Biagi Explains, Defends Vote For Heinz’s $75K In Administrator Raises


EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we are posting what was submitted by D-64 Board vice-president Rick Biagi as a comment to our 09.18.17 post and Update.

While we disagree with him on some key points, we respect this effort to apprise his constituents of the reasons behind his vote for Supt. Heinz’s $75,000 of raises for District administrators. We also appreciate his persistence in trying to bring H.I.T.A. to a Star Chamber-like unit of government that has been bereft of it for decades.


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.

Richard “Rick” Biagi


Park Ridge-Niles School District 64

12 comments so far

Thanks Rick. I appreciate you getting some sort of a win for taxpayers in something like this.

However, the taxpayers need TAX RELIEF. We can’t look up and see the administrators goal of raising taxes the max (before referendum) every year.

We need to slow spending, and cut. We need to analyze what services can be either cut, or passed on to the USER of the service beyond what the state requires. Giving parents a stake in their children’s education helps them be more involved in spending decisions, and would provide relief to taxpayers.

I think if all of the School Board members were like Rick Biagi, the district would be a heck of a lot better off in the long run.

Mr. Biagi is open, honest, transparent, and is making strides to improve the functionality of the school board. You can’t make scrambled eggs without cracking a few eggs. You can’t make significant progress with transparency without cracking a few hard headed administrators.

So if elections were still run the old ‘Chicago’ machine way, he would get all of my votes!!!

Rick deserves credit and I support his decisions and explanations for how he voted!

Rick, thanks for taking the time to lay out your thoughts on this important topic. I appreciate your efforts to bring a “facts and data” perspective to the board. We know the mentality won’t change overnight, but if you keep pushing your persistence will be rewarded.

Thanks Rick, please keep asking questions and shining a light on what has been hidden from view for far too long.

As I’m writing this, there are three comments already, and I agree with them all — great job, Rick, thanks for representing actual taxpayers — yet at the same time really wish we hadn’t had to disburse yet another bag of money to D64 administrators. First of all, administrators are overhead; perhaps the next discussion should be, instead of how well they’re doing, whether we need every single one of them. Second, don’t underestimate the propensity of the PREA to complain they, too, deserve 2.6%, same as the administrators. (Never mind lane and step.)

So: Rick, thank you. Good progress. Better luck next time. I wish more of the Board would follow your lead.

Watch the video, people.

Are the raises “market adjustment”? Are they “comparables”? Are they based on “proficiency”? Who knows, other than it’s an additional $75,000 of raises that Heinz did not disclose in detail prior to the meeting. She just wants the Board to vote for the $75,000 of raises. The Board had no idea what it was doing, ow why it was voting on $75,000 instead of $57,000. It’s like watching an iprov performance at Second City, except that they are spending taxpayer money for reasons they don’t really understand.

Are “comparables” the same as “market adjustment”? who knows?

Heinz and Kolstad are the masters of double talk, and the Board bought it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It was entertaining, in a perverse sort of way. But the most important thing about it was that a $75K giveaway of taxpayers’ money at least got publicly debated for more than the 30 seconds past boards would spend on such matters.

Well done Rick and stay the course!… is on the way in 2019! Your efforts remind me of a younger first term Park Board member (and this blog’s creator) who found himself on island fighting for HITA principles until other similar disciplined board members arrived.

EDITOR’S NOTE: H.I.T.A. principles were worth fighting for then, and they’re worth fighting for even more today.

Heinz and Kolstad are double talkers when they try to explain how the raises are not “market adjustments” but “comparables” that are used to adjust salaries to the “comparable” market. The school board should have voted the raises down on the basis of double talk alone. The message should have been strong and clear: If you can’t give a straight answer, you don’t get what you’re asking for.

Biagi has already shown himself to be the best D64 board member in my memory, going back to the days of Irene Jinks, Jane Curry, Marty Joyce (now an alderman, what’s that about?) and the rest of the people who rubberstamped everything Supt. Fred Schroeder asked for, starting with the new Emerson.

