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Tribune Editorial Shows Folly Of The “Borrelli Doctrine” (Updated)

09.18.17

In our last post we reported how Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 Board president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli attempted to defend Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz from criticism over her slush fund by insisting: “We have to trust Dr. Heinz that she is being fiscally careful with our money.”

From here on out we will refer to that bit of abject cluelessness as the “Borrelli Doctrine.”

And if you want an example of what can happen when school boards, or any other public governing bodies, subscribe to the Borrelli Doctrine, you need look no further than last Thursday’s (09.14.17) Chicago Tribune editorial titled: “How unique was Lincoln-Way? And where was the school board?”

That editorial addressed the indictment of former Lincoln-Way High School District 210 Lawrence Wyllie on federal fraud and embezzlement charges. Wyllie is accused of surreptitiously pocketing $85,000, and of fraudulently inflating the district’s financial outlook that resulted in the district’s undertaking of an additional $7 million of debt – even though none of that debt appears to have wound up in his pocket.

But the $50,000 he put into a dog training school, the $368,148 infusion into his annuity account, and the $30,000 of charges on his district credit card – all of which were approved by the Lincoln-Way school board members – caused the Trib’s editorial board to ask whether those board members were “daydreaming” or “asleep for the three-year period” when they voted their approval of those expenditures.

We’ll quote the most salient part of the Trib editorial verbatim:

Being a member of a village or school board shouldn’t just be an ego trip — it requires serving as firewall to the kind of alleged mismanagement that, in Lincoln-Way’s case, got the affluent district on the state’s financial watch list.

There’s also a crucial lesson here for taxpayers. It’s their money that’s getting pocketed in these scandals, their kids’ education that’s at stake, and their votes that can make all the difference between a school board member who cares and one who couldn’t care less.

Too often, suburban municipal and school district elections amount to popularity contests that steer clear of assessing a candidate’s acumen for sound governance and skeptical oversight. All too often, voters blindly check the familiar ballot names of incumbents. Or they pick a name that simply has a nice ring to it. Or, specifically in school board races, they rely on endorsements from the local teachers union, which has reasons to want friends on the board.

Ah, yes, the board.

Maybe when prosecutors and defense attorneys finish telling their stories, all of us will know the answer to a question with implications larger than Lincoln-Way: Where was the school board?

That editorial dealt with the indictment of Supt. Wyllie, but it could also serve as an indictment of the Borrelli Doctrine that encourages the bobbleheaded rubber-stamping of which we’ve been so critical over the past decade that this blog has been regularly posting about local government, its occasional successes, and its many failings.

The see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil approach to school board service has been the standard operating procedure not only at D-64 but also at D-207 for as long as one can remember, but Borrelli deserves the dubious distinction of being the namesake of the Borrelli Doctrine because he actually articulated it publicly.

For that, we thank him.

We expect that doctrine to be on display again this evening when the Board is scheduled to take up, once again, the approval of Heinz’s slush fund, now that she has provided the “data” and what passes in her world as an “analysis” of how D-64 administrators’ pay stacks up against certain allegedly “comparable” districts.

If you’re interested in that discussion, however, don’t plan on showing up at the Jefferson School Multipurpose Room until 9:00 p.m., because that’s when that part of tonight’s festivities are scheduled to kick off. That will be 2.5 hours into the proceedings, presumably after the Board members have already been sufficiently pounded down and fatigued by a “Facilities” presentation and, therefore, less inclined to aggressively spar with Heinz and Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad over their attempted justifications for the slush-funded administrator raises which can be found at pages 79 through 89 of the Report, starting with the somewhat confusing explanation that these raises are based on “comparable” districts rather than being “market adjustments.”

Not surprisingly, Heinz and Kolstad have chosen to work with the average “comparable” salaries rather than the medians of those salaries, the better to more easily skew the results using the outlier salaries of the most highly-paid individuals; e.g., two of Glenview’s three elementary principals are reportedly making $161K and $148K, respectively, (although no “years of service” are shown for them) compared to D-64’s highest one of six, who is knocking down a paltry $133K.

But guess what? Heinz and Kolstad don’t even include their calculations of the averages they came up with, so even that defective measure can’t be independently verified.

According to the Borrelli Doctrine, however, the Board – and the taxpayers they represent – should just trust Heinz, Kolstad and their numbers despite the numerous unexplained anomalies, such as a D-64 middle school Assistant Principal with 20 years of service making $107K while another D-64 Assistant Principal (with unidentified years of service) is making $117K.

Looking at all the numbers individually rather than by average, however, suggests that D-64 salaries are already pretty competitive. So why the increases?

Is D-64 losing its administrators to other districts? Is Heinz having trouble recruiting that 5-year Assistant Supt. Curriculum (“ASC”) from Glenview making $177K who won’t come to D-64 because the current 5-year ASC is getting only $155K? If so, why doesn’t Heinz recruit the 4-year ASC from Deerfield making only $108K, or the 4-year ASC from Libertyville making only $147K?

