Public Watchdog.org

“College Ready”? Don’t Bet On It

05.19.17

We got a few constructive criticisms about our previous post that caused us to look a little more closely at – and drill down a little more deeply into – those U.S. News & World high school rankings, which this year had Maine East soaring from 63d place to 37th place among Illinois high schools while Maine South plummeted from 45th to out-of-the-money.

A couple of commenters faulted our suggestion that South’s 44.6 College Readiness Index (“CRI”) score indicated that the Maine Twp. High School District 207 administration was “incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of ‘college readiness’.”

And those commenters are correct.

The CRI is not the percentage of students in a given school who are “college ready.” Rather, it’s a number that reflects how many students take Advanced Placement (“AP”) tests and how many “pass” by scoring at least a “3” out of “5” possible points.

As one of our commenters speculated, South may have been penalized because not as many of its students took as many AP exams as other schools’ students.

Or maybe South students just didn’t pass as many of the AP exams they did take.

But South didn’t fall out of the rankings because of its CRI, which was higher than East’s and a number of the other schools ranked a head of it.

South fell out of the rankings because it could not get past Step 1 in the ranking process: A determination of whether its students “were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state” – based on its percentage of economically disadvantaged students.

According to U.S. News data, 46% of Maine East students are considered “economically disadvantaged, while a mere 7% of Maine South students fit that description.

So the bottom line of South’s rather dismal ranking performance is that it under-performed its expectations for a school with such affluent students.

That under-performance was totally side-stepped by D-207 Supt. Ken Wallace, who keeps on getting raises for reasons we can’t begin to understand. As we noted in our 05.08.17 post, he basically blamed PARCC testing, Park Ridge’s lack of diversity, and the U.S. News rating system.

If D-207’s or D-64’s rankings, or their objective performances on standardized tests, don’t match up with those for the schools in Glenview, Northbrook and all those other communities that compete with Park Ridge for highly-educated, high-income transplants from Chicagoland or out of state, you can count on Wallace and D-64 Supt. Laurie Heinz to come up with more alibis and excuses than you can count…using both your fingers and your toes.

Almost all of them boil down to: We’re better than they say we are. And the standards they use to say we aren’t are fatally flawed.

In that vein we encourage you to read an article in today’s Chicago Tribune (“Tribune analysis: College prep courses not preparing kids for college”, May 19), which raises yet another warning flag about Maine South’s 44.6 CRI: That South’s “general” curriculum may be under-performing in preparing South’s students for college.

That Tribune story points out how the general curriculums in too many Illinois high schools are not rigorous enough – absent “honors” and AP classes – to get their students college-ready. So if South’s CRI is lower because of a lack of AP course/test takers and AP test passers, a less-than-rigorous general curriculum may be part of the problem.

Is it?

We don’t know. Getting a handle on the quality of public education in this country is like trying to catch a greased pig, squealing (by administrators, teachers, teachers’ unions and politicians) included.

But one thing is clear: When it comes to local public school education, it’s always sunny in Park Ridge. Our schools are great…just ask all our highly-paid educators. And according to them, anyone or anything that suggests otherwise lacks credibility, or is using faulty data, or is manufacturing fake news.

Will we ever have a school superintendent or school board member who actually accepts accountability for the continuing under-performance of our schools occurring on their watch?

And will the Park Ridge sheeple who have every right to demand more, and better, for the children of this community – because they already are paying for much more, and much better – ever stop mindlessly buying the propaganda churned out by the likes of D-64 Propaganda Minister Bernadette Tramm and her D-207 counterpart, David Beery, presumably at the direction of Heinz and Wallace?

The folks who run D-207 and D-64 have bet heavily on “No.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Maine East Up, Maine South MIA In Latest U.S. News Rankings

05.08.17

A year ago the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings of Illinois high schools had Maine South at 45th, Maine East at 63rd, and Maine West MIA. In our 4.22.16 post we bemoaned the fact that Maine South’s 45th place ranking was down 16 places from 2012, and that the “college readiness” rating was an unimpressive 40.8%.

But that was then, this is now. But once again we now have good news and bad news.

First, the good news: Maine East leaped from 63rd place to 37th!

Now the bad: Maine South fell out of the rankings entirely – meaning it didn’t even come in among the top 1oo.

According to the article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Maine East ranks 37th in state on new ‘Best Schools’ list,” May 2), U.S. News ranks schools based on: (a) reading and math results on high school proficiency tests; (b) whether “disadvantaged” student groups — identified as black, Hispanic and low-income — “performed at or better than the state average for the least-advantaged students; (c) graduation rates; and (d) how the schools prepare students for college-level work using data from Advanced Placement exams.

Maine Twp. High School District 207 Supt. Ken Wallace, not surprisingly, offered explanations that don’t seem internally consistent.

