Public Watchdog.org

The 100s Of Millions Of Dollars Question: Renovated Schools Or Flood Remediation?

09.14.18

Readers of this blog know that we have crossed swords with former 6th Ward alderman/former Park Board member Mary Wynn Ryan on numerous occasions. Ms. Ryan and this blog’s editor rarely see eye-to-eye on local – as well as state and national – governmental and political issues.

And that’s okay: A thriving marketplace of ideas needs competing views, not concurring ones.

So consider today one of those rare occasions when this blog acknowledges the merit of a point raised by Ms. Ryan in a couple of comments she made to a post on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page, in which she suggests that the Park Ridge City Council and the Maine Township School District 207 Board may have reached some sort of accommodation to give the latter first crack at Park Ridge taxpayers’ wallets.

Ms. Ryan is a battle-tested class (and race, and gender, etc.) warrior skilled in the art of identity politics, which explains her analogy of Park Ridge residents to “poor folk, choosing between heat, rent, groceries and medicine” – except that we “poor folk” live in $385,000 (median value, per Zillow) residences; and our choices are between $200-350 million to address D-207’s decades of neglect of its physical infrastructure, or $106+ million to address the City’s decades of neglect of its sewer system.

Ms. Ryan’s analogy is not an apples-to-apples one, however, because the $200-350 million cost of D-207 projects will be spread over a much larger taxing district than the City’s $106+ million of flood remediation projects.

Whether that difference in taxing districts will result in Park Ridge residents paying more for the D-207 projects or more for the City’s projects is unclear to us. Park Ridge generates much higher residential RE tax revenues than does Des Plaines ($245,000 median, per Zillow), Morton Grove ($301,000 median) and Niles ($276,000 median). Nevertheless, we understand that those other communities generate significantly higher commercial RE tax revenues than does Park Ridge.

Not surprisingly, those intra-District residential value differences are not highlighted in the pro-referendum propaganda created by those public relations professionals that Supt. Ken “Snow-Job” Wallace and his 7 D-207 Board Dwarfs hired back in January – at over $115,000 of taxpayer money – to run a pro-referendum political campaign masquerading as “community engagement,” which we wrote about in our 08.24.2018 and 08.31.2018 posts. Snow Job, the Dwarfs and their p.r. pros know that reminding Park Ridge homeowners about how much more they will be paying than their counterparts in neighboring D-207 communities “wouldn’t be prudent.”

But is this really about a choice between neglected schools or neglected sewers?

We think that depends, in no small part, on who the voters are.

Those of us who live in Park Ridge know that 100% of the money spent on local flood remediation would directly benefit Park Ridge residents. But because the D-207 projects will require allocating referendum funding to each of the District’s three high schools – the exact percentages of which we don’t know because Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs apparently don’t want to tell us – it’s very possible that no more than 1/3 of the new referendum taxes contributed by Park Ridge taxpayers will directly benefit Park Ridge residents.

On the other hand, those Park Ridge residents who live in areas where flooding is not a regular or substantial problem, and/or who currently have kids in D-207 schools or have kids who will be attending those schools in the future, might prefer paying extra taxes for school improvements instead of flooding.

One way to find out whether Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay enough extra taxes to remedy both neglected schools and neglected sewers – or to find out whether those taxpayers prefer one of those sets of projects over the other – would be to have both referendums on the same ballot.

But because the City dragged its feet for months on making decisions about what to do with those 8 projects identified in the December 2017 study by the City’s long-time flooding consultant, Burke Engineering – or because, as Ms. Ryan suggests, the City had some understanding with D-207 about not pursuing a flooding referendum that might compete with the schools referendum – the City had no flooding remediation referendum question ready for placement on this November’s ballot.

That deprived Park Ridge taxpayers of a direct choice, this year, between neglected schools and neglected sewers – assuming, for the sake of this argument, that they aren’t willing to pay for both sets of projects.

So the only way for Park Ridge taxpayers to regain such a choice would be if: (a) the D-207 referendum loses in November; (b) D-207 comes back to the taxpayers with the same referendum question, or its smaller Plan B referendum question, on the April 2019 ballot; and (c) the City decides to respect its taxpayers and give them a vote on the whole $106+ million Burke enchillada by putting a funding referendum question on the April 2019 ballot.

