Public Watchdog.org

D-207’s “Public Opinion Survey” Yet Another Con Job

05.30.18

In our posts of 05.07.2018 and 05.08.2018 we wrote about what a “con job” the Maine Township High School District 207’s proposed $240.7 million building project appears to be.

Today we’re addressing the District’s “Public Opinion Survey” – which we’re calling the “POS” for reasons that should become obvious.

The May 18, 2018 deadline for responses to the POS has come and gone. Now we are looking forward to seeing when, and how, the results are presented and publicized (i.e., spun) by the District.

Despite what it said on the survey form itself, the POS responses will not – repeat, WILL NOT – be used to actually “shape how District 207 moves forward in extending the useful lives of our existing facilities.” The District already has its plans, and it has no intention of departing from them.

What those POS results WILL “shape,” however, is the sales pitch D-207 (and, presumably, its marketing consultants) will use in order to brainwash enough likely voters into saying “Yes” to the project; i.e., what buttons it needs to push in order to hold onto early supporters while winning over the undecideds.

That’s why the POS features questions like:

Q5. Following are some of the arguments people have made in favor of the facility improvements and funding proposal being considered by District 207. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at All Convincing” and 5 being “Very Convincing,” how would you rate each of the following arguments as a reason to vote FOR the proposal?

Or, conversely:

Q6. Following are some of the arguments people have made against the facility improvements being considered by District 207. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at All Convincing” and 5 being “Very Convincing,” how would you rate each of the following arguments as a reason to vote AGAINST the proposal?

In other words, the POS wants taxpayers to tell the District’s propagandists why they might vote for, or against, the proposal so the propagandists can shape their future elevator pitches to reinforce whatever favorable opinions taxpayers currently have, and to change any unfavorable or undecided ones.

What the answers to the POS also will “shape” is D-207’s decision of WHEN to hold the referendum vote – November 2018, or April 2019 – based upon whether the responses to the POS are sufficiently favorable that the D-207 Board is willing to risk a November 2018 referendum.

What’s the risk?

Historically, November election turnouts involve either a presidential or gubernatorial race and generate much higher voter turnouts than April local elections. So if you’re the proponent or a supporter of a boondoggle referendum you will much prefer an April election, where the lower turnout means that fewer votes are needed for passage.

For example, since April 2005 – the first contested Park Ridge mayoral election in decades – turnouts for those April mayoral elections have been 8,114 voters in 2005, 8,698 in 2009, 9,019 in 2013, and 8,098 in 2017. Meanwhile, the Park Ridge turnout for November elections has not fallen below 14,000 voters,

So do the math: You could have passed a referendum in any of the last four mayoral election years with no more than 4,510 votes, while you would have needed at least 7,001 votes to pass that same referendum in any of those November elections.

Which is why you can bet your First Communion money (if you’re Catholic, Lutheran, or Greek Orthodox) Supt. Wallace, the D-207 Board, and all the special interests who want to saddle D-207 taxpayers with almost $300 million ($190 million of principal plus $105 million in interest) of long-term (20 year) debt liability are already contriving ways to push off the referendum to next April – when there won’t even be a mayoral election to spur both interest and turnout – without being obvious about what they are doing.

Maybe they’ll delay disclosing the results of the POS for awhile, claiming they’re analyzing the data in order to present it in understandable form. They also might decide to hold some “focus group” meetings to supplement or clarify the POS data. That probably could buy them June and July, which would then require only a short additional stall until they blow the August 20 deadline for the District to get one or more referendum questions on the November ballot.

Oh snap!

Plus, waiting until April: (a) gives Wallace and the Board an extra five months of propagandizing; (b) gives whatever citizens’ committee is being formed to shill for the project an extra five months of campaigning; and (c) gives the District’s neglected buildings an extra five months of school-year usage to further deteriorate, thereby underscoring the alleged necessity and urgency of the “Moving Maine Forward” project.

As Rahm Emanuel infamously said: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”

At District 207, Wallace and the Board appear to be going Rahm one better by never letting a serious crisis – that they created by years of their own mismanagement – go to waste.

Especially if one-third of a BILLION dollars of public contracts hangs in the balance.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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.

 

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.

“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.

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