Taxpayers Just Dairy Cattle To D-64 Board, Administration (Updated)


Monday night in the Franklin School gymnasium, two Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District members stood up for the taxpayers of this District. 

Only two.  Of the seven total Board members charged with looking out for the interests of the entire community – not just the students, not just their parents, not just the teachers, but the entire community – only two were willing to stand up for the people who pay the bills.

Board members Anthony Borrelli and Eric Uhlig courageously voted “no” on the new teachers union contract under the glare of a large number of Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA,” a/k/a the teachers union) members who showed up at that meeting despite knowing before the meeting even started that they had the votes of at least a four Board member majority – Pres. John Heyde, Pat Fioretto, Sharon Lawson and Scott Zimmerman – already locked up; and that the key was in the lock for the vote of a fifth Board member, Dan Collins.  

We can only surmise that the brigade of PREA teachers were deployed there for more than just the lack of something better to do that night, especially since they did nothing but let their presence be felt and their eyes do their talking – except when they broke into loud applause at the end of the remarks of Board member/PREA-lackey Pasquale “Pat” Fioretto.  Fioretto helped Heyde negotiate (hah!) the new contract and couldn’t pass up an opportunity to fluff and stroke the folks whose bidding he so readily and successfully undertook.

The mere presence of the teachers, however, may have been sufficient to keep all but one of the non-teacher attendees from speaking against the new contract that provides average raises characterized by the District and PREA as a “modest 2%” but which, when “step” (seniority) and “lane” (continuing education) increases are added in, reportedly run in the 4%+ range for each of the next 4 years – along with the taxpayer-guaranteed pension benefits substantially better than those enjoyed by the vast majority of the taxpayers who are footing the bill for them.  And did we mention that’s for an 8-9 month work year – with summers off, just like the rest of us had when we were in school.

While the assembled parents sat meekly silent through the contract discussion, they magically began chirping when the topic shifted to the District’s after-school program – or, as we call it, the District’s taxpayer-subsidized babysitting.   Several previously mute parents stood up to voice their concerns about a new plan to de-centralize the after-school program, which now buses approximately 280 children from their neighborhood schools to Jefferson School.  Under the new plan, after-school programs would be conducted at each of the “home” elementary schools.

The parents’ discussion of the after-school program, when compared to their non-discussion of the new PREA contract and teacher salary increases, could be viewed as a demonstration of why the chances for meaningful school and budgetary reform at D-64 are pathetic going on hopeless.

The special interests who dominate D-64’s operation don’t give a rat’s derriere about the taxpayers.

The teachers don’t.  Notwithstanding all their carefully-orchestrated “for the kids” propaganda, it appears that most teachers are in it for the money, just like most other workers in most other fieldsFrankly, that’s fine with us – if only they would just be up-front about it rather than adopting their faux-Mother Teresa personae while trying to improve on their reported 25th highest-paid teachers in the state ranking.  We also wish they’d stop hiding behind such shamelessly illusory and non-measurable “standards” of student performance as “educating the whole child” and developing “emotional intelligence.”  

The administrators don’t.   Almost all of them are former teachers who would rather maintain the status quo than demand better teacher and student performance, or improve cost controls.  They’re already the reportedly 4th highest-paid administrators in the state despite their students’ measurable performance being well south of that ranking.  And constantly-increasing teacher salaries just gives them a better argument for increases in their own compensation.

The parents of D-64 students generally don’t.  They’re kids are getting $12,000/year D-64 educations while they pay, on average, less than $4,000/year in property taxes to D-64. An extra $25, $50 or even $100 a year in taxes to D-64 barely moves the needle on that equation.  And those parents aren’t likely to risk crossing the very teachers who have the ability to subjectively grade their kids’ performance.

And most of our School Board members don’t.  Board members who are PREA sycophants can count on the political support of PREA members.  And those who have kids in the District are under the same influences as regular D-64 parents.   That makes Borrelli’s and Uhlig’s “no” votes even more courageous and commendable, given our understanding that they both have children in D-64 schools.  “Yes”-voting D-64 parents Heyde, Zimmerman and Collins took the easy way out.

Only Borrelli and Uhlig voiced any concerns about the taxpayers, which promptly got Borrelli barbecued  by retired D-64 teacher and PREA activist Fred Klonsky on his blog post.  In Klonsky’s world, teachers will always be underpaid and underappreciated, even as he enjoys (at the ripe old age of 64?) his taxpayer-guaranteed defined-benefit pension after a mere 30 years of service that we understand will pay him 80% of his final years’ salary for the rest of his life.