According to the H-A article, Wallace blames “flawed” state PARCC testing, unequal comparisons between schools, and Maine South’s failure to meet the performance threshold for black, Hispanic and low-income students. He also claimed that while District 207 gave the PARCC math and language arts exams to its freshman, other districts tested older students; and other districts may have selectively tested only their better students.

That might explain South’s plummet, but how does that explain East’s simultaneous rise?

We don’t know but, not surprisingly, Wallace’s explanation didn’t wash with Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. As reported by the H-A, Morse claimed the test score comparisons across schools “are generally reliable” and that “[t]o the extent that any comparisons are unfair, in this particular case, Maine South and Maine West would have both been advantaged by the fact that they tested their students in ELA I, the easier ELA assessment.”

Morse went on to explain that because South and West didn’t pass step one of the U.S. News methodology because their performance was no better than might be expected, “given their proportion of students identified as economically disadvantaged.”

Wallace remained defiant, claiming that once D-207 schools start using the SAT the comparisons with other schools will be “apples to apples.”

Let’s hope so.

Wallace was quick to point out that typically high performers like Barrington, Deerfield and Highland Park high schools also didn’t make the rankings cut, and that the “metrics that matter the most is [sic] really the CRI [College Readiness Index],” But South’s CRI – according to U.S. News – is a disappointing 44.6, although up almost 4 points from last year.

Compare that to not only the three top suburban schools — Stevenson (71.6), Hinsdale Central (62.8) and Prospect (61.5) – but also to less prestigious schools like Hersey (58.9), Buffalo Grove (52.9) and York (50.8).

Even the three also-unranked schools that Wallace noted did better than South: Barrington’s CRI was 46.8, Deerfield’s was 58.6 and Highland Park’s was 58.3. Even our out-of-the-money neighbor to the north, Glenbrook South, clocked in with a 55.6.

What does all of this mean?

We don’t know, because we’re not willing or able to figure out how many U.S. News testing metrics – or Supt. Wallace’s metrics, for that matter – can dance on the head of a pin.

But one thing we are pretty sure of is that when parents from the City of Chicago or outside the Chicago area are looking at relocating to suburbs with the highest-quality schools, Park Ridge takes a big hit – justified or not – when its flagship high school gets beaten out by so many schools from other communities where the taxes are so much lower, especially when 70% of our property tax bills are attributed to our local public schools.

And irrespective of how Maine South compares to schools in those other north, northwest and west suburbs, we didn’t hear Wallace trying to justify South’s 44.6 CRI number.

Think about that for a minute: An affluent suburb like Park Ridge, taxing and spending near the top of the pack (at approx. $18,000 per student per year), appears incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of “college readiness.” And all we get from Wallace and the D-207 School Board is…crickets.

Are those kids arriving at South, primarily from D-64 – itself among the highest-priced elementary districts – under-prepared for high school? If so, it’s time for Wallace and the folks at South to say so. Then let Supt. Laurie Heinz, her heretofore puppet school board members, and her administrators defend their stewardship of their schools’ students.

If not, then it’s time to start questioning the stewardship of Wallace, his puppet school board members, and his administrators.

We’ve had more than enough of what appears to be a conspiracy of mutual silence and back-scratching by the folks running both D-64 and D-207.

Meanwhile, it’s well past time the Illinois State Board of Education started producing its own official “apples-to-apples” comparisons of Illinois schools – both elementary and secondary – rather than leaving the task to the likes of U.S. News, Schooldigger, et al.

Because, like it or not, comparative school shopping and community shopping is here to stay – especially when those schools consume a whopping 70% of a community’s hefty property tax bill.

To read or post comments, click on title.

A Big Win For Yesterday’s Victors, An Even Bigger Win For H.I.T.A.

04.05.17

Eight years ago mayoral candidate Dave Schmidt sparked the flame of good government when he promised to bring H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – to a City administration that was bereft of those principles. He also pledged to put taxpayers first because there would be no City government without the taxes they provide.

Since then that flame has grown stronger and burned brighter, finally becoming a torch that illuminated the workings of City government through initiatives like televised meetings, the online posting of meeting materials in advance of meetings, and reducing closed sessions to the barest minimum.

Yesterday that torch was officially passed to a new generation of leaders with the election of Marty Maloney, a staunch Mayor Dave ally and an even stauncher proponent of H.I.T.A., as mayor of Park Ridge.

His election alone, by a margin of roughly 70% to 30%, would have been enough to keep Park Ridge on the H.I.T.A. path and moving forward in all other respects, especially because it was accompanied by the re-election of pro-H.I.T.A. aldermen Nick Milissis, Marc Mazzuca and Roger Shubert.

But that wasn’t the half of it.

