Living In The Library’s Past Condemns Its Future


Not all that long ago the Park Ridge Library Board of Trustees was the sleepy backwater of local public service.

Trustees quietly and consistently rubber-stamped pretty much anything and everything the Library’s senior staff recommended. Rather than actively manage the Library and its collection, the trustees and staff passively let socio-economic conditions – e.g., the 2007-09 recession and the 2010-present “recovery” – do the managing.

Consequently, as recently as 2012-13 it was a notable event when any reporter from one of our local newspapers – either the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate or the Park Ridge Journal – attended the regular monthly Library Board meeting. And it was almost a portent of Armageddon when one of those reporters attended a “lowly” Library Board committee meeting.

Even getting a three-year appointment to the Board tended to be fairly quiet and uneventful.

Boy oh boy, has that ever changed.

Starting around the Fall of 2013 the Library Board suddenly became the focus of all sorts of attention. Regular meetings that were lucky to draw a couple of residents started drawing 5, 10, 20 or more.

Not only did one, and sometimes two, reporters start showing up at every regular Board meeting, but the H-A reporter began adding committee meetings to her appointed rounds. And once the Board adopted the Committee Of the Whole structure – where all committee meetings were held on one night instead of two – she became a virtual fixture at those COWs.

Tonight the Mayor’s Advisory Board begins the process of selecting nominees for the three seats whose terms are expiring this summer. There are eleven applicants – a record (?) – for those three vacancies, including the three trustees currently holding those seats: Joseph Egan, Char Foss-Eggemann and Jerome White. The challengers are: Kim Biederman, Karen Bennett Burkum, Marcin Grochola, Stephen Kahnert, Josh Kiem, William McGuire, Mary Wynn Ryan and Herbert Zuegel.

The applications for all 11 of them can be found here .

These applicants will be interviewed by the Mayor’s Advisory Board, comprised of the four City Council committee chairs: Ald. Dan Knight (Finance), Ald. Marc Mazzuca (Procedures & Regulation), Ald. Nick Milissis (Public Safety) and Ald. Roger Shubert (Public Works). The aldermen will recommend three nominees to Acting Mayor Marty Maloney, who can either accept or reject each of them. Any nominees Maloney accepts them will be voted on by the full Council, with a simple majority needed for approval.

While a few of the usual social media suspects have rattled their balsa-wood sabers over the past few months about monitoring this year’s selection process to ensure who knows what, it was left to former Library board member Dick Van Metre to make the first overt attempt to directly influence the selection process – which he did at last Monday’s Council meeting.

Van Metre is Park Ridge’s version of Bernie Sanders. He seems to share Weekend at Bernie’s view that government is the answer to every socio-economic question, with the highest and best use of private funds being the payment of taxes so that government can grow bigger – and do more “free” things and provide more “free” stuff – even for people who could afford to pay but just don’t want to.

As can be seen and heard from 25:45 to 35:54 of last week’s meeting video, Van Metre claims to be speaking for the “vast majority of the people who voted for [the November 2014 Library referendum]” and for “the citizens of Park Ridge [who] have no leverage with the Library Board.”

SPOILER ALERT: Van Metre mentions my name several times, never favorably. That’s probably because we often clashed when he and I served together on the Library Board in 2011-12; and because our respective views of government are substantially different – as evidenced by three of this blog’s posts (03.03.08, 04.25.08 and 07.18.08) going back to 2008.

Early on in the meeting video, Van Metre proclaims how he was part of a group that “put an awful lot of time and effort into the Library referendum” before ripping into un-named more-reccently appointed Library Board members “who seem to take the passage of the Library referendum as something of an insult.”

The delicious irony of that criticism is that there never even would have been a referendum – which raised $4 million of extra property tax revenue for the Library over four years – if it had been left up to Van Metre and his cronies still on the Board from 2011 through 2014: John Benka, Audra Ebling, Margaret Harrison, Dorothy Hynous. John Schmidt and Jerry White. Or to Director Janet Van De Carr. Their preferred way of solving the Library’s funding shortage was to beef and moan about “the guys across the street” (i.e., then-mayor Dave Schmidt and the City Council) for cutting the City’s discretionary/supplemental Library funding in order to meet the growing burden of the Uptown TIF debt.

So when I, supported by Board members Egan and Foss-Eggemann, proposed a funding referendum question for the November 2014 ballot, Van Metre’s crony-majority rejected it – with not one complaint from Van Metre, naturally. But Mayor Dave and the Council respected the taxpayers enough to give them the chance to vote on a higher tax levy for the Library. And those voters came through.

Which is how Van Metre was able to become the crowing rooster claiming credit for the dawn.