Oh, to be one of those poor deprived and disrespected teachers! 

But it took Fioretto’s six-minute ode to collective bargaining (from 1:27:44 to 1:33: 55 of Monday night’s meeting video) to really illustrate the abysmally low regard – bordering on contempt(?) – the majority of this D-64 Board and the administration have for the taxpayers.   During that six minute oration in which Fioretto extolled the new contract and its fairness to the teachers, he didn’t utter the word “taxpayers” once.  Not even once. 

That’s because to Board members Fioretto, Heyde, Zimmerman, Lawson and Collins, and to Supt. Phil Bender’s D-64 Administration, taxpayers are just a bunch of dairy cattle whose only purpose is to be milked as often and as much as possible until they run dry and wander off to some other lower-taxing pasture, to be replaced by newer, more productive stock – preferably in time for the next big tax-hike referendum already on the horizon. 

Can you say “Moo?”

UPDATED 09.27.12.  We have been advised that the “80%” pension we described for Mr. Klonsky should be 75% – of the average of his last four years salaries.  We don’t know if that’s accurate, either, because we can’t find any confirmation of the D-64 website (SURPRISE!). 

Using information gained from the Family Taxpayers Foundation website  ( because we couldn’t find such information on the D-64 website (SURPRISE!), however, we discovered that Mr. Klonsky’s reported last four full years’ salaries were: $102,143 in 2011, $96,361 in 2010, $94,505 in 2009, and $91,425 in 2008, which totals $384,434 and averages out to $96,108.50.  For an 8-9 month work year, which annualizes out to a tidy $120,000 – without the risk of the employer moving to another state, or another country; and with virtually no chance of being fired.

75% of that is a shade over $72,000/year, guaranteed by…wait for it…the taxpayers, while our rough calculation of what a private sector worker needs in his/her 401(k) to receive that same $72,000/year retirement benefit is a cool $1 million, so long as it’s generating a 4% minimum annual return. 

To read or post comments, click on title.

Tonight’s Main Event At D-64


The “Big Game” in town tonight doesn’t involve the Maine South Hawks football team.  Or even another bizarre episode at City Hall involving Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st).

Tonight’s Big Game takes place at Franklin School’s gym (2401 Manor Lane), where the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 will be voting on the new teachers contract and approving its new budget.  Kick-off is 7:30 p.m.

For those who don’t pay attention to these things, the D-64 budget represents about 1/3 of our property tax bills.  It also is a significant factor for our property values – because the quality and cost of schools is a significant element in assessing the desirability of a community.

We discussed the new teachers contract in our post “Will D-64 Taxpayers Get Sold Out Again?” (09.12.12), so we won’t repeat the points made there.

The central issue, as we see it, is what objectively measurable benefits will both the D-64 students and the taxpayers of this community receive from this new teachers contract and this new budget. 

So far, we haven’t heard any D-64 Board members or administrators promising anything concrete for the extra money that will be extracted from the taxpayers, such as better ISAT scores – one of the primary criteria many people use in determining the quality of education offered by a particular school or an entire school system.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the D-64 Board members seem to be little more than rubber stamps for both the teachers and the administrators, so objective performance standards are rarely, if ever, demanded.

Which brings us to the 6:30 p.m. Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting to discuss a “transition” of the District’s before-and-after-school child care programs (a/k/a taxpayer-funded babysitting services) to the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, which the Board is expected to vote on at the 7:30 Board meeting.

That sounds like a questionable fast-shuffle by the D-64 Board, as it gives the Board and the public basically no time to understand and think about the wisdom of such a move.  That’s been a hallmark of D-64 decision-making for years; and it seems to have become even more pronounced since Supt. Phil Bender arrived from Indiana.  This move is even more troubling base on our understanding that the Park District administration pushed this “transition” past the Park Board with basically no information and discussion.

When bureaucrats try to push something through with little or no study and debate by our elected representatives and the public, the usual outcome is usually less than optimal.

And District 64 has become far too accomplished at burning money with less than optimal results.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe!


In 1919, the Chicago White Sox earned the lasting epithet “Black Sox” when several of its players – including star “Shoeless Joe” Jackson – allegedly threw the World Series.

Monday night the First Ward’s one and only alderman, Joe Sweeney, undeniably threw his Council vote.

It occurred in connection with the Council’s vote to sustain or over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s veto of a new 3-year collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the Illinois Council of Police and Sheriffs (“ICOPS”), which provided yet more employee raises which Schmidt believes are not justified, given the current state of the City’s finances.