The voters of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 made their voices heard with the election of vocal H.I.T.A. proponents Rick Biagi and Fred Sanchez to that Star Chamber Board which, by our unofficial tally, leads all units of Park Ridge local government in the number of closed sessions it holds, and in the obfuscation that comes with them. At the same time those voters just said “No!” to three candidates whose most notable – and controversial – qualification for office was that they all were married to D-64 teachers and shamelessly wanted to put themselves in the untenable position of voting on their wives’ raises and working conditions. Or recusing themselves, thereby effectively reducing the Board to the bare mininum of four members required to do business.

That was about as anti-H.I.T.A. as you could get, and the voters wisely rejected such shamelessness.

Over at the Park Ridge Park District, Harmony Harrington, Jim Janak, Rob Leach and Jim O’Donnell – although not espousing H.I.T.A. by name – advanced many of its principles in their successful campaigns to oust two decidedly non-H.I.T.A. incumbents and their two unofficial running mates.

The same can be said for successful Maine Twp. High School District 207 candidate Linda Coyle, who we understand was, ironically enough, a law school classmate of Mayor Dave’s.

All told, yesterday may have been the single greatest across-the-board good government day Park Ridge has had in decades – in no small measure because it was a victory, first and foremost, of principles instead of just personalities.

But make no mistake about it: Yesterday’s victories didn’t make everybody happy.

There are still residents, some of them very brazen and vocal, with special-interest axes to grind and a related lust for spending OPM (“Other People’s Money). These residents will continue to denigrate H.I.T.A. as a kind of code word for “conservative” (shudder) or “Republican” (double shudder) guys and gals.

That’s just sour grapes from folks who can’t accept the voters’ repudiation of the dishonest and failed tax, borrow and spend policies of local governments past and present.

So don’t be surprised if those naysayers try to demean yesterday’s results by decrying the “low turnout” – which was 28.29% for the mayoral race, down from the 34.87% of 2013. A similar decline in voters was also the case for the other races as well.

But it was the late Rev. Theodore Hesburgh who stated: “Voting is a civic sacrament.” So those who refused that sacrament deserve whatever damnation they may subsequently complain about as being visited on them by yesterday’s winners.

The H.I.T.A. revolution, while started by Schmidt and advanced by the aforementioned winners, hasn’t been the work of any one person, or even several people. Instead it has been the work of hundreds of Park Ridge citizens who initially believed that local government could be made better than it was, more cost-effective than it was, and more respectful of the taxpayers than it was. But where H.I.T.A. really gained traction was when those same people came to realize that making local government better in those aforementioned ways actually was an achievable goal.

Schmidt’s election in 2009 and his re-election by an even larger margin in 2013 proved that. So did the elections and re-elections of Alds. Maloney and Dan Knight in 2011 and 2015, respectively, as well as the election and/or re-election of Alds. Mazzuca, Moran, Milissis, Shubert and the other aldermen who served on the Council these past several years.

Now it’s time for Maloney and the rest of yesterday’s victors to emerge from the long H.I.T.A. shadow Schmidt created and start creating shadows of their own by walking their campaign talk.

And doing so in bright sunlight.

That will be most challenging for Biagi and Sanchez at D-64, where there is a longstanding anti-H.I.T.A. bias and culture, and where they likely will have to confront Board president (and closed-session aficionado) Tony “Who’s the Boss?” Borrelli and his puppetmaster, Supt. Laurie “I’m the Boss!” Heinz, right out of the gate. Whether Biagi and Sanchez can get any support from Board members Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos – heretofore regular rubber-stampers of Borrelli’s closed-session motions and uber-secrecy about the PREA contract and Heinz’s contract extension – remains to be seen. So do the proclivities of newbies Larry Ryles and Eastman Tiu.

Over at D-207, Coyle will find herself surrounded by Board members afraid of their own shadows – and, therefore, possessed by a vampire-like fear of sunlight likely engendered by the desire to avoid any accountability for Maine South’s continuing and heretofore ignored decline in the rankings of Illinois high schools.

These local races, however, need to be viewed in the context of our state government which, over the past 40 years, seems to have grown as ethically bankrupt as it has grown financially bankrupt. That state of corruption won’t be reversed overnight.

But maybe, just maybe, the torch of good government passed last evening to these new Park Ridge leaders can also light the way for the officials of other communities to raise their games and adopt H.I.T.A. as the overarching principle of good government in their own communities – which can, in turn, start a grassroots turnaround statewide.

If so, it’s you voters who showed up yesterday to put your own imprints on local government – by means of the candidates you elected – who will deserve the credit.

Well done, voters!

To read or post comments, click on title.

Our Recommendations For The D-64 And D-207 School Boards

04.03.17

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 and Maine Twp. High School District 207, cumulatively, consume in the neighborhood of $200 million of our tax dollars…each year – or around 70% of our entire property tax bills.

And growing.

