventures (his foray into Vietnam) and trepidations (his wariness on civil rights) to, arguably, disqualify him even from consideration as one of the “greats” – notwithstanding his deft/brilliant statesmanship in defusing the Cuban missile crisis that effectively pulled the whole world back from the brink of nuclear war.

But he had a gift for inspiration no subsequent president has been able to match…marked by an amazing combination of wit, charm, intelligence and style not seen in any politician since.

In just his inaugural address alone, he opened minds, galavanized wills and touched hearts in speaking of “[t]he torch [that] has been passed to a new generation of Americans” willing to “pay any price, bear any burden” to spark a fire of freedom, the glow from which could “truly light the world.”

But the exhortation in that inaugural address that defined JFK’s presidency and the public spiritedness it inspired were the immortal words:

“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

On this 50th anniversary of his tragic assassination, we here in Park Ridge – not unlike all Americans – should ask ourselves why we have we not had leaders with JFK’s ability to inspire us toward pursuit of the common good rather than toward the pursuit of individual, private advantage?  Sadly, the answer probably lies less in the quality of our leaders than in the quality of those of us who elect them.

On a local level, until we once again think more about what we can do for our community than what our community can do for us – and what private advantages we can gain at others’ expense – we have no hope of recapturing the spirit, the optimism and the vision JFK inspired.

And until we can put aside all those foolish partisan, social, racial and other divisions and embrace the spirit of his admonition “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer,” government and politics on every level will remain mired in the unproductive, zero-sum games that have come to predominate.

We need more givers and contributors, less takers and users.  We need more focus on the common values and experiences that unite us rather than on the forces that divide us.  And we need to be idealists, but without illusions – as Kennedy once described himself.

JFK’s presidency embodied a spirit of unity and confidence that could nurture credible prospects of an ever-brightening future.  Whether that spirit can be recaptured 50 years later is an open question that many politicians and special interests already have answered: “No.”

But we owe a duty to ourselves and our posterity to try.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and Publisher

To read or post comments, click on title.

When A “Free” Education Just Isn’t Free Enough


We here at PublicWatchdog are committed to public education.  In fact, that’s the principal reason we barbecue the local school boards, administrations and teachers when it looks like our children aren’t getting the quality of education they deserve – and the taxpayers aren’t getting the quality of education they’re paying for.

But today we’re going to take a slightly different tack and turn up the heat a bit on parents as well as the school board and the administrators.  Or, more specifically, on those certain parents of Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 students who reportedly are “boycotting” the District by refusing to pay the fees assessed for things like textbooks, supplies, technology and activities – according to a recent story in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate by education reporter Natasha Wasinski (“District 64 parents boycotting school fees, PTA president says,” Nov. 3)

“Boycotting” actually may be a misnomer.  That term suggests the parents are keeping their kids out of, the D-64 schools.  Instead, these parents are sending their kids to school and availing themselves and their children of the textbooks and other accoutrements for which they’ve been charged an average of approximately $260 per student, but without paying for them.

In other words, these “boycotters” are really deadbeats.

Or scofflaws.  Or mooches.  Or parasites.

As reported in the H-A article, as of October 17th the fees for approximately 525 students remained unpaid, for a total of $121,037.  And D-64 is owed another $94,000 for previous years of non-payments.  That’s a total of $215,000+ that should be in D-64’s coffers but is still sitting in the pockets of parents.

In fairness to those parents, many of them claim that their refusal to pay is because the District isn’t giving them an itemized list of the specific items for which they are being charged.  That’s an eminently reasonable request.  Apparently the fee notices sent to the parents do not such provide detail, and it’s also not available on the District’s website.

C’mon, D-64!  What the heck is wrong with you?  How tough can it be to give people an itemized bill for what you’re charging them?

Whether it’s arrogance or stupidity, the idea of charging people a couple hundred bucks without providing chapter and verse of what that covers is unacceptable.  But so is letting the inmates run the asylum by allowing kids to attend school for months, or even years, after the payment of these fees was due.  D-64 may owe the parents an itemized bill, but it also owes the taxpayers diligence in collecting the fees owed.