Sweeney, who inexplicably fancies himself a “conservative,” previously voted to approve the new ICOPS contract and its raises, just as he had voted for all the previous contracts and raises for union and non-union City employees, especially police and firemen.  In supporting those raises, Sweeney – like his colleagues Alds. Rich DiPietro (2nd), Jim Smith (3rd), Sal Raspanti (4th) and Marty Maloney (7th) – never once inquired about performance-based factors that might justify those raises; e.g., improved or additional services those employees were providing, or efficiencies they achieved to increase productivity. 

Nor did Sweeney and his keep-those-raises-comin’ colleagues join in Ald. Dan Knight’s (5th) call for a comprehensive plan and/or policy for dealing with all raises and related employment issues, rather than the ridiculous one-off way they’ve been handled to date.  Sweeney et al. apparently just enjoy the feeling of doling out arbitrary amounts of somebody else’s money (in this case, Park Ridge taxpayers’) to make certain special-interest groups happy. 

So when the meeting started Monday night, Sweeney was considered a sure vote to over-ride Schmidt’s vetoes of both the ICOPS contract and the raises for the non-union City employees.  True to form, Sweeney voted for the successful over-ride of Schmidt’s veto of the non-union, salaried employee raises.

But when the ICOPS veto over-ride came up for a vote, Sweeney got jiggy.

He started out by saying he would be voting “present” rather than for over-ride, apparently to put political pressure on Knight and Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) – both of whom had voted against the ICOPS contract and were expected to vote to sustain Schmidt’s veto – to switch their votes or risk being blamed for the veto’s being sustained.  For reasons not entirely clear, Sweeney was under the impression that by voting “present” his vote would not actually count one way or the other.

In other words, Sweeney was voluntarily gelding himself.  And in so doing, he was depriving all his 1st Ward constituents of representation on this issue.

Say it ain’t so, clueless Joe.

Before that bizarre scenario could play itself out, however, Schmidt and pinch-hitting City Attorney Kathy Henn advised Sweeney that, under the applicable rules, a “present” vote would be counted as part of the prevailing majority, thereby making Sweeney one of what likely would be the over-ride majority – where Sweeney was expected to be in the first place.  Sweeney resisted that advice, however, and the vote was temporarily tabled while Henn did some hasty additional research and checked with principal City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill. 

While she was doing that, the City entertained yet another version of Commonwealth Edison representatives demonstrating yet again ComEd’s continuing indifference to improving the reliability of Park Ridge’s electric power delivery system.  But that’s a post for another day.

Upon the conclusion of ComEd’s electric interlude, Henn advised the assembled multitude that she was sticking to her original position and that, if Sweeney voted “present,” his vote would be counted with the majority.

Sweeney then issued dire warnings and predictions of what would happen if Schmidt’s veto was sustained: unfair labor practice charges filed by ICOPS, thousands of dollars of legal fees incurred by the City, ICOPS picket lines being honored by the City’s other employees, and an actual shut-down of the City.  He might as well have added fire and brimstone coming down from the sky, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and all that other Old Testament stuff.

But then, directly addressing Schmidt, Sweeney went from clueless Joe to witless Joe. 

He grandly announced: “I will vote to sustain your veto… although I don’t like it but I’m forced by law to do it” – the “law” apparently being the rule that would regard his intended “present” vote as a vote with the majority.  And if that weren’t nutty enough, witless Joe immediately became shameless Joe when he promptly proclaimed that he would “absolve [himself of] blame for all the costs that are involved when we go to litigation” over anything related to the veto being sustained.

Frankly, we’re glad Schmidt’s veto was sustained.  As we repeatedly have written, one of the several keys to rehabilitating the City’s finances is to stop the arbitrary, non-performance based wage and benefit increases that keep the cost of labor spiraling upwards.  But the right result for the wrong reasons is not a recipe for successful long–term management, which is why students often are required to show their work in addition to providing the right answer.

As for all of Sweeney’s dire warnings, they sound more like methane than MENSA to us.  But even if he turns out to be right, the alternative he seems to be suggesting is for the City to hold a gun to its own head and basically give in to whatever demands its unionized employees make so that they don’t strike or demand arbitration.   That’s just more government by the spineless rolling over for the shameless – which pretty much explains how the State of Illinois got into its current wage and benefit mess that shows no signs of abating. 

And despite Sweeney’s ICOPS contract wackiness, at the end of the evening the Council foolishly voted to run and hide in yet another closed session to discuss their…wait for it… “strategy” for the City’s upcoming negotiations with the police sergeants’ union.

