Public Watchdog.org

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

05.08.18

In yesterday’s post we questioned whether Maine Township High School District 207’s new District-wide construction project might be the product of an outright dishonest scam-a-rama by Supt. Ken Wallace and the D-207 School Board.

Today we’re going to explore the slightly more benign possibility that Wallace and the Board aren’t scammers and schemers but, instead, merely incompetent mopes who couldn’t manage their way out of a wet paper bag, yet are being entrusted each year with over $145 million of taxpayer money to educate our high school students.

And apparently not doing a very good job of it.

Let’s start with a question: What kind of incompetent leadership and/or management could have neglected the infrastructure of the District’s three high school buildings to the point where so much of it apparently has to be replaced or upgraded?

Or, alternatively: What kind of incompetent leadership and/or management didn’t budget enough money over the past nine (9) years for regular infrastructure maintenance, repair, renovation or replacement so that it all arguably has come due at once?

That inquiry begins with Wallace, who became superintendent in 2009. As superintendent he is basically the District’s CEO, which means that his fingerprints are all over – or should be all over – every inch of mismanagement and neglect that has led to this situation.

Although the District brags in its “Facts” propaganda sheet and its April “Facilities Planning Update” propaganda brochure that “in just the past five years” it has spent “$33.6 million…to address building repairs and upgrades,” that dollar amount clearly hasn’t been close to enough, even as millions of dollars were being socked away into “reserves” (i.e., the D-207 slush fund) in order to reduce the amount of bonded debt the District needs/wants voters to approve.

If Wallace were a competent CEO – and the School Board members tasked with holding him accountable were competent stewards of the taxpayers’ money and the students’ education – he would have been doing more “repairs and upgrades” from the time he became superintendent. And if sufficient funds weren’t available, he would have said so in no uncertain terms…and asked for a funding referendum (or two) to address those problems before they grew to $240.7 million.

But that would have subjected Wallace, his fellow administrators, the School Board members, and the teachers to unwanted scrutiny. So, instead, he and they stuck band-aids on the problems, or neglected them entirely until they have reached today’s pseudo-crisis proportions.

For that, we’ll call him D-207 Taxpayers’ Public Enemy No. 1.

But if Wallace is D-207 Taxpayers’ Public Enemy No. 1, D-207 Taxpayers’ Public Enemy No. 2 must be Board member Sean O’Brien Sullivan, first elected way back in 2007.

From checking Sullivan’s record for the past 11 years we have to conclude that his next good idea for either the education of D-207’s students or the management of the taxpayers’ money will be his first. He has rubber-stamped so many things at D-207 that he must be on his third or fourth ink pad.

Carla Owen and Jin Lee have been on the Board since 2013, so they also must “wear the jacket” for this debacle because they knew, or reasonably should have known, that the $33.6 million of band-aids, rubber bands and paper clips wasn’t nearly enough for the past five years. At the very least they should have asked tough questions and demanded credible answers about maintenance, repairs, renovation and replacement of the District’s infrastructure, but they didn’t. The same goes for Paula Besler and Teri Collins – the former appointed to the Board in April 2014 before being elected in 2015, the latter having been elected in 2015.

Representing the taxpayers is not rocket science so long as the elected official has a functioning brain, a stiff spine, and a sense of public service which is loftier than merely having one’s head patted and tummy rubbed.

Which pretty much might explain why the tenures of Owen, Lee, Besler and Collins have been failures so far.

The only two current Board members who arguably have plausible deniability are Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle, both of whom have just completed their first year “honeymoon period” on the Board. With the honeymoon over, however, these two experienced litigators need to start doing a whole lot less rubber-stamping and a whole lot more cross-examining of Wallace and his subordinates on virtually everything they propose.

And as reputed proponents of the late Mayor Dave Schmidt’s H.I.T.A. (“Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability”) philosophy of government, the time has come for Austriaco and Coyle to demand that D-207 taxpayers get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about everything D-207 – not the cock-eyed propaganda distributed by Wallace, et al. – like Schmidt would have demanded were he still alive and in their shoes.

You’ve got the ability, ladies: Don’t let yourselves get steamrolled by the Kool-Aid drinking rubber-stampers that surround you.

Unfortunately, lost in all this recent brick-and-mortar talk is the greatest failing of Wallace, his fellow administrators, and the School Board members past and present: The decline in the measurable educational achievement of the District’s students, especially those at flagship Maine South.

Wallace and his hucksters continue to bombard us with vacuous edu-babble about “flexible learning spaces that leverage instructional technology, enhance current teaching methods and promote collaboration.” If this were a “Seinfeld” episode, that kind of empty rhetoric would be met with dismissive choruses of “Yada, yada, yada.” And yawns.

According to the latest Niche.com report, “Park Ridge” high schools (meaning Maine South, Maine East and Maine West) ranked 64th, behind communities like Buffalo Grove (5th), Northbrook (7th), Wilmette (12th), Glenview (15th), Western Springs (22nd), Oak Park (32nd), Elmhurst (38th), Evanston (41st), Morton Grove (42nd), Palatine (45th), Arlington Heights (48th), Lincolnwood (51st), Rolling Meadows (52nd), Highland Park (57th), Mount Prospect (59th) and even Niles (61st).

That same Niche.com ranking places Maine South, by itself, as the 48th best public high school in Illinois.

