Public Watchdog.org

D-207’s Building Plan: Con Job Or Incompetent Management? (Part I)

05.07.18

The legendary newspaper publisher and philanthropist Joseph Pulitzer once said: “There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick, there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.”

We are reminded of those words every time we read or hear about anything related to Maine Twp. School District 207’s proposed school building renovations and improvements.

For those of you who might not be on the District’s mailing list, or who might have tossed the recent mailings about the proposals in the trash without reading them, the two-page “Facts” sheet can be found HERE; and the six-page “Facilities Planning Update” for April 2018 can be found HERE.

The “Facts” sheet lists a total of 33 bullet-pointed, line-item categories of work to be performed for $240.7 million. The “Facilities Planning Update” is much more comprehensive and, unlike the “Facts” sheet, it identifies the $240.7 million project as “Plan A,” along with a $135 million “Plan B” version. In typical politician/bureaucrat fashion, however, no dollar figures are attached to any of the work identified in either mailing.

That lack of such pricing (i.e., “secrecy”) is the first sign a con job is afoot.

We have to assume that Wallace already has those line-item figures. Otherwise, both Plan A’s and Plan B’s boxcar numbers would have had to have sprung fully-formed from Wallace’s cranium like Athena springing from Zeus’ head.

Barring such mythological feats, those totals must be aggregations of numerous smaller itemized costs already known to Wallace, his administrators, and the D-207 Board. So why aren’t they being shared with the taxpayers?

The answer is simple: Providing line-item costs would enable taxpayers to ask informed, meaningful and difficult questions at the “community meetings” – D-207’s equivalent of time-share condo sales pitches – when what they want is for the taxpayers to chug the Kool-Aid while ooh-ing and ahh-ing with wide-eyed wonderment at the shiny-object plans and renderings.

Providing line-item costs also could create dissension among the three groups of residents serviced by each of the District’s three schools, especially if spending for each of the three schools is not roughly equal. Dissension usually leads to disgruntlement, and disgruntlement usually leads to less support of the plan at the polls.

Another sign that Wallace and the D-207 Board are “on the con” and running a shell game with us taxpayers as their marks is their failure to disclose how much interest will be paid on either the $195 million of bonds for Plan A, or the $135 million of bonds for Plan B. A recent Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“Residents hear proposed building changes for Maine South, district-wide referendum plan,” May 3) suggests that Plan A’s $195 million of bonds would cost a whopping $105 million of interest over the expected 20-year term of those bonds, while applying the H-A’s methodology produces roughly $70 million in interest expense for Plan B.

Why would Wallace and the Board want to keep those figures secret?

Because the resultant “macro” $300 million and $205 million totals are a whole lot harder to sell than the “micro” numbers – e.g., how much more in RE taxes will be assessed against median-value homes – Wallace et al. are using to seduce the taxpayers. If “$91.02 per $100,000 of a home’s market value…or about $7.59 per month” sounds a lot like the “for only pennies a day” pitch of certain t.v. infomercial hucksters, you’re starting to catch on to D-207’s game.

We wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Wallace has been watching old Ron Popeil commercials.

Wallace claims the projects are all about “[i]mproving safety and security” through constructing new entrances “to prevent visitors from entering the buildings before being cleared by school personnel.”

As we’ve pointed out in our 11.23.201503.29.2016,  07.21.2017  and 02.21.2018 posts about the folly of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s not-really-secure vestibules (with or without SROs), however, unless you run visitors and students alike through metal detectors, any claim to substantially greater “security” is a sham bordering on a fraud. Or, in the spirit of this post, a con job.

Wallace claims another major focus of both Plan A and Plan B is “[r]eplacing outdated plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.”

That’s politician/bureaucrat-speak for “we’ve neglected those systems for years because we used the money for other stuff.” Other stuff like teacher and administrator raises, and building up that $122 million slush fund (a/k/a, “reserves”) so that Wallace and the Board can draw down a whopping $45.7 million for this project while still keeping those reserves in line with the District’s policy of 50% of the annual operating budget which, most recently, was approximately $145 million.

We will pay a crisp $1 bill to any reader who can find the D-207 Board meeting minutes in which the Board expressly authorized Wallace to build up that slush fund to around 38% above the District’s policy; and for what reason.

How much of the $240.7 million or $180.7 million is going for that neglected infrastructure versus “improvements”? We can’t tell because…wait for it…Wallace and his rubber-stamp Board members haven’t given us those line-item category costs. Keeping those costs secret enables Wallace and the Board to keep the taxpayers in the dark, thereby allowing the District to control the “message” and the debate.