Yet over the past several years many/most ratings and rankings show a decline by the schools of both districts – with D-207 flagship Maine South now ranked as low as 45th in Illinois, according to the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings. As we noted in our 04.22.16 post, that’s down 16 slots from 2012.

Worse yet, the “College Readiness” of Maine South’s students is a meager 40.8%, trailing not only the likes of New Trier, Stevenson, the Glenbrooks (North and South), Deerfield, Highland Park, the Hinsdales (Central and South) but, also the likes of Wheeling and Elk Grove – despite comparable-or-higher teacher and administrator salaries, and comparable-or-lower student to teacher ratios.

And off-the-record conversations with a few long-time Maine South teachers suggest that a key reason why Maine South’s performance is declining is because the kids coming into South – the majority of whom are D-64 grads – aren’t high school ready.

But to listen to the D-207 Board and administration, and the Maine South administration, everything’s just ducky. Or peachy, if you prefer. And that’s the same bag of heifer dust being scattered about by the D-64 Board and administration – even though both D-207 and D-64 have some of the highest-paid teachers and administrators in the state, and have among the highest costs per pupil.

Those high costs and salaries might be justified if the performance demonstrated real value to the taxpayers who are footing the bills. But higher taxes and lower performance is an unsustainable model for the long-term attractiveness of Park Ridge.

D-207:   Four (4) seats are being contested by 5 candidates: Incumbents Carla Owen and Jin Lee; and challengers Aurora Austriaco, Linda Coyle and Dan Gott.

We didn’t endorse Owen or Lee when they ran in 2013, and you can read why in our 04.01.13 post. Since then, all that has changed is that Maine South has slid further in the rankings, so we can come up with no conceivable reason why they deserve re-election.

Unfortunately, because the current lineup of candidates will leave on odd-man/woman out, we would encourage the voters to leave Jin Lee without a chair when the music stops – if only because (a) he has expressed an almost total disregard for the taxpayers; and (b) he’s trying to institute a “global educational” initiative, including matching up one or more D-207 schools with schools in Korea and elsewhere, without any suggestion that such globalism will stop the ranking slide or increase the levels of student college-readiness.

Of the 3 challengers, Linda Coyle is the star by far. An attorney who has served on both the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission and the D-207 Community Advisory Council, she consistently has demonstrated sound thinking and a firm grasp of taxes-to-value analysis that is currently MIA on the D-207 Board. And her belief that the D-207 board “must spend the taxpayers’ money carefully…[while] ensuring that each dollar is directed at providing the strongest learning environment possible for our children” is a refreshing change from Jin Lee’s spend-without-results compulsion.

D-64:     Seven (7) non-incumbents are vying for four (4) seats created by the departures of Bob Johnson, Vicki Lee, Dathan Paterno and Scott Zimmerman.

Given their D+ performances (and a grade of F when it comes to transparency), It’s hard to conceive of their replacements being anything but an improvement. Amazingly (and sadly) enough, however, three of those challengers – Greg Bublitz, Norman Dziedzic and Michael Schaab – are almost guaranteed to be as bad or even worse, by virtue of the fact that they are all married to D-64 teachers. So if they are elected, they will get to vote not only on the 2020 teachers’ contract but, also, on various other conditions of employment and even teacher disciplinary issues that arise in the interim.

Whether that’s just the appearance of impropriety or an outright conflict of interest might require a lawsuit to actually establish. But for the reasons we discussed in greater depth in our 03.07.17 post and our 03.15.17 post, we see no sane reason why D-64’s already-H.I.T.A. (Honesty. Integrity. Transparency. Accountability)-challenged School Board should be burdened with either of those potential integrity breaches.

The other 4 candidates are Rick Biagi, Larry Ryles, Fred Sanchez and Eastman Tiu, all of whom are preferable to the “3 Hubbies.”

Of those 4, however, the stars clearly are Rick Biagi and Alfred “Fred” Sanchez, both of whom are attorneys, strong proponents of H.I.T.A. and strong proponents of maximizing educational value for our tax dollars. They also are staunch opponents of the D-64 Board’s regular abuse of secretive “closed session” meetings.

Biagi is completing his second 4-year term on the Park Ridge Park District Board, where he twice led the Board as president. Both he and Sanchez are founding members of the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee. Both of them have children currently attending D-64 schools, as well as children who have graduated from D-64 schools, with Sanchez himself being a D-64 grad.

Only by electing candidates like Biagi and Sanchez can we hope to improve the quality of education for D-64 students while also improving the value of D-64 to its taxpayers.

DISCLAIMER: The editor of this blog serves with Biagi and Sanchez on the Park Ridge Holiday Lights Fund committee.

To read or post comments, click on title.

 

A Couple Of Basic Ways To Screen Local Candidates

01.19.17

Nominating petition challenges are a good thing.