Van Metre goes on to say, again grandiosely speaking for some nebulous constituency, that “[w]e want our Library back,” which he goes on to explain as being the Library “as it has been.”

Although he offered no real details on those points, we assume he means the Library as overseen by those previous bobble-head, rubber-stamp boards whose members couldn’t stop themselves from deficit spending by hundreds of thousands of dollars even after the Council told them no addtional funding would be forthcoming in the foreseeable future. That’s the same Library whose board, despite all its deficit spending, nevertheless neglected replacement of the Library’s roof and windows until the leaks began causing interior issues.

That must also be the same Library whose board, despite being chronically short of funds, insisted on keeping the Food For Fines program that enabled Board members and staff to enhance their self-esteem by giving away thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars in forgiveness of book and material fines. And it’s certainly the same Library whose board preferred closing its doors on summer Sundays in 2014 so that it could give $20,000 of raises to some of its 90+ employees. Van Metre – who insists he’s the champion of “the people’s Library” – said nary a word about that closing even though “the people” got stiffed for one of only two weekend Library days.

He apparently also isn’t too enthused over the current Board’s pursuit of the first significant reconfiguration and renovation to the Library’s interior space in a couple of decades, a project intended to bring the building more in tune with current user needs and to attract the one-third of our residents who don’t even hold a Library card – or the almost two-thirds of our residents who don’t regularly use the Library at all.

And he clearly wants to return to days of yore when unidentified and un-regulated private tutors could run their for-profit businesses out of the Library while letting the taxpayers cover their overhead costs.

I repeatedly have challenged Van Metre – assuming he truly believes that a majority of taxpayers agree with his characterization of the new business/tutor policy as a way to “extort money from the people who were using the Library for tutoring” – to ask the City Council to put a policy repeal referendum question on the November ballot, or to collect the signatures needed to put such a question on the ballot by direct citizen action.

He didn’t ask the Council to do that last Monday night, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Van Metre or his fellow travelers to do that between now and the mid-summer deadline for such citizen initiatives.

That’s because, despite how they regularly invoke “the people” and claim to speak for a majority of them, their dirty little secret is that they are anti-democratic elitists who seem to view “the people” as rabble who can’t be trusted to vote on what they want and, more importantly, what they are willing to be taxed for. So instead of referendums where the questions can be debated, and support and opposition can be objectively measured, they anoint themselves as “the people’s” spokespersons. And they occasionally float some bogus “Survey Monkey” or “Change.Org.” survey question with for support.

At the close of Van Metre’s 10-minute spiel last Monday night, he had a semi-ominous warning for the Council:

“I and…some other people will be paying attention to what transpires from here on [regarding the Library Board appointment process]. If you continue to appoint allies of Bob Trizna to the Board, then we will have to conclude that you approve of the changes in the Library that he wishes to make and is slowly making.”

We’re pretty sure Van Metre is aware of the famous Santayana quote: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

For Van Metre and his allies, being condemned to repeat the Library’s irresponsible past is their paramount goal.

Robert J. Trizna

Editor and publisher

Member, Park Ridge Library Board

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the Editor in that capacity, and not in his capacity as Library Trustee. None of these opinions should be viewed as representing those of the Library, its Board, its staff, or any other Trustees.

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Will Latest School Rankings Produce More Sound Of Silence At D-207?


U.S. News & World Report’s latest ranking of Illinois high schools have just been released and they aren’t likely to be music to the ears of the Board and Administration of Maine Township High School Dist. 207.

Not that those folks will admit it. Or even acknowledge it.

In these 2016 rankings the flagship of D-207’s fleet, Maine South, clocks in at an unimpressive 45th place. And Maine East fills the 63d slot. Maine West? Um…don’t ask.

For Maine South, that’s a drop of 16 slots from its 2012 ranking. But that slide in the rankings is compounded by more ominous signs, such as a 40.8% “College Readiness” figure and some of the schools Maine South is trailing.

Stevenson, New Trier, the Glenbrooks North and South, Deerfield, Highland Park, the Hinsdales Central and South are givens. But Wheeling (41)? And Elk Grove (28)??


With the high teacher and administrator salaries, high cost per pupil, and 16-1 student-to-teacher ratio, shouldn’t Maine South almost have to be doing better than that?

Maybe there’s an explanation for this continuing slide despite D-207’s spending more and more money. But we’re unlikely to hear it from the D-207 Board and Administration. Like their counterparts at Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, any time ranking or scores come out that allow taxpayers to make comparisons between our schools and those of other communities, those officials get all sphinx-like.

So we’ll offer a few possible explanations just to break the ice, or the dead air.