Which for this project, in case you missed it on both the “Facts” and the “Facilities Planning Update,” is: “Moving Maine Forward.”

That begs the question of whether, and in what direction, “Maine” has been moving since Wallace became superintendent in 2009. But “Moving Maine Forward,” even if it is disingenuous, admittedly sounds better than “Shifting Out Of Reverse” or “Overcoming Inertia.” So we’ll give the D-207 public relations folks a “Goebby” (in dishonor of Joseph Goebbels) for their shameless creativity.

This ends the “con job” portion of the discussion. In our next post we’ll address the “incompetent management” portion.

To read or post comments, click on title.

7 comments so far

Notably missing from the more than a Quarter Billion suggested spend is any reference to the projected number of students for the next 20 years. I suspect the answer does not look so good for their cause otherwise we would have seen the projections by now. Let’s pretend the number of students will decrease from current levels, does it make sense to spend over $1/4 BILLION on decreasing numbers of student?

Also absent is the recent takeover/acquisition of the rather large building to the south of Maine South for their new Administration offices. I thought that was done to make space for all the needs of the students and centralize administration needs, yet the new material makes it sound like much of the costs relates to space needs and improvements.

Similar to Maine township’s excess/surplus fund, District 207 has been over taxing the taxpayers by amassing an excessive amount of cash while ignoring standard upkeep of their buildings and now crying wolf over ill-maintained equipment and infrastructure. Yet again, I suspect poor management while over taxing us taxpayers.

Lastly, the figures they publish should have the interest costs identified separately since that is also a COST of this outrageous request.

I challenge District 207 to show the taxpayers one cost/benefit analysis of all of these alleged cost savings they claim in the propaganda pieces they have been sending out. For example they claim they will save on energy costs if they spend some undisclosed amount of money. Show the taxpayers how much you will spend on such efforts and the amount of money this will save so we all can judge the financial wisdom of such a claim.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since they don’t/won’t(?) provide the actual costs, it’s darn near impossible to calculate cost savings.

Equally important to us is how any ROI on the “improvement” costs (i.e., those not related to renovation of failing infrastructure) are proposed to be calculated, other than anecdotally.

Your post deserves to be run on the front pages of both local newspapers.

I got the Facilities Planning Update in Saturday’s mail and my reaction was almost exactly the same as yours. There is nothing H.I.T.A. about how this is being done.

I also got D-207’s “Public Opinion Survey” and it is obviously designed to elicit preferred responses or provide wiggle room irrespective of the answer. And how can you “prioritize” various things without cost figures attached by which one could determine the ROI or other value?

Also, what happens when the City needs to go out for $100 million or more of bonds for flood control, and D-64 goes out for whatever new bond issue or tax increase it has been postponing since last year, and the Park District’s new Oakton complex?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks.

The “Public Opinion Survey” is aptly named, as it pretty much is a P.O.S.

I can understand fixing the plumbing but it some of the updates seemed silly.

They have turned this into a “them versus us” battle by treating us like mushrooms. My neighbor went to one of the community meetings and Wallace is taking no responsibility for the current situation. It’s just the way it is, and it’s got to be fixed.

WHat a crock.

Where are the Board members who we’ve elected to keep an eye on Wallace and his administrators? Are they asleep at the switch or have they just drunk the Kool-Aid?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sullivan: Both. Owen, Besler, Lee and Collins: Your guess is as good as ours.

As for Austriaco and Coyle, we’re cutting them some slack because (a) they’ve only been there a year; and (b) they’re surrounded by Kool-Aid drinkers and somnambulists

What do you think the chances are that this referendum makes it to the November 2018 ballot?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That depends on whether the response from their time-share pitches and the results of the P.O.S. “Public Opinion Survey” convince them that they have a good chance of “winning” a November referendum. If not, they’ll push it back to April 2019 where the turnout will be substantially less, thereby increasing the likelihood that the Kook-Aid drinkers will be a greater percentage of the voters.

The District is saying that it spent $33.6 million over the past 5 years on “building repairs and upgrades” (Source: “Maine District 207 Facts”). So what is your point besides stirring up trouble?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our “point” is that $33.6 million clearly was only about 1/7 enough.

Plus, with such long-lived infrastructure, the relevant inquiry should not have been how much D-207 spent over the past 5 years but, instead, over the past 10-15-20 years.



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