Does the City Council have any desire to do all 8 of those flood remediation projects, and to do them over the next 5-10 years? Or is it fine with doing them over 20-40 years as funding from the Storm Water Utility trickles in?

If either of those two possibilities is the case, it’s way past time the Council said so – in public and in no uncertain terms.

Because even if the D-207 referendum fails in November and Snow Job and the 7 Dwarfs respond with another referendum in April 2019, if Ms. Ryan’s suspicions are correct, the Council will continue to wink-and-nod itself silly over these flood remediation projects rather than go for the gold, literally and figuratively, with its own referendum question this coming April.

But first things first.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-207’s “Snow-Job” Wallace And His 7 Dwarfs Stack Deck Against Taxpayers

08.31.18

In our previous post we discussed how District 207 Supt. Ken “Snow-Job” Wallace and his 7 Dwarfs – Board members Aurora Austriaco, Paula Bessler, Teri Collins, Linda Coyle, Jin Lee, Carla Owen and Sean Sullivan – committed the District to spending $115,000 (or more) of our tax dollars on the public relations services of bond underwriter George K. Baum & Company (“Baum”), public relations pollster Public Opinion Strategies (“POS”) and focus group facilitator/manipulator Minding Your Business (“MYB”) to bamboozle us into approving a $135 million bond issue referendum in April 2019.

The tactics of those professional contract propagandists?

  1. Have the 7 Dwarfs create a loosey-goosey 40 to 65 member Citizen Task Force advisory group of alleged District residents “with varying viewpoints from across the district” – the backgrounds and actual “viewpoints” of whom D-207 claims not to know – and call it “community engagement” so that gullible residents won’t realize that the Task Force is nothing but a propaganda tool.
  2. Hold four meetings of those Task Force members – while failing to record the attendance (or lack thereof) – so that MYB could facilitate/manipulate them into recommending a $241 million infrastructure project funded by $195 million of bonded debt that would end up costing D-207 taxpayers almost $300 million to repay.
  3. Come up with a “Plan B” that requires only $135 million of bonded debt – and will cost only $200+ million to repay – as the kinder, gentler plan in case the $195/$300 million “Plan A” is rejected by the taxpayers.
  4. Have POS run a survey of slanted, factually-insufficient questions directed to 300 alleged District residents – because those alleged residents also have not been identified by Snow-Job and the 7 Dwarfs – that shows “strong” support for the $195 million referendum but support “bordering on overwhelming” for the $135 million referendum.
  5. Hold several community “reach out” sessions, ostensibly to showcase the infrastructure project’s features but, in reality, to identify and recruit likely supporters to staff a pro-referendum citizens political campaign (a la D-64’s “Yes/Yes” new Emerson campaign in 1997, and its “Strong Schools” funding campaign in 2007).
  6. Have the Dwarfs hire a high-priced new Director of Communications, Brett Clark, as the District’s in-house propagandist to help the outside hired-gun consultants bamboozle and/or stampede the taxpayers into voting for the referendum. Clark remains a “consultant” to the Consortium for Educational Change, a cabal of school administrators, school board members and teacher unions seemingly created and operated for the benefit of those special interests and to the detriment of the taxpayers.
  7. Have the Dwarfs put the $195 million bond issue referendum on the November 2018 ballot so it can be used to test the interest-group targeting and messaging of Baum, POS and MYB – safe in the knowledge that, even if the $195 million referendum loses in November, they have five months to modify and refine that targeting and messaging into a winning campaign for the “Plan B” $135 million bond referendum in the lower-turnout/easier-to-win April 2019 election.
  8. Have the Dwarfs approve a series of 15 dog-and-pony-show “school tours” of the three high schools (as described in the August 25, 2018 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article, “Maine Township District 207 to host school tours leading up to November bond referendum”) that will likely highlight all the problems and “dangers” lurking in the existing buildings, while showcasing the shiny drawings of the planned improvements.

Meanwhile, whether orchestrated by the propagandists or just spontaneous silliness, several outspoken residents have started their own drumbeat for the project, primarily in comments on the Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group FB page.

One of the more vocal is Kelly Przekota, perhaps because her husband works at Maine East. She claims that the Maine Twp. high schools “are falling down faster than London Bridge”; and that she had to buy her husband a plastic bin with latches to protect his coat and laptop case from…wait for it…the cockroaches.