They serve as a basic, first-level screening to identify those candidates who are at least competent, committed and conscientious enough to gather sufficient petition signatures so that no reasonable challenge can be posed.

And to identify those who are not.

So when someone like Patrick DeStefano files only the bare minimum 67 petition signatures to get on the 6th Ward aldermanic ballot, and then gets bounced because 17 of them are disqualified by the Cook County Clerk’s office, voters can legitimately wonder whether his candidacy was anything more than a lark, or the product of some late-night gripe session ending with a “Screw this, I’m running for alderman!”

The same can be said for incumbent Maine Twp. High School Dist. 207 Board member Jin Lee, who reportedly filed only 55 signatures – a mere 5 more than the required minimum – and then had to gather several affidavits to prove to the election board that enough live registered voters actually signed his petitions. Instead of owning his ineptitude, however, Lee whined – according to a recent article in the Park Ridge Journal (“Maine High School Candidates Names Will Be Placed On April 4 Ballot,” Jan. 15) – that he “wish[ed] there was more of a way for first-timers to know how to handle objections.”

Here’s a thought: Try getting 25 or 50 signatures more than the bare minimum, so you don’t have to “handle objections.”

That should also be the lesson for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 candidate Monica Wojnicki, who reportedly has been knocked off that ballot by filing 52 signatures, only 2 above the required minimum, of which 32 were successfully challenged. And a lesson for Park Ridge Park District Board candidates Jennifer Barcal and Carol Becker, whose ballot challenges are still being sorted out.

But getting on the ballot is the bare minimum level of competence, commitment and conscientiousnous. At least one more level of screening is necessary to determining whether a candidate might be worthy of the office.

Motive.

For example, you can immediately write off any candidate who claims to be running to “give something back to the community.” That’s the default answer for all those empty-suit candidates trying to avoid admitting that they “got nothin’ ” in the way of ideas or agendas. And it’s those kinds of empty suits who end up becoming puppets or stooges for some special interest – assuming they aren’t already some special interest’s puppets or stooges trying to fly below the radar with their “give back” mantra.

If you want to know one reason why the D-64 School Board consistently ends up with so many puppets and/or stooges for the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA,” a/k/a the teachers union) and the PREA-beholden administrators, check out the sixth page of the recruiting handout for prospective D-64 Board candidates who attended Supt. Laurie Heinz’s dog-and-pony show last October 12, and you’ll see “give back” as one of the four reasons for Board service.

And if you can stomach wading through the rest of that propaganda piece (on which we detect the fingerprints of D-64 propaganda minister Bernadette Tramm as well as Heinz’s), we dare you to find the words “taxes” or “taxpayers.” That’s because Heinz and her current D-64 Board puppets/stooges don’t want nobody the taxpayers sent – or anybody that’s going to hold all those very well-paid PREA members and those overpaid administrators like Heinz and Tramm accountable for the boatloads of tax dollars being spent on what seems to be, by all objective measures, relatively modest educational quality.

Barely one notch above the empty-suited give-backers are the “teasers.” They’re the candidates who try to win over those clueless and/or stupid voters by teasing and tantalizing them with vague or veiled suggestions about what they might do about some situation or other…if only they were to be elected.

For example, this past Tuesday night mayoral challenger Lucas Fuksa posted news about the closing of the Jos. A. Banks store in Uptown and then (a) suggested there are “real reasons” for that retailer’s closing, which he teasingly chose not to identify; and (b) claimed Park Ridge needs to be made “business friendly” (How?), zoned “appropriately” (How?) and with improvement to “our parking situation” (Like what?).

But since that might not be quite enough teasing for some voters, Fuksa added – in a comment to a comment to his post – that we need “infrastructure improvements [Paid for how?], less restrictions [On what and why?], zoning changes [What kind?], branding [For the City’s cattle?], and long term future planning” [Gee, now that’s original!]. For a candidate who is already viewed as mostly a pawn of certain developers, that’s a whole lot of foam but very little beer.

Our favorite, however, is his teaser claim that he “spoke to Jos. A. banks [sic] so I know what some of those issues are” – presumably related to its closing – but he apparently is keeping those secrets to himself for now.

Doesn’t that just make you tingle with suspense?

It sounds to us like Fuksa is channeling 2013 mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ business development strategy which – as we wrote about in our 03.19.13 post – consisted in large part of hugs and handshakes. But at least Ryles actually named some of the businesses he wanted to bring to Park Ridge: Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, Ann Tayor, Clarks and GameStop.

As best as we can tell, Fuksa was MIA four years ago during that last mayoral race, so we can understand how he may have missed such a failed campaign strategy and now considers it his original.

Besides, it’s so teasing and tantalizing.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Hail To The Champions! – Part 2

12.10.16

In a span of less than one week the Maine South High School Hawks captured two state titles.