Hey, gang, why not do yourselves and everybody else a favor and conduct those discussions in open sessions so that everybody – especially the taxpayers and the union – know, right out of the gate, exactly what kind of deal you’re trying to achieve and why.  Let the public have its input at the front end of the process rather than at the back end, when everything is already a done deal except for Schmidt’s vetoes.  It’s time to try something different, because your collective bargaining “strategies” so far have been a series of foul balls and strike outs.

For clueless Joe, however, that’s the only way to play ball.

To read or post comment, click on title.

Veto Over-Ride Tonight Will Signal More Bad Employment Policy (Updated)


Tonight the Park Ridge City Council will vote (at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall, 505 Butler Place) to either sustain or over-ride Mayor Dave Schmidt’s vetoes of the Illinois Council Of Police and Sheriffs (“ICOPS”) collective bargaining agreement for 32 unionized public safety employees, and raises for 46 salaried non-union City employees. 

We discussed these raises in our 08.23.12 post, “Will August Spending Bring November Taxing?”, so we won’t repeat those arguments here.  The same goes for our 07.25.12 post, “$48,101 Increase Keeps City Wages Spiraling Upward”, questioning the empty-headed “rationale” given by the City’s H.R. Manager – who our since-fired city manager Jim Hock appointed to that position despite the appointee’s lack of H.R. expertise – and the City’s temporary H.R. consultant, other than to remind our readers of their wiseacre comment that “[t]he process of giving pay raises…[has] been happening since before the birth of Christ.”

Hilarious, aren’t they?

Whether any of the 5 aldermen who voted to give those raises in the first place (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti and Maloney) will change their minds and join presumptive veto-sustainers Alds. Knight and Mazzuca to provide the 3 votes necessary to sustain either of Schmidt’s vetoes remains to be seen, but we’re not betting the ranch on it.  None of those five have even tried to articulate a compelling reason for those raises, other than such raises seemed like the “fair” thing to do.

Why are they “fair”?

We have no idea, because those aldermen ran into closed session to discuss the raises in secret – ostensibly to keep the information from the ICOPS negotiators but, just as likely, to keep their own constituents in the dark about just how superficial and bereft of actual analysis those closed session discussions were.  That would explain why, when it came time to vote on the raises, none of those aldermen or any City staffers identified any of the performance metrics or other criteria traditionally used to justify raises, such as increased productivity or increased cost savings/profits. 

So what do the taxpayers get from these raises, if not better performance?

As best as we can figure, nothing more than employee longevity: keeping long-time City employees with the City instead of watching them go elsewhere.  But what value does longevity provide the City’s taxpayers if it doesn’t result in quantifiable productivity increases or increased cost savings?

Ald. Sweeney?  Ald. DiPietro? Ald. Smith?  Ald. Raspanti? Ald. Maloney?  Anybody?  Bueller?

Without performance metrics these “negotiations” become just an arbitrary numbers game: the employees propose an arbitrarily big number just so they can compromise it down to something that is still acceptable.  Which might explain why the previous ICOPS contract contained incredible 5% step increases which have been “compromised” down to 2%; and why the previous contract provided for an incredible 29 vacation days – yes, basically 6 weeks! – after 15 years, which ICOPS has now “compromised” down to a mere 20 days after 11 years.

We’ve heard a couple of these aldermen and a few City bureaucrats mumble about keeping up with the cost of living.  Not only is that rationale unrelated to actual value being conferred on the City by its employees, but it also sets a dangerous precedent by effectively making the City the guarantor of its employees’ buying power, since the cost of living is a buying-power metric rather than a productivity one.

If the cost of living is a valid public policy basis for compensation increases when the CPI is at 2%, then shouldn’t it be an equally valid policy basis if/when the CPI goes up to 5%?  Or up to 10%?  Is that really sound management?

At the August 20th Council meeting, Ald. Knight indicated that he would not support any proposed increase in compensation until the City did a comprehensive review of its pay practices and salary structure.  He emphasized his frustration with the City’s practice of one-off, piecemeal compensation decision-making that ignores the inter-relationship of these compensation increases and their impact on the City’s overall financial position.

That’s exactly right – although the blank and downcast looks on the faces of most of the other folks around The Horseshoe when Knight said it suggests that those other folks lack the recognition and/or the will to see and act on such a fiscally-sound principle, especially when they appear motivated more by a desire to be liked than by the desire to do what’s right for the City as a whole.

If tonight’s votes over-ride Schmidt’s vetoes, that will be a sure sign that taxpayers can expect the City to keep chasing its own tail while bureaucrats and aldermen continue their practice of what amounts to giving arbitrary “gifts” to City employees – money and benefits unrelated to any additional value being conferred on the City or its taxpayers.