1. Maine South teachers and administrators are doing a poorer job than in the past?

1a. Maine South teachers and administrators are doing a poorer job than their counterparts in other districts?

2. D-64 is doing a poorer job than in the past, thereby feeding less-educated kids into Maine South?

2a. D-64 is doing a poorer job than its counterpart districts in feeding better-educated kids into high school?

3. Park Ridge is attracting dumber residents who produce dumber offspring?

Park Ridge is a great town. It’s got a great mature character and a prime inner-ring location roughly 20 minutes (off-peak) from the Loop and even less to O’Hare. But it also has some drawbacks, such as airplane noise/pollution and flooding. And the taxes ain’t cheap.

So when non-residents look at Park Ridge as a possible relocation destination, sliding school rankings don’t make the welcome mat any more inviting. Neither does that 40.8% “College Readiness” figure for a community this affluent and that spends so much on its schools.

Let’s face it: Local Realtors can only get so far with their spiels about “our outstanding schools” when a couple of mouse-clicks make liars out of them – unless the prospective re-locators are trading up from unranked schools like East Leyden, Ridgewood, or Taft.

But don’t expect the D-207 folks to own up to this most recent ranking decline, or even to acknowledge it. They’re still selling the sizzle instead of the steak. Or the hamburger.

The only thing we’re likely to get from them is the sound of silence.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Palling Around, Or Just A Clown-Car Ballet?


One sure sign that appointed or elected officials are way over their skis, or just haven’t done their homework, is when they ask “What are other communities doing?” – before they express their opinion on some difficult or controversial issue.

Implicit in such a question is not only the official’s cluelessness about the issue being debated but, also, the official’s foolish belief that other governmental bodies are doing things the right way AND that they have developed methodologies that can be successfully replicated elsewhere.

Look around Cook County and its collar county communities, however, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any local governments that are actually doing things “right,” much less doing them in a reproducible or transferable way.

But if another object lesson on that point is needed, it was provided in last Thursday’s Chicago Tribune editorial, “When a suburban Chicago school district loses its way — and its money” (April 14) about the under-the-radar waste and mismanagement at the Lincoln-Way High School District, a situation that should resonate with anybody who pays the lion’s share of their property taxes to support the schools.

The editorial noted how Lincoln-Way taxpayers either were kept in the dark or chose to remain oblivious about the overspending, sweetheart deals and outright corruption at the highest level of that district’s administration. But that all changed when a group of parents – upset by the closing of one of the schools – began some aggressive investigating and even filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the school board voted to close one school in order to keep Illinois State Board of Education officials from reviewing the district’s finances.

What they discovered was that the school superintendent was given a $368,148 annuity account (a/k/a, a slush fund?) above and beyond his generous salary. And that he wasted bundles of tax dollars on personal expenses.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that, having finally been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he retired to a pension of around $312,000 a year.

That’s right: a $312,000 pension…based on salary increases that seem totally unrelated to objectively-measurable school performance. And that pension will increase by 3% per year until its recipient finally takes his dirt nap.

Worse yet, all that overspending and corruption occurred right under the very noses of elected school board members, a gang of seven which the editorial board considered so lax and clueless it wrote the following:

“Really, you have to wonder if school board members read any agenda items before approving them. Perhaps a zombie checkup is in order.“

That’s because school boards, more than any other local governmental bodies, seem to attract the simple-minded “pleasers” – folks who see their main duty as keeping teachers and administrators happy while unquestioningly buying into whatever propaganda they are fed by those very same teachers and administrators.

Which is why the most trenchant observation made in that Tribune editorial is applicable to all public bodies, but especially school boards:

Too often, school board members don’t understand that their role is not to pal around with administrators but to serve as a check on these day-to-day executives.

We don’t know if D-64 Board members “pal around” with Supt. Laurie Heinz, Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad, or other top administrators, including school principals. But the timid, obsequious and servile ways in which those Board members deal with Heinz, et al. is reminiscent of the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion approaching the great and powerful Oz.

We wrote about their collective unctuousness and butt-smooching less than a year ago (in our 06.22.15 post) when, after an unremarkable first year by Heinz as superintendent, Board president Tony Borrelli choreographed a clown-car ballet of board members falling all over themselves to unanimously vote to extend Heinz’s original three-year contract an extra year as the first year of it expired. That’s a guaranteed $250K-plus reward for, as best as we can tell, no significant objectively-measurable improvement in student performance.

Only in professional sports and public employment can mediocre performance get you a contract extension.

And, even worse, virtually all of the discussions about her performance and the extension – including her allegedly glowing “evaluations” that still do not appear to have seen the light of day – were conducted in…wait for it…closed sessions.

