Public Watchdog.org

Small Tasks Reveal Bigger Problems At D-64

03.17.11

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10 (King James Version).

This is a secular blog, but this Scriptural passage seems particularly apropos the page-one story in yesterday’s Park Ridge Journal about the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s lunchtime supervision program controversy (“Dist. 64 Wants More Of Students’ Lunch Money,” Mar. 16). Simply put, if D-64’s board and administration can’t effectively manage such a small thing as a lunchtime supervision program, how in the heck can they be trusted to manage all of the other, more important, functions of a school district?

The ostensible tip of this iceberg is a $25 per year increase – from $140 to $165 – in the per-student charge for the supervision provided to those students who don’t go home for lunch.  This is the first such increase in 10 years, according to a somewhat obtuse (or is it abstruse?) March 14 Memo from the D-64 Business Manager, Rebecca Allard, to the Superintendent and School Board.  That caused Ms. Allard’s insightful conclusion that “revenues are not keeping up with expenses.”

Brilliant!

As a result, the taxpayers are subsidizing this lunchtime supervision to the tune of $75,000 this school year.  And, without the increase, it looks like that subsidy would grow to $90,000 next year.  That’s admittedly small potatoes when we’re talking about an annual budget of over $60 million, but that’s also why it so aptly illustrates how small matters often reveal larger truths.

Until 2007 this lunchtime supervision program had been run by something called Parent’s Paid Lunch and Before School Care of District 64 (“PPLP”), a not-for-profit private corporation formed in 1973, reputedly by double-income parents who weren’t at home to provide lunch (and lunchtime supervision) for their own kids.

According to PPLP’s IRS 2005 Form 990 cover page, as recently as the 2005-06 school/fiscal year PPLP was turning a $36,000 “surplus”/profit on gross revenues of $564,906 and expenses of $528,847.  PPLPs IRS 2006 Form 990 cover page, however, shows an increase in expenses to $573,987 while gross revenues decreased to $524,163. 

In August 2006, however, Kathleen Goodman and some other Field School parents began questioning the privately-run program.  According to an August 24, 2006 article in the Niles Herald-Spectator (“Field parents question Dist. 64 lunch program”), those parents wondered why the program’s costs weren’t a District expense rather than a user expense; and they challenged the integrity of the program’s management by then-executive director, Natalie Blachut, who was being paid $12,694 and allegedly paying a group of parent supervisors $18/hour plus a waiver of the lunch supervision fee.    

By the next school year, PPLP had dissolved, turning over its $151,256 in surplus funds to the District and individual school PTOs; and the District took over the program.  After less than four years of District “management,” however, all those PPLP surplus funds are gone and the taxpayers are shouldering deficits.    

According to the Journal article, the big concern for the D-64 Board wasn’t the deficits that the taxpayers were being forced to swallow because the District has been asleep at the wheel on pricing this glorified baby-sitting service so as to cover its costs.  No, the Board was concerned about the size of that $25 increase!  And Board members Eric Uhlig and Pat Fioretto voted against it.

The fact of the matter is that this service is effectively a convenience to those working parents who need/want to leave their kids in the care of school staffs rather than make other arrangements for those kids to eat lunch at home, or at a friend’s/family member’s home.  According to that 2006 Niles Herald-Spectator article, then-Supt. Sally Pryor claimed the cost of that program was $1/day/child “for an hour supervision.”

If true, that’s an outstanding bargain for the parents of those kids in the program.  In fact, it’s too good a bargain – which is why we have questions.    

What’s the per-student or per-hour cost today?  Does the fee cover the costs?  How many students are in the program?  How much revenue does it generate? How many supervisors are there and what are they being paid?  We sure can’t tell any of that from Ms. Allard’s Memo, which as far as we know is the only information the School Board members had about the program when voting on the fee increase Monday night.  

But vote they did – however under-informed, uninformed, or misinformed they may have been. 

And those are the folks we’re trusting to run our $60 million-plus a year educational system.

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1 comment so far

I’d like to add that Natalie Blanchut was handed a job with the district as the lunch director. And the fees are still required. we still pay 225$ a child to eat their bagged lunch in the gymnasium. This school district is horrible!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not ready to call it “horrible,” but there definitely is a whole lot of room for improvement.



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