Most residents know about the football team’s upset of the Loyola Academy Ramblers for the Class 8A championship the Saturday after Thanksgiving down at Urbana-Champaign. And they recognize names like Leongas, Jarvis and McNulty, as well as that of Coach Dave Inserra.

But on December 2nd the Hawks’ Constitution Team also brought home the state title in the “We The People: The Citizen and the Constitution” competition at the Dirksen Federal Building in Downtown Chicago. Unlike their gridiron classmates, however, names like Boyce, Kreger and Touhy, and even that of Coach Andy Trenkle, aren’t as readily recognizable – so you can see the team’s roster here.

Also unlike their gridiron classmates, their season isn’t over: they will be heading to Washington, D.C. to compete in the national competition at the end of April, 2017.

Just as championship football has become a tradition at Maine South, so has championship civics as demonstrated by knowledge of the United States Constitution. The Hawks have “won state” in the Constitution competition every year since 1991, except for 1993; and they won the national championship in 1999. The team also has had a number of Top 10 finishes in the national competition.

The questions presented at the recent state competition were every bit as challenging, in their own right, to the Constitutioneers as any Loyola Academy pass rusher or ball carrier was to the Hawk gridders.

These teenagers’ accomplishments should serve as an inspiration to all of us, especially those of us who, over time, may have lost some of our knowledge and appreciation of perhaps the second greatest secular governing document – after the Magna Carta – the world has ever known.

Which is why Lincoln famously said: “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” And why Calvin Coolidge reminded us that: “To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”

But while our Constitution provides the basic framework for the rest of our government at every level, we also need a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of local government, the civic “ground game” that is played not in Washington or in Springfield but right here in our own community.

Many/most voting-age residents would be hard-pressed to name both their mayor and their alderman. And they probably would have to guess well to get the names right of just two of the seven-member boards of the Park District or School Districts 64 and 207 – which combined account for approximately 80% of our property tax bills.

That level of civic ignorance tends to make the chances of getting effective local government as much a matter of luck as of skill. One need look at City government no farther back than a decade or so, however, to see that “luck” in local government can be bad as often, or more so, than it can be good.

Fortunately, our late mayor Dave Schmidt established H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – at City Hall, where it has retained its vitality since his sudden death in March 2015. Unfortunately, H.I.T.A. is most notable for its absence at D-64 and D-207, whose Board members view taxpayers and critics as enemies to be fought and overcome with spin, blatant propaganda, and secretive closed session meetings.

The State Champion Maine South Constitution Team members deserve this shout-out, therefore, not only for their achievement but also for the interest in the Constitution and local government that such an achievement might kindle or rekindle in the rest of us.

Ben Franklin announced our newly-formed government as being: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

That pithy description belies both the inestimable value of a government based on the consent of the governed, and the immense need for the informed and active participation of the governed in their government.

Especially at the local level.

To read or post comments, click on title.

State Of Illinois And Dist. 207 Playing “Ready Or Not” With Students And Taxes

11.18.16

We tend to pay less attention to Maine Twp. High School District 207 than to its partner in educational crime, Park Ridge-Niles School District 64. But an article in this week’s Park Ridge Journal with the headline “Measuring ‘College Readiness’ No Easy Task In Dist. 207” (11.10.16) provides some unwelcome data that, unfortunately, highlights concerns we’ve been expressing for years.

Once the reader wades through various examples of the State of Illinois’ educational chaos, one significant point becomes clear: Illinois can’t seem to implement any type of uniform testing standards that enable discriminating parents (and education critics) to make meaningful comparisons of school districts, or of individual schools from different districts.

How bloody convenient…for an educational system that has spent decades pandering to the Illinois Education Association by shielding teachers and administrators alike from any meaningful accountability for the ongoing underachievement of their students.

According to the Journal article, the state average of high school juniors (11th graders) ready for the “next level” (Senior year? College?) is 39.2%. Maine South students’ readiness is 43.3%, while Maine East’s is 36.9% and Maine West’s is 35.7%. In other words, less than half of Maine South’s juniors are ready for either senior year or college; and East’s and West’s actually are below the state average.

Should taxpayers who pay approximately one-third of their RE taxes to D-207 find those readiness levels acceptable, especially considering that a District 207 education is reportedly among the most costly in the state at over $17,000/pupil/year?

Only if you like paying filet mignon prices for butt steak.

It’s understandable, however, that those taxpayers paying $5,000 of RE taxes to D-207 for $17,000 (or $34,000, or $51,000, depending on the number of students) of Maine South education might be a bit more sanguine about it than those taxpayers without students getting those benefits, or those taxpayers paying between $12,000 and $16,000 of after-tax dollars to send their kid to St. Ignatius, Loyola, or Resurrection – while also paying their $5,000 to D-207.

Of course, adding those private/parochial students to Maine South’s enrollment would drive D-207’s costs, and the taxpayers’ bills even higher. But that’s a topic for another discussion.