Not to be left out of any public silliness is Park Ridge’s freeloader queen, Kathy (Panattoni) Meade, who used to run that FB page and is now warning its readers that parents should purchase gas masks for their kids who use the Maine South pool because of chlorine gas buildup.

But it was left to Ashley Hawkes to summarize the various gripes about what “our” high school kids need: “A roof that doesn’t leak. A pool that doesn’t poison. A cafeteria that can fit the class sizes. A building free of roaches. Nothing fancy.”

We agree.

And if we really don’t have those, then “Snow-Job” Wallace deserves to be fired; and the current 7 Dwarfs and their predecessor Dwarfs over the past decade or so deserve to be horse-whipped, figuratively speaking, for ignoring basic maintenance, repairs, renovations and improvements – presumably so that they could build up the $45 million slush fund that they now want to use as a kind of down-payment to go with the hundred million dollars plus of bonded debt for their new grand plan.

As for all those cockroaches, we don’t need a $100 million+ bond issue: A call to Orkin will do.

To read or post comments, click on title.

D-207’s Referendum “Strategy” Uses Tax Dollars To Bamboozle Taxpayers

08.24.18

Not all that many years ago, when one of our local governmental bodies decided it needed to raise or borrow a big chunk of money for some facility or project, its governing officials would commission architects and engineers to design and cost-out the project. Then the officials would vote to put a referendum question on the ballot.

Once that was done, those public officials would print up a couple versions of inexpensive “information sheets” that were relatively neutral and reasonably truthful, run a couple/three/four “public information” sessions” based on that same information, and then step back and let the voters decide.

That’s because something called the Election Interference Prohibition Act, 10 ILCS 5/9-25.1, provides:

“No public funds shall be used to urge any elector to vote for or against any candidate or proposition…[but] shall not prohibit the use of public funds for dissemination of factual information relative to any proposition appearing on an election ballot….”

Not surprisingly, the Maine Township High School District 207 superintendent and Board members – not unlike the politicians who run other local governmental bodies in this “State of Corruption” – have figured what they believe to be a way around that ban: Spend public funds on data generation, polling and messaging under the guise of “community engagement” that can later be used by private citizens to campaign for the referendum. And, to help get away with such deceit, they make sure to lock in contracts to spend that money months before the referendum question is even approved for the ballot.

That’s what Supt. Ken Wallace and his accomplices on the D-207 Board did back at the January 8, 2018, meeting when a three-member majority du jour of Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Carla Owen voted to approve three contracts for what they vaguely described as – SURPRISE! – “community engagement” services. Only Board member Sean Sullivan voted against it (Yes, that Sean Sullivan; and we’re as shocked as you are!), while members Aurora Austriaco, Teri Collins and Linda Coyle were conveniently MIA.

Because the D-207 Board – unlike the City, the Library, the Park District and even Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 – doesn’t publish its meeting packets, taxpayers had no details of these expenditures in advance of the meeting.

But if you watch Part I of the meeting video, from the 28:35 mark to the 30:18 mark, you will see and hear no meaningful discussion of the reasons for, or merits of, those contracts. Even dissenter Sullivan gave no reasons for his “no” vote, raising doubts about the reasons for, and the legitimacy of, his vote.

According to Item 9A of the minutes of that meeting, however, George K. Baum & Company (“Baum”) got the lion’s share of these public dollars, a $75,000 fee, presumably because a “privately held investment banking firm focused on municipal finance” has the most to gain from a $195 million bond issue. The other two recipients of what appears to have been a package deal were Public Opinion Strategies (“POS,” appropriately enough), hired to perform “Phone Surveys” for $19,500 (see Item 9B of the minutes); and something called Minding Your Business, which was hired to be a “Citizen Task Force Meeting Facilitator” (meaning “manipulator”) at a fee not to exceed $20,000 (see Item 9C of the minutes).

Those three contracts total a shade under $115,000, not counting the out-of-pocket and travel expenses the District agreed to pay Baum, per Paragraph 2 of Exhibit A to Baum’s “Professional Services Agreement”

Not surprisingly, Wallace et al. issued no press releases hailing those contracts and services – which may explain why we can’t find even one newspaper article about them by our Pulitzer Prize winning local reporters. Wallace and the Board obviously didn’t want taxpayers realizing that their tax dollars are being used to buy high-line professionals and a blueprint for a political campaign to win the District’s mega-bucks/mega-debt referendum.