Before anybody breaks out the Dom Perignon (or even the Martinelli Sparkling Cider) over that 48th-place ranking, it might help to know that back in 2009 – when Wallace took over as D-207 superintendent – the Chicago Tribune ranked Maine South as the 12th best high school in the state while the Sun-Times ranked it 13th, something we noted in our 10.30 2009 post

In 2012 (after the Tribune apparently stopped doing the rankings), U.S. News & World Report ranked Maine South as the 29th best public high school in Illinois, which we wrote about in our 04.01.2013 post. But by 2016, that ranking had plunged to 45th, a fact we bemoaned in our 04.22.2016 post. Worse yet, only 40.8% of its seniors were deemed to be “college ready” – based on (a) the percentage of seniors who took at least one AP class, and (b) how well those students performed on the AP tests.

And last year, Maine South was “unranked” by U.S. News & World – with only 44.6% of seniors deemed “college ready.”

Niche.com’s 48th-place ranking of Maine South is further qualified by its reporting that student reading proficiency is only 49% and math proficiency is a dismal-sounding 28%.

What’s happening, Supt. Wallace? What’s happening, School Board members?

Whenever another chapter in the decline and fall of Maine South High School has been published, what have we heard from Wallace and the Board – both the current members and the others who have come and gone since 2009, such as Joann Braam, Eldon Burk, Mary Childers, Eric Lays, Margaret McGrath, Ed Mueller and Donna Pellar?

*Crickets*

Now, we don’t claim these ratings/rankings are gospel, nor are we suggesting they be treated as such. One can probably find flaws in every one of their methodologies. But Wallace and the Board haven’t produced any ratings/rankings that place Maine South among the elite Illinois public high schools, a category that includes many otherwise comparable suburban Chicago communities, many of which have lower school property taxes than D-207’s and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s.

Meanwhile, all we’ve heard from the Maine Teachers Association (D-207’s teachers union) is a variation on the theme of: “Our teachers are great, give us more money.” And neither Wallace nor the Board members past and present have had the smarts to demand “Prove it!” Or the spines to say “No!”

Are we being harsh? You’re darn right we are!

But we’re talking about D-207’s plan to spend one-quarter of a BILLION dollars – or, more accurately, ONE-THIRD OF A BILLION dollars when you figure in the estimated $105 million of interest on the $195 million of bonded debt – that will suck up a whopping $300 million tax dollars over the next 20 years, with no significant guaranteed or even objectively-measurable improvement in student performance as an acceptable return on investment (“ROI”).

That’s just about as incompetent as D-207 can get before it crosses the border into con-job territory.

Assuming it’s not there already.

Update 05.10.2018. The 2018 U.S. News & World Reports “Best High Schools” rankings are out and Maine South is once again “unranked.” And although Maine East is ranked 46th, that’s down from last year’s 37th. But, mirabile dictu, Maine West is…wait for it…27th!

If you are flummoxed by those rankings, we encourage you to read our posts of 05.08.2017 and 05.19.2017 in which we discuss the U.S. News ranking system and criteria. They won’t get you all the way to where you should want to be on this issue, but it’s more than you’ll get out of D-207, if history is any guide.

The bottom line, however, appears to be that Maine South is under-performing based on its demographics: 15% minority students, 8% economically disadvantaged. Compare that to Maine East’s 54% minorities and 46% economically disadvantaged, and Maine West’s 53% and 39%.

We can’t wait to hear Supt. Wallace’s or D-207 propagandist Dave Beery’s attempts at explaining these rankings, or how they will try to spin these results to fit nicely into their $240.7 million (really $300 million) “Moving Maine Forward” narrative.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

10 comments so far

Yesterday Mr. Egan mentioned the student population. A quick look at the online Maine South 2017-18 Profile shows the student population for 2015-16 was 2,390. Interesting that statistics are quoted for 2017-18 regarding languages spoken but they’re using old information regarding ethnicity and total student population and average class size. I find it hard to believe that at this late point in the school year they don’t have more up to date information.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dishonest people using selective distribution of information to manipulate opinion? Kind of like providing no line-item cost information?

This all makes me sick. I have lost trust in Wallace and the school board not just because they have let things deteriorate to this degree and because the educational quality is dropping but, maybe worst, because of the way they are conducting this referendum process. They should all resign and let us start over.

Wallace and the Board don’t want people to pick and choose what they want, or what costs less, so they are treating it as a unified proposal.

But then they come up with the $135 Million version that highlights eliminating “building fire suppression systems.” Panic peddling at its worst.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course it is, and leading off with eliminating fire suppression on the $135 million Plan B is about as cynical and dishonest as you can get.

Does this capital proposal go to referendum?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s what D-207’s administration is saying. Whether it MUST go to referendum depends on the available amount of the District’s non-referendum bonding power.

Someone named Lynn Wiemeler has posted a comment on the Advocate’s FB page that “Anyone with questions about what they’ve heard on social media should attend to get the correct info.” It sounds like PW is who she is targeting.

EDITOR’S NOTE: C’est la vie.”

But we’re guessing that, if she is talking about this blog, by “correct info” she means D-207’s propaganda.

What do you think of the questionnaire D207 sent out? It doesn’t ask about individual categories of expenditures but reads more like a public relations survey. Is that the point?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly. That’s why we refer to it as a POS.

One third of a Billion dollars? Seriously?

Wallace should be fired and the school board should resign.

If we spend this money it may mean we will be unable to afford saving the trees on Busse Hwy and after all, isn’t that what is really important??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Absolutely. A cool $1 million or more for 15 trees is a bargain.

Stupid question anon 5:11. Improving school are more a priority though as I said in the other posting maybe half of the stuff they want isn’t needed.

5:43:

Ever heard of sarcasm??



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