The article also references a “freshman on track” measurement, allegedly gauging student performance after one year in high school. The reported statewide average for that benchmark is a surprising 82.4%, with Maine South freshmen registering a 95% average, Maine East 94%, and Maine West 89.1%.

But let’s stop and think about that for a minute.

Assuming any of these numbers are even marginally credible – an assumption made at your own risk – it would appear that students statewide go from an 82.4% “on track” average at the freshman level down to a 39.2% average for “next level” readiness by spring of their junior year. And at D-207’s flagship school, Maine South, the “on track” to “next level” readiness plummets a stunning 50% – from 95% to 43.3%!

That free fall is occurring despite whatever advantages might come with an enrollment that is 86% white, a mere 8% low income, a tiny 1 % of English learners (formerly ESL/English as a Second Language), albeit with 13% reportedly having some type of “disability.”

Perhaps because of these semi-disastrous scores, it was decreed from on high (Springfield?) that, for 2016 evaluation purposes, any student scoring 21 or above on the ACT is “college ready” – although not necessarily ready for the “next level”? – and the state norm based on this standard was 45% of all seniors. By this alternate one-year measure, Maine South scored a 77%.

Huzzah! Or with props to the late great Leonard Cohen: “Hallelujah!”

So pay no attention to the 23% of Maine South students who don’t meet this latest, and lowest, standard of readiness. Or the 56.7% of them who aren’t ready for the “next level.”

Given the Illinois public education establishment’s fun-with-numbers approach to measuring achievement, we suspect those folks in Springfield will be coming up with yet another set of benchmarks – and generating new false hopes – any day now.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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

04.22.16

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)??

Seriously?

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.

‘Tis The Season For Schizophrenia (Or Hypocrisy?) About RE Taxes

12.22.15

It’s that time of the year again, folks, and we don’t mean Christmas. Or Hanukkah. Or Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, or Festivus, either.

We mean Cook County property tax time. Or, more specifically, the second installment of the 2014 property taxes. And judging by a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page, that’s got a lot of you griping up a storm about the continually-rising costs of living in the City of Park Ridge.

We suggest you read the Concerned Homeowners’ string started by Phil Poole on December 18 to get yourself up to speed on the comments that we’ll be riffing on in this post. Otherwise, you may find yourself scratching your head out of confusion rather than from befuddlement at some of those comments that pass for insights and fiscal thinking.

What we find most interesting about those comments is that their primary focus seems to be on the City of Park Ridge’s property tax increase – even though the City spends pretty much the same amount of money serving, protecting and maintaining a community of 37,000+ people that Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 spends on educating a mere 4,500 kids.

Education is important, to be sure. But how exactly does one justify spending $70 million a year to educate 4,500 kids (an average of $15,555 per kid) at the same time we’re spending $70 million to provide 37,000+ residents (at an average of $1,892 per resident, including most of those same 4,500 kids) with essential City services (police, fire, sewer, water, streets, sidewalks), a Library, and those huge-ticket capital improvements such as flood remediation?

For residents with kids in our public schools, the justification for more and more indiscriminate school spending is pretty much just plain math.

Even if the size of your home and land puts you among Park Ridge’s Top 25% residential property taxpayers and your annual property tax bill is $21,000, only around $2,100 of that goes to the City – while approximately $7,000 goes to D-64 and another $7,000 goes to D-207. So if you’ve got just one kid in D-64 schools, you’re getting over $14,000 of education for your $7,000. In investment vernacular, that’s a 100% ROI. Annually.

Add a second kid to D-64 and that gives you $28,000 of education for your $7,000, raising your ROI to a whopping 300%. Also annually. What’s not to like about that, especially if one of your principal life’s goals is to suck more money out of the system than you pay in?

Do you think that might explain the dead silence about D-64 (and D-207) taxes and tax increases from many of those commentators on the Concerned Homeowners page – you know, those with kids in D-64 (and D-207) schools – who happily barbecue the City for its taxing/spending increases while at the same time spouting mindless socialist rimshots like: “[A] city should act like a big family” and “People will not work harder because they get payed more.”

Seriously?

Which brings us, albeit indirectly, to the recent decision by the City Council to appeal a Cook County Circuit Court decision over-ruling the Park Ridge Planning & Zoning Commission’s withholding approval necessary for a developer to construct a four-story, 22-unit residential building at 400 Talcott, even though the development met the requirements of the City’s Zoning Code.

We’re no fans of increased residential density for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the likelihood such increased density brings more flooding and more school-aged kids adding to our school-tax deficits. But when a developer satisfies our Zoning Code requirements, that should be the end of it – especially when both the City’s former and current law firms agree that the likelihood of the City’s prevailing on appeal is low.