And that will also be a sign that the City’s finances will continue on life-support until a substantial tax increase becomes inevitable, perhaps as early as this November.

UPDATE (09.18.12)  The Council over-rode Schmidt’s veto of the salaried employees’ raises by a vote of 5 (Alds. Sweeney, DiPietro, Smith, Raspanti and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. Knight and Mazzuca), after Sweeney donned the mantle of advocate for those salaried employees because, as he explained it, they needed one due to their not being represented by a union.    

But when it came to the ICOPS contract, Sweeney turned on a dime and voted with Knight and Mazzuca to achieve the 3 votes needed to sustain the veto – but only after he predicted that sustaining the veto would wreak an Armegeddon on the City, including unfair labor practice charges, union picketing, other unionized employees refusing to cross picket lines, and the effective shut-down of City government.  

If Sweeney truly believes all those things actually will happen from Schmidt’s veto being sustained, then his vote to sustain the veto would appear to be the single most irresponsible thing any alderman or mayor has done over the past 20 years…and THAT’s saying something! 

We’ll be writing more about this in tomorrow’s post, so stay tuned.

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Will D-64 Taxpayers Get Sold Out Again? (Updated 09.13.12)


The word came “over the transom” just a few minutes ago: Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 and the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”) have a deal!

The official announcement reportedly is due out later today, although we wonder whether it will contain detailed terms or, instead, keep them under wraps for another week or so in order to reduce the time the taxpayers have to mobilize opposition before the contract is ratified by the PREA membership and then approved, along with the District’s new budget, at the next Board meeting on September 24th at Franklin School. 

Having observed the way D-64 and the PREA traditionally announce their contracts, we can expect the standard love fest between/among the respective negotiators, highlighted by rounds of mutual self-gratification masquerading as adulation. 

Expect D-64 School Board president John Heyde to praise the PREA negotiators for their hard-but-reasonable bargaining on behalf of all the Districts wonderful teachers, while the PREA leadership reciprocates with kudos to the D-64 negotiators for their hard-but-reasonable bargaining on behalf of the District’s taxpayers.  Both sides, naturally, will pay the necessary lip service to their boundless concern for the well-being of the D-64 students, presumably punctuated with at least one or two invocations of the “it’s for the kids” cliché.

Although we have neither seen nor heard the details of whatever agreement these merry co-conspirators have cooked up, there are a few easy ways to determine whether the taxpayers have been sold out by the seven School Board members who are supposed to be looking out for our interests: John Heyde, Scott Zimmerman, Sharon Lawson, Eric Uhlig, Pat Fioretto, Dan Collins and Tony Borrelli.

The first is the length of the contract. 

Anything over 2 years is a “teachers” contract because it is designed to lock in teacher-favorable terms no matter how bad the economy gets.  Judging by most polls, surveys, and the predictions of many of this country’s prominent economists, a big recovery is not even on the horizon.  And anybody who thinks that a Mike Madigan-controlled General Assembly is going to pull Illinois out of its glide path toward figurative, if not literal, bankruptcy is snorting bath salts.

The second clue to a Board sell-out is whether the new contract retains a “negotiations-are-secret” provision.

That’s the kind of provision in the just-expired contract that kept these negotiations under the public’s radar.  Public employee unions – especially those who claim to be doing the angels’ work, like police, fire and teachers – don’t want the gullible public finding out about any of their demands that might be viewed as unreasonable or greedy, much less watching and listening to those demands and counter-demands in real time.  If the new contract has that same secrecy provision in it, we’ll know we’ve been had. 

The third clue will be whether the Board will actually provide a detailed post-mortem account of the various “bid” and “ask” terms of the negotiations.

Keeping secret the information such as PREA’s initial wage demand and the District’s initial wage offer, followed by the counter-asks and counter-bids, is essential to D-64 and the PREA manipulating public opinion.  That kind of play-by-play account of the negotiations is frowned upon by both sides because that would reveal too much about the less-than-angelic bargaining strategies of the “angels,” and the windsock-like resoluteness of our tough-as-mashed-potatoes School Board negotiators.

But where the rubber always meets the road is how much the raises will be.  And, rest assured, there will be raises.

We’ll know the Board has sold us taxpayers down the river if they describe the raises in terms of: “X % in Year 1, Y% in Year 2, etc.”  That’s because those announced percentages almost always refer only to “base” salary increases, not to the additional components of teacher compensation known as “step” and “lane” increases that drive up the price of poker without public recognition.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, or who have been suckered by the D-64/PREA wind-talking all these years, “step-and-lane” are the pre-programmed, scheduled annual increases that have been built into recent contracts to ensure routine annual raises for employees simply for seniority (“step”) and/or for accumulating credits toward an advanced academic degree (“lane”). 

