Public Watchdog.org

H.I.T.A. Once Again M.I.A. At School District 64 (Updated)

06.22.15

Only a few weeks ago we wrote a post about how it sounded like the School Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 was cooking up a contract extension and raise for rookie superintendent Laurie Heinz (D-64 Supt. Contract Extension Just Another Non-Transparent Charade?”, May 31), all while hiding from the taxpayers their discussions of Heinz’s first year’s performance and whatever justification there might be for these additional financial perks.

Since then, however, the Board has held two more meetings and two more closed sessions – in each instance using generic language (“specific employees”) in the closed-session motion that did not even identify Heinz or mention that they would be discussing her contract extension and/or compensation.

So it should come as no surprise – even as it should infuriate every D-64 taxpayer – that two agenda items for tonight’s (June 22) D-64 Board meeting are “Action Item 15-06-15” to extend Heinz’s contract for some unspecified period, and “Action Item 15-06-16” to approve some unspecified new compensation for her.  Nor could we find any description of the extension, the compensation, or the reason(s) for them on the District’s website.

In other words, not only has the D-64 Board conducted all its discussions of Heinz’s contract extension and compensation in “closed sessions” from which the taxpayers and the media are banned, but those Board members are now effectively spitting in the collective eye (the most polite metaphor we can think of) of those same taxpayers by not even revealing the details of both Action Items in advance of tonight’s meeting – the better to avoid any pre-meeting, pre-vote scrutiny, questions and/or complaints by the taxpayers who will, as always, be picking up the tab for this Board’s largesse.

At this juncture we should note a few important facts as context for the Board’s continuing insults: (1) D-64 spends about the same amount of money educating less than 5,000 students as the City of Park Ridge spends on all of the services it provides to over 37,000 residents; (2) Heinz already makes close to $250,000/year, all in, despite her having had no previous superintendent experience; and (3) as best as we can tell, Heinz has failed to move the needle of student/District achievement or rankings even one click upward during her first year on the job, unlike some professional sports rookie-of-the-year whose stellar performance earns a contract renegotiation.

So why is she getting new (presumably better) compensation and a contract extension beyond her original 3-year term?

If you guessed “for no reason that would pass the wink test, the smirk test, the LOL test or the LMAO test,” you’d be right. Which is why D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli has orchestrated this whole evaluation/extension/raise process in numerous closed sessions, rather than in open ones. And why perennial Board bobbleheads Scott Zimmerman, Dathan Paterno, Vicki Lee and Bob Johnson have served as Borrelli’s “Amen!” chorus for that effort.

To say that Borrelli’s and the Bobbleheads’ conduct in this regard is disappointing would be a gross understatement. Frankly, such secretive conduct about the District’s top administrator is reprehensible, as is such secretive conduct by every elected official who purports to represent the taxpayers of his/her respective governmental unit.  Unfortunately, these D-64 folks are adept (via the well-paid propaganda minister/spinmeistrix, Bernadette Tramm) at manipulating and bamboozling our sleepwalking local press, so the public rarely hears about the many ways it is being played by their “representatives.”

Borrelli’s got almost four full years remaining on his current term so, unless he has a St. Paul-style epiphany about the many errors of his ways very soon, we can expect more deals like this one for Heinz being cooked up outside the public’s view. And because all four of the Bobbleheads will be on the Board in 2016, there’s no telling what kind of damage they can do when it’s time to negotiate (a/k/a, ankle-grab) a new teachers union contract – especially with a  contractually-secure Heinz whispering sweet nothings in Borrelli’s and the Bobbleheads’ ears about how well the District is performing, and how a teacher strike would be nothing short of a nuclear disaster for the District, the community and, most of all, for its vulnerable children.

After all, Heinz has been laying the groundwork for that argument since she took over and began “signing” every piece of parent-directed correspondence: “For your children.”  Not just “for the children,” but “for your children.”

And you wonder why Tramm makes the big bucks?

The only sliver of good news is that newly-elected Board member Mark Eggemann has consistently voted against those closed sessions. And newly-elected Board member Tom Sotos has voted against most of them. While that’s better than monolithic 7-0 no-questions-asked votes for closed-door meetings, voting “no” isn’t such a profile in courage when you’re certain to be outvoted by more than 2-1.

Which is why it would appear that Eggemann’s and Sotos’ “Rubicon” moment has arrived.  As in “crossing the Rubicon”; i.e., taking a step that commits a person to a specific course of action, usually with significant risk and consequences.

Or to give it some local flavor, it could be called a “720 Garden” moment, in recognition of when the late Mayor Dave Schmidt – back in early 2008, when he was still just first-year Ald. Dave – exercised his legal rights under the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) to publicly disclose then-mayor Howard Frimark’s closed-door attempts to enlist the then-City Council majority in finagling the City’s purchase of the 720 Garden property for a new police station.