We don’t know.

But the real problem is that this “analysis” looks like a half-baked apples-to-oranges-to-grapes-to-cantaloupes effort – with incomplete (e.g., years of service) and anomalous data – thrown together by Heinz and Kolstad just to make it look like they have responded to Board concerns expressed at the August 28 meeting, so that they can push an already-weary Board to just say “Yes!” to slush tonight.

It looks like garbage in. The question remains whether it will result in garbage out.

Updated 09.20.17.  The result is “garbage out”: The D-64 Board voted unanimously to approve $75,000 that Heinz will distribute to 19 administrators – $57K based on performance evaluations, $18K as “market adjustments” in relation to 5 allegedly “comparable” districts, all of which appear to be performing at significantly better academic levels than D-64.

We have yet to watch the meeting video – because it’s still not posted on the D-64 site – but our stringers in attendance report that both Heinz and Kolstad, in the face of questioning by Biagi and fellow Board members Larry Ryles and Tom Sotos, responded with a barrage of purported “data” that had not previously been furnished to the Board members or posted on the District’s website for review by the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, rather than responding to that ambush by tabling the discussion until all that new “data” could be digested and evaluated, the Board caved.

Over two centuries ago Sun Tzu observed: “Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.”

Once again, Heinz and Kolstad proved Sun Tzu correct. By keeping all that apparently decisive information secret until the 11th hour before dumping it on the over-matched Board and goading it into a premature vote, they won another battle of the public purse.

This time it was only $75K. But emboldened by knowledge of this Board’s weakness, you can bet Heinz and Kolstad will employ the same tactics to shoot for a whole lot more next time.

To read or post comments, click on title.

10 comments so far

Given the speedy repetition with with the School Board raises taxes, and given the history of the School Board using increased revenue for spending other than the stated purpose of the tax increases, I can’t imagine any sentient resident of Park Ridge not being skeptical about “having to trust” Dr. Heinz’s fiscal responsibility. It seems that more stringent oversight from the Board is required than Mr. Borrelli is prepared to provide.

I read that editorial last week and the D-64 board was the first thought that entered my mind. GMTA!

The boards prior to the current ones all talked and acted like they pledged undying loyalty to the Borrelli Doctrine. This current board is better, if only because Mr. Biagi sounds and acts like an attorney who cannot be walked over by Borrelli or Supt. Heinz and her minions.

If only the rest of the board would follow his lead.

You make a good point regarding the holes in the report about comparable salaries, including missing years of service, and about using median figures instead of averages.

The public education system in this community, and elsewhere, is Teflon, with teachers and administrators taking every bit of credit and zero blame.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly. Heads, they win; tails, we lose.

Any school board member who votes “Yes” will be highly suspect, especially those who campaigned on promises to end the rubber-stamping of recent years. I want to believe things have changed since last year, when the board voted 7-0 to give Dr. Heinz a raise… TWICE in the span of twelve months. Some of those board members who voted “yes” then can redeem themselves by voting “no” tonight.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Borrelli, Eggemann and Sotos already are “suspect” for voting to give Heinz another year on her contract – TWICE – and a raise. Borrelli’s a lost cause, but don’t expect the other two to suddenly become towers of strength. Tiu is in the administrators’ pockets, so it’s up to Sanchez and Ryles to calcify their spines if there’s any chance of reforming the profligate way that District operates.

Unless there is an audit, how do you know that there isn’t a slush fund already set up or that monies are being skimmed off the top already?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We believe there is an audit of D-64 each year, just like there was for the Lincoln-Way School District. The fraud was not found until that district hired a forensic auditor charged specifically with looking for fraud.

So what happened last night? Another el foldo by the Board, including your buddy Biagi because they let Heinz convince them that every administrator is indispensable and has to be paid more so they won’t leave even though they’ve stayed for years because D-64 is a really soft and cushy job.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We haven’t seen a newspaper article or the meeting video.

I guess the school board members didn’t read your post or the Tribune editorial. Or they subscribe to the Borrelli Doctrine. And the taxpayers get screwed once again.

Good job, guys.

Well, your Update does not sound promising. Talk about elected officials being totally outmaneuvered and intimidated by Heinz.

Having read Heinz’s report and studied what passed for her data, I cannot see how the Board didn’t wad it up into a ball and throw it at her with the direction to do it again, the right way this time. And shame on them for letting themselves get steamrolled into a vote which was “premature.”

I hate to think of it this way, but this starts to make me wonder how much of H.I.T.A. in this community died in the last two years with Mayor Dave and Ald. Dan.