D-64 teachers, administrators and Board members don’t like to talk about those increases, which we understand have been averaging 2% over the past several years.  For example, if the new D-64/PREA contract provides for a Year 1 base salary increase of, say, 2%, after figuring in the step and lane increases the average teacher will actually be getting a 4%+ increase – to go along with the 8-9 month work year and those outstanding benefits such as tenure, health care, minimal-to-non-existent performance standards, and the still-guaranteed defined-benefit pensions with their cost-of-living adjustment that actually rewards retirees for the otherwise dubious condition called “inflation.”

Should just the base salary increase be reported, that will be a clear indication that Heyde and Company believe the teachers deserve to remain at least the 25th best-compensated elementary school teachers in the state, notwithstanding that the measurable educational performance of their students is not within hailing distance of a 25th-in-state ranking.

And it will be a clear indication we’ve been sold out by the School Board.  Again.

UPDATE:   Looks like we guessed right on the 2% raise.  Assuming we can trust whatever they are saying – and when it comes to D-64, we subscribe to the motto of the late and lamented Chicago City News Bureau: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” – the annual increase will average 3.6% guaranteed for the next four years. 

How many Park Ridge working folks (yeah, you folks with the jobs that require you to work a full 11 months or more, not 8 or 9) are guaranteed a 3.6% pay increase for the next four years?  Heck, how many of you are even guaranteed a job for the next four years?

We particularly like the quotes in the H-A article from PREA and D-64.

PREA President Erin Breen: “This agreement is a win for all stakeholders in the Park Ridge-Niles community.”

Any time a taxpayer hears the word “stakeholders,” he/she can be sure that somebody in government is grabbing for his/her wallet.

Board President John Heyde: “This longer agreement offers the Board and our teachers a stable foundation for planning while focusing on improvements in teaching and student learning.”

A “stable foundation” for planning what, John…how students can continue to underperform while the teachers remain the 25th highest paid in the state and the administrators remain the 4th highest paid? 

Not surprisingly, D-64 isn’t giving its taxpayers the courtesy of posting the draft contract because [insert explanation of your choice here], but they have posted a “Fact Sheet” containing what we can only assume are the minimum number of “safe” facts they think they can get away with posting in order to claim they are being “transparent.” 

To read or post comments, click on title.

The Chicago Teachers Strike As Object Lesson For District 64


The Chicago Public School teachers are out on strike for the first time in 25 years. 

Depending on whom you believe, only a couple of non-monetary terms remain to be resolved (Mayor Rahm Emanuel); or several non-monetary terms remain unresolved (Chicago Teachers Union).  Interestingly enough, however, both sides seem to agree that the strike is not primarily about money.

That’s most likely because the Chicago Public School Board already has offered a 16% increase over four years – which reportedly consists of 9% (3-2-2-2) over and above some “modified step increases,” according to a story in today’s Chicago Tribune.  The Tribune and several other sources are suggesting that those pay increases are intended to compensate teachers for the longer school day that Emanuel pushed through.

How many of the Chicago taxpayers who will be footing the bill for this largesse are guaranteed a 16% increase over the next 4 years, just for putting in the time and irrespective of performance?  Outside of other public employees, we’re guessing the answer is “none.”

But that didn’t stop the CPS Board from offering those kinds of salary increases even though rookie teachers right out of college start at more than $50,000 for what officially is a 9-month school year.  Not only does that annualize out to $67,000, but even at its face amount it exceeds the approximately $47,000 average City of Chicago family income.   

And the average annual Chicago teacher salary of approximately $76,000 annualizes out to over $100,000, not counting benefits.

Not bad, considering that (as we’ve noted many times before) it comes with little chance of being fired for poor performance; with no chance of having the job outsourced to Mexico, some other country, or even another state; and (still as of now) with a guaranteed defined benefit pension that dwarfs Social Security and many private workers’ 401(k) plans. 

That the CTU has elected to strike despite that kind of compensation for what amounts to an “office” job has caused even a bleeding heart like the Sun-Times’ Neil Steinberg to write (in his 09.08.12 column): “I’m one of the many wondering what planet teachers live on.  I live on Planet Glad to Have a Job.”  So do many/most of us taxpayers who guaranty those ever-increasing salaries of our public employees.

But why do we here at PublicWatchdog care about what’s going on over at CPS?