Once again we remind our readers that closed sessions are NEVER REQUIRED under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, even though they have become a regular feature of D-64 Board meetings. So even when citizens attend meetings, or watch the meeting videos, much/most of the heavy lifting on important issues is often done by the Board after it goes into hiding.

And when Board members do emerge from hiding and attempt to create the appearance of transparency, citizens who address the Board more often than not receive a “talk to the hand” response, especially if they dare say things those officials don’t want to hear. See, e.g., the Board’s and administration’s response (Borrelli: “Anybody else?”) to Joan Sandrik’s spot-on comments at the 2:31:30 mark of the March 21, 2016 meeting video about not trusting anything the District’s architects, FGM, say.

Which might explain, at least in part, why handfuls-and-more of folks will show up at City Council meetings while most D-64 (and Maine Twp. High School District 207) Board meetings play to empty rooms – even though the D-64 Board spends about the same amount of money educating less than 5,000 kids as the Park Ridge City Council spends on running the whole City of 37,000-plus people.

Unfortunately, scarecrow Board members and empty meeting rooms are an invitation, if not a recipe, for Lincoln-Way style results.

Which seem to get discovered only after the superintendent qualifies for retirement.

And only after several of his enabler board members resign.

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School Shooting Statistics An April Fool’s Joke…On The Taxpayers


We just saw the April 1, 2016 statistic-based comment on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page by resident Josh Kiem, made in response to the March 22 post by Kathy Panattoni Meade about Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s plan to spend $8-$10 million on not-really-secured vestibules.

Kiem cited a Wikipedia compendium of school shootings since 1764. Not shooting deaths, mind you, just shooting incidents. And he decided to focus on shooting data from 1990 to the present. Basically 25 years.

The statistics he found will likely surprise nobody but the usual flock of Chicken Littles who think kids – or at least their kids – deserve to be bubble-wrapped and garage kept, at the taxpayers’ expense; and most members of the D-64 Board and Administration, who apparently were born without the common sense gene.

According to the Wikipedia post, from 1990 to 2015, there were 7 shooting incidents in elementary schools and only 35 such incidents in middle schools. That’s 42 incidents over 25 years in schools like D-64’s. Or an average of 1.7 incidents per year throughout a system of 66,689 elementary and middle schools.

Frankly, that minimal level of risk doesn’t even justify the $840,000 the D-64 Board voted, at its March 21 meeting, to spend this summer on a not-really-secured vestibule just for Washington School.

That doesn’t matter to Supt. Laurie Heinz and the District’s new business czarina Luann Kolstad, neither of whom pay Park Ridge property taxes while reaping fat salaries and benefits funded by people who DO pay those property taxes. But expect Heinz and Kolstad to cite these “security achievements” as performance achievements when it comes time for another one-year, one quarter-million dollar-plus contract extension and raise (Heinz) and raise to her solidly six-figure salary (Kolstad) – even though neither Heinz nor Kolstad seem able to improve either student performance on benchmark standardized tests, or the related rankings of the District’s schools against schools in comparable communities.

That’s because improving academic performance is a lot tougher and uncertain than blowing $8-10 million on brick and mortar.

Meanwhile, these not-really-secured vestibules won’t make the D-64 schools measurably more secure against a student, parent, teacher, repairman or deliveryman who gains access to the schools with a MAC-10, a ball bearing-filled suicide vest, or even a knife or two.

We’re not saying that reconfiguring entranceways so that they funnel visitors into the school’s office is not what currently passes for a “best practice.” But unless that office is operated like a sally port that can effectively lock in armed visitors – assuming they can be identified as “armed” – funneling them into it doesn’t prevent those visitors from opening fire in there before extending the carnage to the rest of the building.

And it does nothing to detect weaponry being carried in by off-kilter students or teachers.

Throwing big money at not-really-secured vestibules, however, does meet the purely political needs of school administrators like Heinz and Kolstad, and Board members like Tony Borrelli, Scott Zimmerman, Vickie Lee and Bob Johnson – who voted 4-2 (Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos “no,” Dathan Paterno MIA), to appear to be doing something about school safety, no matter how half-baked and cost-ineffective that something might be. And new brick-and-mortar becomes a convenient and tangible prop with which those administrators and Board members can dazzle gullible residents.

Ask yourself: Is this the best way D-64 can spend $8-10 million of the taxpayers’ money? Or even the $860,000 for Washington’s not-really-secured vestibules?

If your answer is “no,” then it’s time you contacted Borrelli, Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson to demand they make a motion to reconsider (only somebody who voted for the Washington School boondoggle can move to reconsider) at the Board’s next meeting and then vote to kill this stupid and wasteful expenditure.

But if your answer is “yes,” you’re probably already spending a fortune on bubble-wrap.

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