HEINZ MUST GO!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t expect a pat on the back for what transpired the other evening but I would like to provide a bit more detail than the Trib gave – if I still disappointed everyone after hearing me out, then I’m prepared to take my lumps.

Prior to the public tantrum I threw at a Board meeting several weeks ago, Dr. Heinz was poised to receive a $75,000 bucket of money to apportion out to 19 principals and assistant principals, at her sole discretion, without any oversight whatsoever. Had I not pitched a fit over three separate Board meetings, the vote would’ve been 6-1 or 5-2 at best, to hand her the cash. In the end, I would’ve stood on principle and your and my $75k would’ve been spent with absolutely no transparency or accountability.

Until I loudly complained, there was no comparable data for the public to see, there was no detail regarding how these administrators’ performance was being objectively evaluated, and there was no explanation whatsoever for how the money was to be apportioned…it was just Borrelli Doctrine on full display…”sometimes, we just need to trust our Superintendent”.

Let’s talk facts for a moment – as a result of my cajoling and insistence, Dr. Heinz publicly detailed the formal process by which administrators are, in fact, reviewed. The State requires her to place these folks into one of four buckets – 1) unsatisfactory, 2) needs improvement, 3) proficient, and 4) distinguished. Dr. Heinz went on record to state that anyone falling into the first two buckets will not have their contract renewed with the District…the other two buckets contain people whom she wants to see grow and to be retained. Dr. Heinz went on to publicly explain the rubric she uses to review the performance of the administrators and how they are placed into one of these four buckets.

The role of the Board, in this case, is to insure that the Superintendent is evaluating these folks with objective criteria and following her methodology in a fair and consistent manner, rather than evaluating people arbitrarily and rewarding the sycophants while condemning her detractors. In my opinion, Dr. Heinz established, publicly, that she is, in fact, conducting objective performance appraisals of these folks.

So, with that established in my mind, the remaining question centered on the validity of the “comparable” data. Rather than take an average of all school districts in northern Cook County, as Dr. Heinz wanted to do, I complained loudly enough that she changed course and relied on the 5 “comparable” districts that the Board had previously identified during the last PREA negotiation. The Board, at the time, took into account such things as EAV, student population, number of low-income and ESL students, among others. Are these districts truly comparable to D64? I have absolutely no idea – there, I said it – I’m not sure. But, the alternatives I had in front of me were: 1) accept the northern Cook County average, 2) come up with my own list of comparable districts, 3) hire a consultant who knows far more than the Board to come up with a list of comparable districts, at a great expense to the taxpayers, or 4) go with the 5 districts that the previous Board identified after much consternation. Again, I have no clue whether these five districts are truly comparable – and my guess is that if we asked 10 “experts” to opine on it, we would get ten different answers.

In the end, it was through my leadership that the Board unanimously approved a structure which requires that Dr. Heinz publicly disclose the rubric for her performance evaluations and then allocates $57,000 amongst 19 people, BASED ON THEIR PERFORMANCE (with the average coming in at around 2.6%). At my request, we also gave Dr. Heinz $18,000 to use for a handful of administrators that had been hired long ago, far under market levels, and who remain under their peers in pay (based on years of service, performance, etc.).

I run a law firm for a living and I know, all too well, the difficulty in finding, grooming and retaining good talent. While it doesn’t all boil down to money, certainly workplace environment, challenging projects and pleasant colleagues all play a role – but, most of the time money is the motivating factor in most employee’s decisions to stay or go. Paying my staff appropriately for the job they perform proves to them that I value their work and that they are a appreciated and important part of my team, without whom I would not be able to serve my clients. I suspect that Dr. Heinz looks at her staff in much the same way.

If you watch the video from this Monday evening, you will see me sitting there, head in hands, for a good part of the “pay raise” discussion. I wasn’t doing it for show or to look like I was some pompous blowhard who was thoughtfully weighing the facts before handing down my judgment…instead, I was truly torn. I had previously demanded data for the public to see, which would make the whole process transparent and hold Dr. Heinz and her staff accountable. I didn’t get everything I asked for, but they came pretty close. I was uncomfortable with the notion of not giving these folks a pay raise – I’ve seen many of these administrators in action and, in my opinion, most are doing a very good job of running their respective schools and managing a bevy of teachers. I personally don’t think that we can equate test scores with administrator performance – in my opinion, take it for what it’s worth, I think that student success, test scores and the like, are affected almost solely by Dr. Heinz, her Superintendent of Curriculum, and the teachers who carry out their orders. Again, in my opinion, the administrators are more like managers of large institutions – they have budgets to meet, people to manage, and facilities to oversee – all on a micro, rather than macro level…and, in my opinion, most of these folks are doing a pretty good job of it.

So, after that longwinded explanation, if you still feel I failed the taxpayers of the District and didn’t score a victory for HITA, then I’m willing to accept the blame and the criticism. Thanks for hearing me out.



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