If that involves denying attendance to the kids of the deadbeats, so be it.  And if that can’t be legally done, and each debt has to be sent to collection instead, so be that, too.

We applaud the approach of resident and parent George Korovilas who, while warning that he won’t pay the fees next year if itemization is not provided, has paid the fees for his three children this year.  Hopefully he won’t have to make good on his warning a year from now.

On the other hand, we question attitudes and comments like the one of resident and parent Max Fadin, who is quoted in the H-A story as finding it “suspicious” that somebody paying $20,000 in taxes also has to pay $1,000 in fees.

First of all, anybody who is paying $20,000 in taxes to D-64 would be paying total property taxes of around $60,000 annually.  We are unaware of even one Park Ridge residence that is taxed that high, so we have to assume that Mr. Fadin is talking about someone whose total property tax bill is $20,000 annually – meaning that about $7,000 of taxes goes to D-64.

A parent paying $1,000 in fees presumably has 4 children in D-64.  Those 4 children are getting around $52,000 worth of education a year for $8,000: $7,000 of taxes and $1,000 of fees.  So that parent is effectively picking the taxpayers’ pockets for $44,000 a year in subsidies.

Taking $44,000 in subsidies AND at the same time stiffing the District for $1,000 in fees is just plain wrong.

And calling it a “boycott” doesn’t make it anything close to right.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-64 Improvement Starts With School Board


Do the people running the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 schools understand that they may not be getting the job done?

Judging solely by the article in last week’s Park Ridge Journal (“District 64 Responds To ISAT,” 11.06.13), the answer to that question appears to be a resounding “No!”  According to Lori Hinton, D-64’s Assistant Supt. for Student Learning, D-64’s student performance “remains strong, with a majority of students meeting or exceeding standards over the past seven years.”

Bragging about a majority of Park Ridge students “meeting or exceeding [state] standards” is like bragging about a majority of Park Ridge residents not going to bed hungry every night.  It’s damning with the faintest of praise.

Reading the Journal article might also have taxpayers feeling like they’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into an “Alice in Wonderland”-like world of edu-babble that makes the honest simplicity of Humpty Dumpty’s “a word…means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less” refreshingly direct.  Once we get past all the acronyms (“NCLB,” “AYP,” “PARCC,” “MAP”) that seem to serve primarily to bamboozle readers into thinking D-64 is doing great, we’re still left with the fact that not even one D-64 grammar or middle school was ranked in the Top 50 in either category.

Meanwhile, other districts, many of which compete with Park Ridge for residents, are placing one or more schools on those lists.

Hey, D-64!  Are you telling us that the schools in places like Elmhurst, Deerfield, Glenview, Northbrook, River Forest, Wilmette and Western Springs whose kids consistently outperform ours on the ISATs are educationally inferior to D-64 schools?  Are you saying that those other districts are irresponsibly “teaching to the test” rather than actually educating their kids?  Or do you just want us to believe that ISAT scores and rankings are irrelevant?

We don’t expect to hear D-64 administrators answer those questions.  They never answer questions about D-64 test scores versus those of other districts.  But the answers should be pretty obvious.

So what’s the number one way Park Ridge taxpayers can change D-64’s chronic acceptance of mediocrity and improve the quality of education it’s delivering for all the money the taxpayers are pouring into it?

Improve the quality of the D-64 School Board.

Those 7 people are the ones who are supposed to be telling all our highly-paid administrators what the taxpayers deserve for their $70 million a year, and then demanding that we get it.  And those 7 people are all that stand between our wallets and the special interests that seem to have succeeded in hi-jacking the system for their own personal benefits.

Public education has five principal constituencies, three of which are clearly “special interests.”