Interestingly enough, Paragraph 1 D of Exhibit A to that Baum agreement contains the following language:

It is expressly understood and agreed that this Agreement does not intend, and is not under any circumstances to be construed as requiring [Baum] to perform or provide any services to or on behalf of [D-207] which may constitute advocacy for or against any future ballot measure campaign.

Why is that language included? Because Baum wants plausible deniability of any accusations – such as this blog’s – that Baum’s “community engagement” efforts are just front-loaded political research designed to give disingenuous public officials – “Hello, Ken Wallace and you D-207 Board members!” – a pre-packaged referendum-related political strategy and campaign initiatives that they can share with whatever group(s) of referendum supporters form up, or are already locked and loaded, thereby end-running (arguably) the Election Interference Prohibition Act.

Want proof?

Let’s start with the 37-page POS “Feasibility of a Ballot Measure” Survey of a whopping 300 likely voters conducted May 19-22, 2018” – two months before the Board voted to go to referendum in November – which can be found on the District’s website and, therefore, is readily accessible to the strongest referendum supporters that POS identifies, at Pages 5-11 of that Survey, as being: “Democrats,” “Independents,” “younger voters,” “women” and “parents.”

Besides targeting the referendum’s strongest supporters, the POS survey also polled what messages and arguments worked best, and worst – the results of which can be seen at Pages 27-35.

But the true “Bottom Line” can be found at Page 37 of the Survey, which calls support for the $195 million bond deal “strong” but labels support for the $135 million deal as “bordering on overwhelming” with, “[n]ot surprisingly, Democrats driv[ing] the support of both funding options.”

In other words, the D-207 Board’s sub rosa strategy that we hinted at in our previous post is to use the $195 million November, high-turnout referendum as basically a stalking horse for a $135 million April 2019, easier-to-win, low-turnout referendum.

That professional strategy cost us taxpayers $115,000, compliments of a dishonest Superintendent and an equally dishonest, or just mindlessly-complicit, D-207 Board that views us taxpayers as clueless dupes to be manipulated into voting for what appears to be the biggest borrowing in District history – in order to make up for almost a decade of Wallace’s (and several flights of Board members’) neglect of the District’s infrastructure.

And compliments of a local press that remains in a coma when it comes to reporting on such dishonesty and mopery.

To read or post comments, click on title.

“Good News” From D-207? Yes…But, Then Again, Maybe Not

08.13.18

For the first time in a long while we have good news coming out of Maine Township High School District 207.

At last Monday (08.06.2018) night’s meeting, the D-207 School Board voted to place a referendum question on the November 6 ballot seeking voter approval of the District’s issuing $195 million of bonds – that will cost D-207 taxpayers $300 million to repay – to help fund the District’s $241 million facility improvement plan.

The approved referendum language:

Shall the Board of Education of Maine Township High School District Number 207, Cook County, Illinois, improve the sites of, build and equip additions to and alter, repair and equip existing buildings, including, without limitation, constructing security improvements, increasing accessibility to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replacing electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, renovating classrooms and labs, improving the Library Media Center and renovating special education spaces, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $195,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?

By calling it “good news” we’re not saying such a mega-project is necessary or reasonable. As we’ve pointed out in our 05.07.2018 post and our 05.08.2018 post, Supt. Ken Wallace and every member of the D-207 Board since Wallace became superintendent in 2009 should be figuratively horse-whipped for letting the schools fall into the state of disrepair Wallace now claims they need $241 million to remedy.

That kind of mismanagement is, in a word, inexcusable. And as we’ve previously pointed out, that’s squarely on Wallace and Sean Sullivan, the only Board member whose tenure matches Wallace’s stint in the big chair.

If Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“H.I.T.A.”) meant anything to Wallace and all the current and past D-207 Board members (save for, perhaps, semi-newbies Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle) who spent the past 9 years neglecting the maintenance, repair and replacement of the infrastructure of the District’s three high schools, Wallace would tender his resignation; and members Carla Owen, Terry Collins, Paula Bessler, Jin Lee and Sean Sullivan would perp-walk out the door after him.

But to Wallace, et al. H.I.T.A. is a foreign language – and apparently more difficult to learn than Mandarin Chinese. Their preferred language is prevarication, often spoken with a shameless dialect. Which is why the feckless Board members will sigh and wring their hands while letting Wallace off the hook yet again for his continuing mediocrity.