That 720 Garden moment earned Schmidt a purely-political, non-binding public “condemnation” from Frimark, five of the seven sitting aldermen, and City Clerk Betty Henneman. But it showed the voting public that Schmidt stood for those principles that would become his “HITA” mayoral campaign platform less than a year later: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

And it showed how Frimark and his Council lackeys didn’t.

Although Eggemann and Sotos are even newer to their offices than Schmidt was to his when he faced his Rubicon moment, Borrelli and the Bobbleheads appear to be providing such a Rubicon opportunity now.

Is it too late for Eggemann and Sotos to stand up at tonight’s meeting and demand a deferral of the votes on both Heinz’s contract extension and her new compensation until the details of both can be published on the District’s website so the taxpayers can reasonably be informed about them at least a week before any vote?  Are Borrelli and the Bobbleheads so far gone that they can’t even feel any shame for their HITA-bereft secretive dealings and their affronts to those taxpayers?

We should find out in about eight more hours.

UPDATED (06.25.15) The video from Monday night’s meeting can be found at http://www.d64.org/boe/BOE-Video-6-22-15.cfm, and it’s truly a revelation of what the addition of two new Board members (Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos) and the departure of one old Board member (John Heyde) can do to add Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability to even an intransigent institution like D-64.

But after taking in the discussion about Heinz’s contract extension and raise, starting at 3:59:45 and continuing to 4:21:30, we’ve got to wonder why they didn’t vote to give her a THREE YEAR EXTENSION! Seriously, we haven’t heard that much gushing about any individual local public employee in at least 20 years – even though it all appears to have been based on those closed-session discussions and on reports that do not seem to have been made public (and clearly weren’t in Monday night’s meeting materials).

And for pure entertainment value, make sure you catch the tap-dancing about going into closed session that starts at the beginning of the video and continues to approximately the 0:08:15 point of the video. They actually severed the three closed-session matters (that they always used to vote on together) and conducted separate votes on them.

Gee, we wonder where they got THAT idea?

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

You also have to love how the agenda is set up with actual times so that for each of the items you’ve cited we can see that they plan to spend all of 5 minutes on each.

Great Doc Borelli…just great.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, since at least 5 of them presumably agree that Heinz walks on water, they may have budgeted more time than they’ll actually need to bobble their heads and vote “yes.”

That these Board members can even delude themselves into believing this travesty is any kind of “good” government is basically depressing.

Eggeman take heart… others have walked in your shoes previously. To wit:

Before Dave Schmidt joined the PR City Council closed sessions were routine.

When Dave became an Alderman closed sessions remaibed routine. In time Dave began to vote against those closed sessions. This culminated, some would say, with the ‘Dogs reference to the 720 Garden incident.

Dave was vilified by his fellow elected officials and was condemned which had no real effect except to show those condemning him as the losers they were.

But then some positives came about:
1. closed sessions became fewer since other Alderman took Dave at his word that he would go public again.
2. others took notice and decided to run for office, Alderman at any rate, with Dave’s distaste for closed sessions and H.I.T.A. at the forefront.

It took time but the results are pretty undeniable. The City government is easily the most transparent local government body in Park Ridge.

So, Mr. Eggeman, take heart and know that doing the “right thing”, even if it is difficult, will be the best course of action for the long term. Go for it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly.

Sometimes you have to light that one candle AND curse the darkness. Ald/Mayor Dave did both, and City governemnt and this community are substantially better for it.

There is fraud by commission and fraud by omission. What the D64 board is doing here is the latter, but it is fraud just the same.

So we have a school board that commits fraud against its taxpayers. Is the scum of irresponsible and corrupt Illinois government seeping into D64?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’d hate to think of it as “corrupt…government,” but it sure does seem to be a kind of “fraud” on the taxpayers, even if it is technically legal. And one thing is certain: it’s sure not H.I.T.A.

Hasn’t he already botched it?? I mean he has had a month to make public statements. Hell, he could have written a guest essay for the local paper. Instead he has said nothing. Now if he goes off this evening it will look like it was only at your insistence.

He sure as hell had better do something because this goes against almost every single thing that he ran on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not sure who the “he” is you are talking about.

But it’s not irretrievably “botched” until the vote is taken and the die cast.

This is another example of how certain elected officials act like only they know what is going on, only they know what to do and, therefore, they can keep information to themselves and tell the people “just trust us.” What a crock.

If Mayor Schmidt taught us one thing, it is that the public can be trusted with the information our elected officials are using to make their decisions. Obvioiusly Borrelli and friends did not learn that lesson.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s because they don’t TRUST “The People” and, therefore, try to manipulate “The People” – or just steamroll them – through the control of information.

You keep on railing against D64 but nothing improves. You endorse candidates (Borrelli and Paterno) who end up just as bad as the board members you didn’t endorse. When is it time to just throw in the towel and accept that it won’t get better?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Three quotes from Sir Winston Churchill seem appropriate:

“Never, never, never, never give up.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Did Heinz get her raise and extension? Neither the Advocate or the Journal have posted a story about it yet, but you seem to know more than they do.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, she did.