The first “special interest” is the parents of the students.  They generally want no expense spared to get what they believe to be the best possible education for their kids OPM (“Other People’s Money”) can buy.  For the typical D-64 student, his/her parents pay around $4,000/year in property taxes to D-64 in order to get an education worth $13,000+.  That’s a $9,000 “profit.”  And because raising the cost of that education by another $1,000 per kid adds just pennies to the tax bill of those D-64 parents, they can be counted on to vote for whatever tax increases come down the pike.

The second “special interest” is the teachers – the only self-proclaimed “professionals” we know of who not only have a captive market for their services but also receive collectively bargained-for, non-merit based wages and constitutionally-guaranteed, defined benefit pensions.  They, too, pay only pennies in extra taxes (assuming they even live in the District) for every $1,000 of extra pay or benefits they receive, which is why they, too, support increasing property taxes every chance they get without regard to student performance.

The third “special interest” are the administrators.  The vast majority of them are former teachers, only with bigger paychecks and without any further obligation to pay union dues.  But their pay raises customarily reflect the pay hike percentages received by the unionized teachers – so they have no incentive to bargain aggressively with the teachers union because they, too, trade pennies for dollars.  And their pay, like that of the teaches, is almost never tied to performance.

The only two public education constituencies that are not “special interests” are the taxpayers and the students.

The taxpayers foot virtually the entire educational bill for their community, irrespective of whether or not they have kids who use those schools.  If the taxpayers are lucky, the schools do a good enough job that the taxpayers’ property values remain stable or increase, thereby turning their tax expense into a kind of capital investment.

The kids, of course, are the intended beneficiaries of public education; and, at least in theory, the community as a whole benefits from their education.  If the education is good, they presumably will succeed and prosper.  If it isn’t, they’ll be the victims.

School Board members are elected to represent the community’s values, standards, aspirations and vision on the local schools – and to give taxpayers full and fair value for their tax dollars.  Unfortunately, Board members historically have served as rubber-stamp enablers of school administrators, who themselves have been little more than rubber stamp enablers of the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), a/k/a the teachers union.

The result has been consistent increases in non-merit based compensation – “step” (based on nothing more than longevity) and “lane” (based on progress towards graduate degrees that may or may not have any value in producing better teachers) – with no commensurate increases in student academic achievement.  That’s because “step” and “lane” increases provide no real incentives for actual teacher or administrator achievement.

Performance-based incentives, however, are not something the PREA or its puppet administrators endorse.  And that one of the main reasons our School Board members should be demanding them, not just for the taxpayers but for the students whose futures often depend on the quality of the education they receive.

This isn’t meant as an “attack” on parents, teachers or administrators.  But it is an attempt to inject a much-needed reality check into the public perception of our educational system that has been consciously and even brazenly manipulated by public relations specialists bought and paid for by the “educational establishment”: the teachers unions, the Illinois Association of School Administrators,  the Illinois Association of School Boards, etc.

That’s why we need D-64 Board members who are smart enough not to get bamboozled by the sophistry and edu-babble that the “professional educators” and their advocates regularly spout, especially when they are challenged with common sense questions.  And we need Board members tough enough not to be intimidated whenever those “special interests” – the parents and the PREA members – show up at meetings en masse, the latter usually when their new contract is being discussed and voted on.

We’ve previously praised Board president Tony Borrelli for finally bringing some common sense and backbone to the Board.  In just two years he has shown more concern for the taxpayers and for the students than every one of his predecessors over the past 20 years.  We need more Board members like him.  And we still hold out hope that Dathan Paterno will turn into the candidate we endorsed in our 04.03.13 post.

The rest of the Board?  A bunch of pleasant, arguably well-intentioned bobble-heads whose next tough question to a D-64 administrator will be their first.

When was the last time you heard any D-64 Board member tell this or any previous superintendent, on the record in a public meeting, that the academic performance of our schools is not acceptable?  When was the last time you heard a D-64 Board member tell the superintendent, on the record in a public meeting: “I want at least 1 of our 7 schools to be ranked in next year’s Top 50 for achievement, and at least 1 more in the Top 100”?  Or even: “Next year I want an overall 5% improvement in our students’ test score performance”?