Borrelli and Heinz brag about their leadership in extending the time until the next referendum because they don’t want a referendum that will be a vote on their stewardship. They would rather borrow more money, roll over existing debt, and pull their other financial shenanigans without having to justify it to the voters.

Keep up the good work, Biagi! And to you other board members who have shown that you can’t or are afraid to lead, either follow Biagi or get out of the way!

How is it that Mr. Biagi could be “uncomfortable” with not giving administrators a pay raise? Where is the objectively measurable achievement (district v. district test scores, ratings, rankings) that would support Mr. Biagi’s anecdotes about how “many of these administrators…are doing a very good job of running their respective schools and managing a bevy of teachers”?

Mr. Biagi thinks “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.” If that’s the case, can we expect that Heinz won’t get another raise and another year of employment next spring? I doubt it. Can we expect that curriculum supt. Lori Lopez won’t be getting a raise? Oh wait, did she not just get one last Monday? Can we expect that the teachers won’t get raises (either up front, or step and lane) when the next contract comes up in 2020? I doubt that, too.

Biagi is taking bows for himself and his fellow board sheep for more kick-the-can-down-the-road business as usual. Garbage in, garbage out, as PW worried about in the Sept. 18 post.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In Jim Collins’ 2001 bestseller “Good to Great,” he made the trenchant observation: “Good is the enemy of great.” That appears to explain what happened here: Mr. Biagi, et al. were willing to trade a more easily achievable “good” (a promise by Heinz of future transparency which may or may not be honored by her, Kolstad, et al.) for a slightly more difficult “great”: Rejecting Heinz’s shoddily-documented plea for a $75K slush fund to give raises to administrators whom she claims are wonderful but would leave if they didn’t get $2-4K more per year.

It’s a glass half-full v. glass half-empty argument. Transparency (if we actually get it – don’t hold your breath) is the half-full view. A slush fund for raises (which are being doled out now, so you don’t even have to hold your breath) is the half-empty view.

But remember this: Had Mr. Biagi not been elected to the D-64 Board, taxpayers wouldn’t know this particular “glass” even existed because it would have been hidden from view via burial in some obscure line item expenditure in the budget. Thanks to Mr. Biagi, taxpayers can now debate the half-empty/half-full question.

And hold him and his fellow Board members accountable for both of them.

Cindy McDonald Grau posted the following on Biagi’s D-64 Trustee’s blog: “You can serve the taxpayers well without the public watchdog’s approval. HITA does not always emcompass [sic] what he’s looking for nor what our entire community is looking for for that matter. Thank you for your efforts.”

Is this not the same Cindy Grau who referred to H.I.T.A. as “bullsHITA” on some Facebook post?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good memory, and one and the same.

She’s had a burr in her kazoo about this blog and its editor well before her campaign for the Park Ridge Park District board in April 2015, presumably because she’s one of the growing number of Park Ridge residents who seem to believe that the more you can take out of government above the amount you pay in taxes, the better.

And our posts about her candidacy back on 01.07.15 and 01.13.15, as well as our non-endorsement on 04.06.15, probably didn’t inspire any Kumbaya feelings.

It’s presumptuous to assume that Commissioner Grau subscribes to the belief that “the more you can take out of government above the money you pay in taxes, the better.” Perhaps Ms. Grau doesn’t like your divisive style. And to Anonymous 6:27 PM, do you have nothing better to do than negatively comment on one board member showing support for another?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve read enough newspaper articles and Park Board meeting minutes, and watched enough meeting videos, from which to form an opinion that is far more informed than “presumptuous.”

As for our “style,” it’s calling a spade a “spade.” What’s “divisive” is the “Let’s make sure we take out more than we pay in” philosophy and conduct of the deus-ex-imperium folks like Ms. Grau and Kathy “Ubi est mea?” Meade – which divides them from the vast majority of folks who dutifully pay their taxes for the common good without any expectation of getting as much or more of benefits in return.

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