In the face of that kind of unaccountability, we have to take our “good news” wherever we can find it.

In this case, that’s a referendum on this November’s ballot – if only because turnouts for November elections regularly are several thousand voters higher than for our local elections in April. And that’s just in the City of Park Ridge: It might mean as much as a ten thousand vote difference, or even higher, given the much larger D-207 boundaries.

More voters exercising their franchise always makes for better citizenship than a smaller turnout, no matter what the outcome. That’s because it’s well understood that the smaller the turnout, the easier it is for special interests to manipulate the process. Which is why the public officials seeking to pass a referendum always prefer an April election if they can finagle it.

Hence our bet that the D-207 Board would drag its heels until after the August 20 deadline for putting their referendum question on the November ballot – just like the Park Ridge Park District Board appears to be doing with a referendum on the uber-foolish purchase of the Shibley Oaks property.

Which is why the D-207 Board surprised us with its 6-1 vote to go to a November referendum – with the only dissent coming from, even more surprisingly, Sullivan.

Given Sullivan’s virtually spotless record of wrong-headed voting, his dissenting vote caused us to start wondering whether there might be something anti-H.I.T.A. about the Board’s November referendum decision that we might be missing.

So we checked out the 08.06.2018 meeting video and attempted to listen to Sullivan’s explanation of his dissent, which starts at the 43:40 mark and ends at the 45:50 mark. That was more difficult than one would expect because of a poor sound system, compounded by noise from what sounds like the air conditioning and the clacking of a few computer keyboards that rendered some of what he said inaudible.

As best as we can tell, however, Sullivan’s main beef with the November referendum question is that the cost is too high.

We can’t recall when, if ever, Sullivan balked at the high cost of anything at D-207, which is one of the oddities about this situation that suddenly causes us to suspect there may be another sub rosa strategy at play here, one that is anti-H.I.T.A. and which we’ll write about in our next post.

Meanwhile, we’ll leave you with a few hints about that other anti-H.I.T.A. strategy: (a) the D-207 Board already has a back-up, $135 million “Plan B” in the can; (b) the Board recently hired Brett Clark as its co-propaganda minister to work with current propagandist Dave Beery, reportedly until the latter retires in December; and (c) the possibility that Wallace and/or the D-207 Board clandestinely engaged a prominent public opinion research firm to drive this referendum.

All of which may just go to show how even “good news” can turn bad in the hands of Wallace and this D-207 Board.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Guest Essay: D-207 Gearing Up Propaganda Machine For Funding Referendum

07.24.18

Today we are posting a letter to this blog’s editor by Kenneth Butterly, a Niles resident (Elementary School District 63) who nevertheless lives within Maine Township High School District 207. It addresses many of the points made in our 07.19.2018 post; and it is published with the permission of its author. FWIW, Mr. Butterly’s reference to his and this editor’s past disagreements might be better understood, at least in part, by reading our 12.12.2011, 01.19.2012 and/or 11.03.2015 posts. 

__________________________________________

Robert, you and I have gone nose to nose on several occasions regarding local subjects. And we’ve hardly ever agreed. However, this is not going to be one of those times. 

The “Public Opinion Survey” was District 207’s attempt to finesse its way toward its goal; the $240.7 million referendum. The questions were obviously designed to solicit a positive District-leaning response. And yes, we’ve not seen the results of those surveys, nor in my opinion, were we ever meant to. The “Public Opinion Survey” technique is a commonly used marketing gimmick designed to make target audience members feel as if they are part of the show. This same method is being utilized elsewhere by districts engaged in similar referendums.

Now to your question. Is the District planning a November 2018 or April 2019 vote?

On June 29th, D207’s Superintendent and his Board hired Mr. Brett Clark as D207’s Co-Director of Communications for $150,000+. Sean Sullivan and Teri Collins moved and seconded, respectively, the motion. Results: Aye: Austriaco, Collins, Coyle, Lee, Owen, Sullivan; Nay: None; Absent: Besler.

What does this mean? Two things I think.

First, D207 now has 2, yes I said 2, Co-Directors of Communications: (1) Long time Director of Communications, $85,000+ Mr. David Beery; and (2) $150,000+ Mr. Clark, to work toward the referendum. That’s $235,000+ in propaganda-creating talent.

Second, D207 intends to go for broke and, at this moment, it’s still unclear as to whether that will occur this November or in April 2019.