We scoured the Internet and Googled ourselves silly without finding even a hint that such comments or demands have ever been made.  Truth be told, Board members haven’t held administrators and teachers accountable because WE, the taxpayers, haven’t held those Board members accountable.

We, the taxpayers, too readily accept the same teacher/administrator propaganda our School Board members accept, such as that D-64 students “continue to earn competitive scores on standardized assessments and demonstrate exceptional achievement in all curricular areas through our Educational Ends framework” (per Lori Hinton) – without pointedly inquiring: “Competitive scores” compared to whom?  “Exceptional achievement” as measured by what standard?

As a result, we keep getting the same old, same old…year after year after year.  The only changes tend to be the occasional new face in the superintendent’s or some other administrator’s chair, and a new program or initiative that promises major improvements until it proves to be as ineffective as the last one.  And the continuing increases in the property taxes that pay for it.

At least Cub fans can delude themselves with the 100-year old slogan: “Wait ‘til next year.”

D-64 doesn’t even have that.

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Volunteers Light Uptown


Once again this year, approximately 100 volunteers from an assortment of Park Ridge organizations have ensured that the City’s Uptown area will be lit up for the holidays.

This past Saturday members of the Park Ridge Indian Scouts/Indian Princesses, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, the Pistols Girls Softball program, and their parents – fueled by food provided by All on the Road Catering, Applauz Catering, D’Agostino’s Pizza, Houlihan’s, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Lisa’s Italian Ice and Noodles & Co., and using lights provided by an anonymous donor  – decorated the trees throughout the Uptown business district.

Prior to 2009, the City would spend thousands of dollars each year to hire private companies to decorate the trees.  But Mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council decided that those costs could not be justified when the City was in the midst of cutting other expenses in order to reduce annual $1 million-plus deficits, much of which were caused by the disastrous Uptown TIF financing.

That’s when the private citizens stepped up to the plate, creating the Holiday Lights Coalition

The Park Ridge Herald-Advocate, however, is reporting that the lights aren’t quite as numerous or as bright as in past years– because the volunteers did not have access to a bucket lift to string the higher branches of the larger trees.

That’s a shame.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s got to be somebody with ties to Park Ridge who has access to a bucket lift and who can donate a few hours of its use this Saturday or Sunday.  How about the AT&T folks, who are in the process of polluting our parkways with their U-verse cable boxes?  The cost of providing a bucket lift for several hours this weekend shouldn’t cause even a fraction of a penny drop in the dividends AT&T will be paying its shareholders.

But if no such donation is forthcoming, why don’t the Uptown merchants and the Chamber of Commerce chip in to cover the cost?  After all, it’s those merchants who are the principal beneficiaries of a bright and inviting shopping and dining area.

Volunteers with no financial stake in the matter have marched the lighting effort 95 yards down the field.  Now it’s time for one more private donor, or the Chamber and the Uptown merchants, to take the ball and punch it over the goal line.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Veteran’s Day 2013


It was called “Armistice Day” when Pres. Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the United States’ version of what other countries called a “Remembrance Day” – a day to remember those members of the armed forces killed during World War I, the misnamed “War to end all wars.”

But unlike in other countries, Armistice Day became a day to remember and honor all American veterans, living and dead, for their service to our country.  Memorial Day was our day to remember and honor those American servicemen/women who gave their lives in the line of duty.  In 1938 an act of Congress made November 11 of each year “Armistice Day” and a legal holiday; and in 1954 the name was officially changed to “Veterans Day.”

Currently there are approximately 23 million living American veterans.  Roughly 1.2 million are World War II vets, although they are dying at the estimated rate of over 600 each day.  Another 2.8 million are Korean War vets.  The largest number of living veterans, approximately 7.8 million, served during the Vietnam War, although veterans of the “Gulf” wars (August 1990 to the present) number more than 5.2 million.  Significantly, an estimated 3 million of those living veterans are receiving compensation for service-connected disabilities.