Because, like the CPS, the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 still doesn’t have a contract with the Park Ridge Education Association (the “PREA”), our local equivalent of the CTU.  Which makes D-64 susceptible to a teachers strike.  Or to an overly-generous multi-year pay increase in order to avoid a teachers strike.

What’s happening with the D-64/PREA contract negotiations?  We don’t know because nobody’s talking.  And nobody’s talking because the contract that recently expired but which the parties continue to operate under contains a provision requiring “secrecy” about the conduct of negotiations – a secrecy provision we understand the PREA demanded and was granted by a stereotypically complicit School Board one or more contracts ago.

Why is there no new contract between D-64 and the PREA?  We’re guessing it’s for the same basic reason there’s still no new contract between the CPS and the CTU: teachers unions gain a whole lot more leverage once school has started, because a strike then is so much more disruptive to parents who count on the schools almost as much for child care as for education.

Which is why Emanuel and the CPS administration is assuring parents that they are providing “safe” places for the school-less kids to hang out while the strike continues, including libraries, park district facilities and churches.  There will be extra costs incurred for those jerry-rigged baby-sitting services, but those will likely never be figured into the calculations of what this strike will end up costing the taxpayers.

Meanwhile, back here in Park Ridge, we sincerely hope the D-64 Board and its negotiators can persuade the PREA negotiators that the best contract is one that recognizes the current economic realities and the plight of the District’s taxpayers, especially in the light of the sweet deal teaching in this upper-middle class district has been and still remains.  If not, the CTU strike may also become instructive for us in another way. 

As Chicago Ald. Ricardo Munoz is quoted in today’s Tribune: “They need to reach a deal.”


“The parents in my ward want their kids to be in school. They don’t care who’s to blame.”

Those of us who lived through the last PREA strike in November 2003 might still remember what happens when parents who already are enjoying the economic benefit of the “free” education for their kids don’t care enough to undertake the sometimes tough analysis required to actually figure out “who’s to blame.”

It’s a whole lot easier to simply tell the School Board to just write a bigger check.

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Last night Park Ridge Mayor Dave Schmidt issued another one of his vetoes.  Actually, it was two vetoes: of the contract negotiated with unionized City employees represented by ICOPS, and of the raises given to the non-union City employees.

Schmidt’s veto message echoed themes voiced in his previous vetoes: “you cannot spend money you do not have”; the City “cannot afford to emulate [the federal and state governments’] irresponsibility” on spending; and “the Uptown TIF debt is a financial time bomb” that is projected to be $1 million short on its bond debt payment this year.

He also claimed that his vetoes sustained by the City Council cut $500,000 of City expenditures, and that the vetoes the Council over-rode would have cut another $800,000.  Schmidt owes the taxpayers some solid back-up for those figures, but we’ll take them at face value for the time being.

Two of the more interesting points in his speech involve the City’s recent hiring experiences: a whopping 98 applicants sought a single $39,000 Finance Department position; and an even more whopping 192 applicants sought 3 vacant firefighters positions. 

We can speculate almost endlessly as to whether the stampede for these positions speaks to the generosity of the pay and benefits, or to the desirability of Park Ridge as a municipal employer, or to some other factor(s).  But it sure suggests that City employment and compensation is highly desirable.

Notably, Schmidt ended his veto message with a general invitation for residents to submit suggestions for other expense cuts different from those Schmidt has made, or for tax increases: “I want to hear your ideas about other ways that we can pull our City out of [this] financial quicksand.”

Which brings us to resident Larry Ryles.

Mr. Ryles has declared himself a candidate challenging Schmidt’s re-election bid.  He already has a campaign fund, a campaign treasurer (Paul Sheehan), and a website.  So it would appear he’s a serious candidate, even though it’s too early for any candidate to submit the nominating petitions required to make his/her candidacy “official.”

As the first and only (so far) challenger to Schmidt, Ryles enjoys an outstanding opportunity to draw clear distinctions, in real time rather than retrospectively, between what Schmidt is doing and what Ryles would do with regard to various situations and circumstances facing the City. 

Like the ICOPS contract and non-union employee raises which Schmidt just vetoed.

According to the “Control Taxes” page of his website, Ryles claims Schmidt has been profligate in presiding over 3 straight years (2009-11) of increases in the City’s portion of the property tax that have averaged almost 3.9%, well above the 2.4% average annual increase in the CPI for that same period (We are ignoring Ryles’ unfounded attribution to Schmidt of an 11.11% “December 1212” increase, as no such increase has been proposed or debated by Schmidt or the Council).   Ryles promises to “take the lead on getting annual tax increases down below the annual rate of inflation of CPI, just like our two school districts and our Park District.”