If you want a place to lay the blame for this fiasco, it should be the Zoning Code. And if that’s not enough for you, blame the 17 residents who comprised the Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee that, with the assistance of an outside consultant, produced the current Zoning Ordinance 10 years ago. But don’t blame the developer just because you think he’s a jerk, or a bully, or because you dislike his project.

And whatever you do, don’t say and do things which stupidly suggest that the City is now just trying to make life miserable and unduly expensive for the developer in the hope that he’ll give up and go away. That’s bad in principle, it’s bad policy, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that causes naysayers to brand Park Ridge as “unfriendly to business.”

With that kind of reputation, how can Park Ridge expect to get any of those businesses that some of our more clueless residents claim are just waiting for the City’s elevator pitch – like a centrally-located Jimmy Johns?

To read or post comments, click on title.

PARCC Test Results Suggest Concerns About D-64 And D-207 Education Well-Founded

12.18.15

If you give a rat’s derriere about the quality of the public education that consumes close to 70% of our property tax dollars, take a few minutes to read Jennifer Johnson’s recent articles in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate about the reactions of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s and Maine Township High School District 207’s superintendents to their schools’ performance on the first round of the Partnership for Assessment of Reading for College and Careers (“PARCC”) testing.

You can find them at: “District 64 school chief says PARCC results a ‘snapshot in time’ “ (Dec. 15, 2015) and “District 207 superintendent: Test results create ‘false narrative’ of student performance” (Dec. 14, 2015).

D-64 superintendent Laurie Heinz attempts to defend what sounds like her district’s unimpressive performance with the following italicized quotes from the first article:

“From a formatting perspective, [the PARCC test] went well. We had no technical issues.”

In other words, D-64 didn’t screw up the administration of the test. Huzzah!

“I have not looked at how our results are compared to other schools.”

The very first thing Ms. Heinz should be doing is comparing D-64’s results to other districts – because whatever D-64 schools add to our property values is relative to how they match up with other demographically-comparable districts. Perhaps Heinz might be more motivated to prioritize that kind of comparative analysis if our School Board told her that the continuation of her employment and $250,000+ salary depends upon how D-64 rates against other comparable districts? Oh, wait…never mind: that feckless Board would never impose a performance standard on her after.

“My letter to parents explained the belief we have that this [PARCC test] is a snapshot in time….”

EVERY test – including a math final, the SAT, the ACT, etc. – is “a snapshot in time.” So her point is?

“We surpassed the state of Illinois average in both language arts and math.”

Seriously? As best as we can tell, D-64 is in the top 10-15% in per-pupil expenditures among ALL Illinois elementary school districts, yet Heinz is bragging about merely “surpassing the state of Illinois average.” Seriously?

“We had over 50 percent of our students within those two [“thorough understanding” and “exceeds”] levels in reading and…math.”

Merely “over 50 percent”?  See previous comment, but add one more “seriously?”

Interestingly enough, D-207 superintendent Ken Wallace echoed some of Heinz’s themes – which causes us to wonder if they were generic sound-bites and “talking points” from some special PARCC public relations template ginned up by the propaganda department of the Illinois Association of School Administrators that self-congratulatory fluff-and-stroke/networking organization for superintendents and

But Wallace takes it up a notch by ripping on the tests themselves and with statements like:

“Right now, the results [of the PARCC test] are next to meaningless to us” because he doesn’t think “they truly and accurately reflect the success of [D-207] students.”

Not surprisingly Wallace, like Heinz, avoids matching up D-207’s PARCC results with those of other demographically-comparable districts. Why make such comparisons when you can blow smoke up your own kilt and befuddle the taxpayers by insisting that D-207 is doing great – just ask ‘em!

“Any one test is not going to be a better predictor of student success in college than achievement across a rigorous set of courses.”

That very well may be true. But tell that to the admissions department of your kid’s dream college when he/she pulls a 1500 on the SAT, or a 17 on the ACT.  Or see how many advanced placement credits can be earned  with “1”s on those AP exams.

And when asked what plans D-207 has for next year’s testing, Wallace sounded totally dismissive of the test and/or of what level of achievement is expected:

“We will meet the minimum guidelines, testing in algebra and language arts.”

Yes, by all means let’s be satisfied with “the minimum” because that’s been working so well for the District over the last decade as its ranking has steadily declined even as its cost per pupil to our taxpayers has steadily increased.

Once again, we see that both of our school districts keep whistling past the graveyards of standardized test-based achievement and of comparing that achievement to other demographically-similar districts with which Park Ridge competes for new residents.

And while it seeems almost unfathomable that a school board could be any less demanding of student achievement and of teacher/administrator accountability than the D-64 Board, the D-207 Board may have met and exceeded that level of irresponsibility and general cluelessness.  At the very least they are 1 and 1A.

Which brings to mind, again, Mark Twain’s famous quote:

“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”

To read or post comments, click on title.