We’ve been fighting wars for more than a decade, and the cost of providing health care and disability benefits for our veterans continues to climb.  Last year the Dept. of Veterans Affairs spent approximately $48 billion on disability benefits alone, and this year’s costs are expected to hit the $57 billion mark.  That’s four times the $15 billion spent in 2000.

And that number will continue to climb because we’ve made so much progress in treating wounded soldiers that some of the most seriously wounded can now survive – albeit often with a service-connected disability.  Some 630,000+ veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have full or partial disabilities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  And those disabilities include traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders that were either undiagnosed or neglected in earlier generations of veterans.

As a result, the backlog of overdue unprocessed disability claims is about 400,000, down from the 600,000 outstanding unprocessed claims as recently as March of this year.  But hundreds of thousands of new claims continue coming in from veterans who have done their duty to their country.

And we must do ours.

Irrespective of one’s political views about war, we as a country owe those veterans the best care and benefits available as a debt of honor.  As former Wisconsin congressman David Obey stated:

“This country owes them all a debt of gratitude. The down payment on that debt is making sure that we live up to Lincoln’s charge: to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

That’s going to mean more money and a more efficient Veterans Administration, just for starters.  And fewer wars would certainly help.  Unfortunately, that can’t and won’t be accomplished today.

But if you know any veterans, you can at least offer a simple “Thank you for your service.”

And then write your congressman and voice your support for making sure all our veterans, and especially those who were injured while in harm’s way, get the help and support they have earned with their blood.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher 

To read or post comments, click on title.

Are Our Schools Threatening Park Ridge Property Values?


Are our local public schools becoming a threat to Park Ridge property values?

Historically “our schools” has been an almost reflexive response to the question of what drives Park Ridge’s property values.  And for those residents whose homes might be their single most valuable asset, preserving the value of those homes and hoping they will appreciate is a major concern.  That means keeping Park Ridge an attractive and desirable community where current residents want to remain, and to where non-residents want to relocate.

For people living in the City of Chicago or outside the Chicagoland area and looking to purchase a home in the Chicago suburbs, why would they pick Park Ridge?

For those looking for a bedroom community close to the Loop, Park Ridge fills the bill.  The same goes for being close to O’Hare Airport, although that comes with a different set of concerns.  Another plus is that we’re almost equally convenient to the major shopping areas of Oak Brook Center, Woodfield Mall, Northbrook Court and Gurnee Mills.

But if high-ranking public schools are decisive, not even one Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 school can be found in the latest Chicago Sun-Times’ “Top 50” rankings of elementary and middle schools. 

That means house hunters are likely to consider Oak Brook (with a school ranked 11th), River Forest (12th), Naperville (with schools ranked 13th and 26th), Lincolnshire (14th), Hinsdale (15th, 30th and 49th), Wheaton (16th), Schaumburg (17th), Clarendon Hills (18th and 24th), Barrington (19th, 24th and 50th), Western Springs (22nd), Winnetka (23rd), Wilmette (28th and 35th), Hoffman Estates (29th), Northbrook (30th), Elmhurst (32nd, 39th and 47th), Palatine (33rd), Glenview (37th and 48th), Burr Ridge (38th), Buffalo Grove (40th), LaGrange (41st), Arlington Heights (41st), South Barrington (41st), Evanston (44th) and Deerfield (46th) a lot more attractive than Park Ridge.

And for those looking at middle schools rankings, Park Ridge will be taking a back seat to Wilmette (10th and 25th), Lincolnshire (13th), Oak Brook (15th), Northbrook (16th and 47th), Lisle (19th), Buffalo Grove (20th), Kenilworth (22nd), Western Springs (24th), River Forest (26th), Hinsdale (27th), Glencoe (29th), Long Grove (30th), Northfield (31st), Clarendon Hills (32nd), Hoffman Estates (33rd), Elmhurst (36th), Winnetka (38th), Deerfield (43rd), Burr Ridge (44th), Elk Grove Village (45th), Rolling Meadows (48th) and Naperville (49th and 50th).