Her contract extension passed unanimously, on the basis (as best we understand it) that her original contract provided for basically an “automatic” annual extension, although we have never seen that contract, do not know where it is posted, and would assume that if it’s “automatic” there would be no reason for the Board to vote for it.

She also received full healthcare coverage (previously she paid a portion) and a 2% raise by a vote of 4 (Borrelli, Zimmerman, Lee and Johnson) to 3 (Eggemann, Paterno and Sotos).

Ok…..so what did we find out?? What happened??

EDITOR’S NOTE: See Editor’s Note to Bnonymous’ comment, below.

……..so Eggemann made no demands?? No speeches?? Nada?? And he voted for it!?!? Baaahhhhhh!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: You might just want to wait until D-64 gets around to posting the video before you gloat quite that enthusiastically, especially because for all we know you could be one of the current (or former) Board majority simply trying to discredit Eggemann.

And since we don’t know that the terms of Heinz’s contract – negotitated and approved by the pre-Eggemann/Sotos Bobbleheads (such as yourself?) – provide, the only vote of any real substance may have been the one on which Eggemann, Sotos and the heretofore MIA Paterno rejected.

When it comes to the schools, the inmates run the asylum. While I am glad that it looks like Paterno finally woke up on at least one of these two issues, a unanimous vote on giving Heinz an extra year on her contract is a crime. You have said it and I have agreed with it, this is the kind of stuff that has caused Illinois’ bankruptcy.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Without seeing Heinz’s contract, which does not appear in the Board packet of the 01.30.14 special meeting at which her hiring and compensation package were approved by a 5-1 Board majority (Borrelli, Heyde, Lee, Paterno and Zimmerman v. Collins; Cameron absent), we are reluctant to speak to that contract extension – other than to reiterate the observation in this post that Heinz has failed to put up big numbers like “some professional sports rookie-of-the-year whose stellar performance earns a contract renegotiation.”

I wonder if she negotiated the full payment of her already miniscule (relative to the private sector)health insurance cost to sweeten the lowly (LOL) raise of 2%? It is troublesome that no standards/metrics seem to have been established and no info on how she did relative to such standards has been offered. While I am not a fan of the knee-jerk “do more with less” mantra — sometimes holding the line is victory enough, as the late Mayor Schmidt showed us — I do think it’s fair to expect that Heinz do more with more.
Unless she has an argument that the 40% drop in housing values in Park Ridge during the recessionary years is still hurting? Some explanation,anyway. And some metrics/expectations for the coming year?

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Performance” metrics have NEVER been a factor in the contracts and raises D-64 and D-207 have regularly given their teachers or administrators, so the only “news” here is that three D-64 Board members actually voted “no” on Heinz’s compensation deal.

The City has continued on the path to demanding better performance from the City Mgr.; the Library Board for the first time appears to have looked at objectively quantifiable data instead of warm-fuzzies in evaluating the Library’s director; and the Park District has done likewise in evaluating and compensating its executive director.

Meanwhile, the two biggest property taxing bodies, by far, continue to indiscrimately throw 70% of our property tax dollars at staff.

Thank you, Mark Eggemann, Dathan Paterno and Tom Sotos for having the good sense to vote “no” on the pay raise.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Agreed.

But we’re still wondering about their vote on giving Heinz a one-year contract extension – because after hearing all the gushing about just how outstanding Heinz’s first year on the job was (as can be seen and heard on the meeting video posted at http://www.d64.org/boe/BOE-Video-6-22-15.cfm), we’re surprised they didn’t give her THREE MORE YEARS! You can start watching from 3:59:45 to 4:21:30, and can judge for yourself.

And you might find it both eye-opening and entertaining to watch and listen to the tap-dancing over going into closed session from the beginning of the meeting until approximately the 0:08:15 point of the video. They actually sever the three closed-session matters and conduct separate votes on them (Gee, we wonder where they got THAT idea?)

What a great improvement in Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability the addition of Eggemann and Sotos, and the departure of Heyde, has caused!

Why do you have such a grudge against Mr. Heyde? He’s gone from the school board, yet you seem to have gone out of your way to take another shot at him.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s nothing personal, just civic.

He was pretty much the principal driving force on the Board during his 8 years on the Board, during which time we had 3 different superintendents (incl. Bender, whom Heyde was instrumental in hiring), cost per pupil rose signficantly, two sweetheart contracts were give to the PREA while infrastructure and academic performance were neglected, and performance and rankings stagnated and/or declined. And because of his dominance of a rubber-stamp Board of lightweights, he was successful in keeping most of these failures secret or under the radar.

We’re guessing somebody in his position could have done worse in those same 8 years. But they would have had to put in a whole lot of effort to do so.

People who serve in public office need to be held accountable for what they did, and what happened, on their watch. And that accountability does not end the moment they leave the Board – which is why we keep reminding our readers about the knuckleheads who gave the City’s taxpayers the Uptown TIF fiasco and who then tried to leave that red-headed stepchild behind once they left the Council.



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