Frankly, we like the sound of that.  But we’re not too sure of its economic soundness.

First of all, those three other governmental units lack the home-rule powers the City enjoys – meaning that their ability to raise taxes is legally capped at the percentage increase in the CPI or 5%, whichever is less.  And while we retain a warm spot for the Park District, everything – EVERYTHING – it provides qualifies as an amenity rather than as a necessity, such as the streets, sewer, water, police and fire protection that the City provides.

Perhaps Ryles wasn’t paying attention when Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 so mismanaged its finances following its successful $20 million-plus new-Emerson Middle School referendum in 1997 that, by the Fall of 2005, the Illinois State Board of Education’s school finance arm was poised to take over the District’s finances in response to the District’s four appearances on the ISBE’s financial “Early Warning” and “Watch” lists.  That led to a sneaky “back-door” $5 million working-cash bond issue band-aid to tide the District over until it could organize the successful 2007 referendum campaign that added an unprecedented (?) 44 cents to the District’s tax cap rate.

He might also have been preoccupied 2 years ago when all the bad news hit about Maine Twp. High School District 207 facing “its worst financial challenge in 80 years” (according to a Chicago Tribune 01.13.10 article) that was going to require $15 million in cuts through the layoffs of 135 employees, including 75 full-time teachers.

Nevertheless, we would love to hear Ryles’ plan for operating the City with sub-CPI tax increases.  So, starting today, we begin a new feature here at PublicWatchdog – “What Would Ryles Do?” (“WWRD”) – to give Mr. Ryles roughly 400-500 words to tell his prospective constituents how he would do certain specific thing(s) differently from Schmidt. 

In view of Schmidt’s vetoes last night, today’s WWRD topic is:

Would Ryles veto the ICOPS contract and/or the non-union employee raises? And, if not, how would he come up with the money to pay for them?

Should Mr. Ryles choose to avail himself of this opportunity, he need only provide this blog with his written response to this topic, along with a fool-proof way for us to verify that whatever is submitted truly comes from candidate Larry Ryles, such as a telephone number and a photocopy of a drivers license or similar identification. 


We hope to find out.  And when we do, we’ll share it with you.

To read or post comments, click on title.  

Labor Day 2012: A Challenge To Economic Reality


Whether you believe that Labor Day was the idea of Peter J. McGuire of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, or of machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York Matthew Maguire, there is no disagreement that in 1894 the day was institutionalized as a federal holiday. 

And ever since, Labor Day has been celebrated as a tribute to American workers and the achievements of their labor unions, including: the reduction of the work-week from the customary 7 days to 5 days; the reduction of the work day from the customary 12 hours to 8 hours; the prohibition against child labor; increased safety in the workplace; the establishment of unemployment insurance; the creation of social security; and the enactment of the minimum wage. 

Those watershed benefits were achieved by men like William Sylvis (Iron Molders), Eugene Debs (American Railway Union), Samuel Gompers (Cigar Workers/AFL), John L. Lewis (United Mine Workers/CIO), Walter Reuther (United Automobile Workers), George Meany (AFL-CIO), Cesar Chavez (United Farm Workers).   Most of those men and their followers endured bitter public criticism, as well as private and governmental threats to their personal freedom and safety.

Notably, all of them were trade or industrial unionists in the private sector.  And their achievements helped create the American middle class and make the United States the most productive nation in the world.

But over the past 30 years private sector trade and industrial union membership has eroded.  Despite the vast majority of workers still being employed in the private sector, union membership in that sector has eroded to the point where only 7.2 million of its workers are union members, while 7.6 million public sector employees belong to unions.  Union membership in the public sector is reported at 37% of all such employees, 5 times the rate of private sector workers.

Notwithstanding that dramatic rise of public sector union membership, however, none of the society-wide breakthroughs achieved by those earlier union leaders has been produced by their public sector, union-lite counterparts.   Instead, public sector union leaders seem content to ride the gravy train derived from both the freedom from market forces that is inherent in most government employment, and from colluding with craven and corrupt politicians to obtain compensation and benefits not available in the uber-competitive private sector.  At the same time, the middle class has shrunk substantially.

So on this Labor Day 2012 we remember those trade unionists of the past whose achievements created an economic reality that was good for the entire country.  And we echo the cautionary words of pro-labor New York governor Andrew Cuomo:   

“I respect the state workers and I respect their unions, but we simply can’t afford to pay benefits and pensions that are out of line with economic reality.” 

To read or post comments, click on title.