The more sophisticated home buyers looking at communities which have ranked schools in both categories can choose from among Buffalo Grove, Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills, Deerfield, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Hoffman Estates, Lincolnshire, Naperville, Oak Brook, River Forest, Western Springs and Wilmette instead of Park Ridge.  And Elmhurst, River Forest and Western Springs are the virtual equals of Park Ridge when considering commutes to the Loop, with Burr Ridge, Hinsdale and Wilmette not far behind.

Worse yet, the flagship of Maine Twp. High School District 207, Maine South, has dropped from a 24th place ranking of high schools last year to a 26th place ranking this year.

So why should a potential home buyer pick Park Ridge?

It’s certainly not because of Park Ridge’s lower property taxes.  D-64’s property are higher than many of the school districts in those other communities, but without the benefit of elementary and middle schools in the Top 50.  While it’s possible the total tax bill for those other communities might be higher than the total tax bill for D-64 residents, it’s not very likely from the limited spot checking we did.

So while a number of Park Ridgians still insist that D-64 schools are outstanding and well worth the price of admission – like the D-64 teachers and administrators who have the biggest immediate stake in perpetuating the myth – objective measurements suggest otherwise.  And it’s starting to look like the underachievement that seems to have become institutionalized at D-64 may be trickling up to Maine South.

Not surprisingly, D-64 leadership is responding to the latest test results in the same vacuous fashion it employed in past years when confronting similarly mediocre performance results and rankings.  One only need read a few of the the edu-babble sound bites from D-64’s Assistant Supt. for Student Learning, Lori Hinton, contained in the District’s press release about these results, to appreciate the thoroughness of the denial, such as:

“As we look ahead, we believe that maintaining a clear focus on individual student growth – and the high-yield instructional strategies that support such growth – will help us fuel ongoing improvement in student achievement.”  

We’re more accustomed to hearing the term “high-yield” used to describe strategic nuclear devices, but we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see the high cost, low accountability educational establishment emulating the high cost, low accountability military establishment.

Or how about this bon mot from Ms. Hinton:

“District 64 teachers in recent years have become more skilled at reviewing data to identify student needs and differentiating instruction for small groups of students, and we will be boosting professional development for teachers on these high yield instructional strategies.” 

Are you getting the idea that “high yield instructional strategies” might be the newest catch-phrase among D-64 administrators?

And finishing on a high note:

“The District’s mean scores have increased over the past five years at all grade levels in reading and math, and our students continue to achieve at levels significantly higher than national means.”

Memo to Ms. Hinton: Park Ridge is nothing close to a “national means” community when it comes to household income, home prices, taxes, and other conventional measures of affluence.  So why are you even talking about “national means” as a benchmark for our kids’ academic performance… other than to divert attention from the fact that their performance doesn’t match up with truly comparable communities in the Chicagoland area?

We can think of a variety of explanations for D-64’s underachievement on standardized testing and test score-based rankings.  One might be that Park Ridge is attracting increasing numbers of residents with  more modest intellectual capacity who, in turn, produce progeny of similarly unspectacular capacity.  That might provoke howls of outrage, but let the howlers produce better explanations – or at least better ones than D-64’s old standby that it doesn’t “teach to the test,” an alibi which usually is spoken with a dismissive pseudo-snobbish sneer of disdain that denigrates the very concept of standardized testing. 

Not surprisingly, neither “Improving the District’s academic ranking” nor “Improving standardized testing performance” were among the criteria for choosing a new superintendent listed on the BWP anonymous survey

So long as D-64 officials – including our elected school board members who are charged with safeguarding the taxpayers’ interest – continue to fiddle while the District’s ranking burns, our property values are likely to be increasingly at risk.  And as more questions about measurable performance and the quality of instruction arise, factors such as increased air traffic from O’Hare expansion can be expected to take on added signficance and exert increasing downward pressure on property values.

That’s not a spiral anybody should want to see our community begin.

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