Mr. Beery, to my understanding, has never fought a referendum battle. It’s also unclear if Mr. Clark has done so, either. On the other hand, if you believe Mr. Clark’s work history, this is not his first rodeo.

Mr. Clark’s “Linkedin” page states the following:

“Summary

Experienced educator with more than 20 years experience in the areas of communications, marketing and human resources. Skilled in Crisis Communications, Editing, Public Speaking, Media Relations and Publications. Earned the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) designation from Public Relations Society of America.”

Under the “Experience” section he displays the following job titles: 

  • Adjunct Faculty, Governors State University (Feb. 2017 – Present – 1 yr. 6 mos.);
  • Director of Communications and Marketing, Consortium for Educational Change (Sep. 2015 – Jul. 2018 – 2 yrs. 11 mos.);
  • Executive Director of Human Resources, Glenview D34 (1 yr. 3 mos.);
  • Executive Director of Communications and Strategic Planning, Glenview D34 (4 yrs. 1 mo.);
  • Director of Community Relations and Grants, Glenview D34 (7 yrs. 11 mos.);
  • Public Relations Director, Ladue SD (2 yrs. 3 mos.);
  • Lead Public Information Specialist / Public Information Specialist, Parkway SD (2 yrs. 5 mos.);
  • Publications Coordinator, Missouri Society of CPAs (8 mos.);
  • Information Specialist U. of Missouri, St. Louis (6 mos.); and
  • Public Relations Coordinator, McCann Erickson Public Relations (9 mos.).

If you want to see it all, go to: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brett-clark-apr-0b69126.

So, what’s the bottom line?

The fact that Dr. Wallace and Board President Carla Owen see a need for this much public relations fire-power says a lot about their fear of being rebuffed by the taxpayers/voters, and a heightened determination to get the money.

The plot thickens!

P.S.  For those of you who might be interested, please take notice of the following:

SUBJECT:      D-207 Building & Grounds Committee mtg. Monday, July 30, 2018 at 5:15 p.m., 1177 South Dee Rd.

AGENDA:      “…3. Public Comments  4. Facility Master Plan  5. Financing Facility Master Plan….”

Kenneth Butterly

To read or post comments, click on title.

Silence On D-207’s POS Likely Means No November Referendum

07.19.18

Back on May 30, 2018, we published a post about the “Public Opinion Survey” (the “POS”) in support of the massive $240.7 million boondoggle/scam/“con job” being run by the Maine Township High School District 207 School Board and Administration, against the D-207 taxpayers.

The last day for responding to that survey was reportedly May 18, yet as we publish this post more than two months later we have neither seen nor heard any of the results of that POS.

As we wrote back then, the answers to the POS would almost certainly be used to: (a) guide the D-207 Board’s spinmeisters in crafting their elevator pitch to prospective referendum voters; and (b) help that Board decide when to hold the referendum vote, which we predicted would most likely be in April 2019 – when the turnout is expected to be much smaller (and, therefore, more easily manipulated by the Board’s spinmeisters and sycophants) than the turnout for this November’s election.

FYI: Because of the difference in turnout, passing a local referendum in any of the last four mayoral election years could have been done with no more than 4,510 votes, while doing so in any of the corresponding November elections would have required at least 7,001 votes. And because the April 2019 ballot won’t even include a Park Ridge mayoral race, the turnout is almost certain to be even less than in mayoral election years.

That’s why we suggested back on May 30 that despite the District’s holding a bunch of “community engagement meetings” (i.e., propaganda sessions) about the project, the Board would delay disclosing the POS results or acting on them until it blew the August 20, 2018 deadline by which the District could put the necessary funding referendum question on the November ballot.

As we are now 2/3 through the 3-month referendum window (from May 18 to August 20) with only deafening silence from D-207 about the POS results or a referendum question for the November ballot, it looks like our prediction is coming true – compliments of Supt. Ken Wallace, who has proven himself much more of a politician than an educator or administrator by not only keeping his job but getting salary increases, even as the ranking of the District’s flagship school, Maine South, has plummeted while Maine East’s and Maine West’s rankings have risen only in consideration of their increasingly minority and/or low income student bodies.

And compliments of clueless and/or dishonest School Board members Sean Sullivan, Carla Owen, Jin Lee, Paula Besler, Teri Collins, Aurora Austriaco and Linda Coyle, all of whom appear to believe that the best way to represent their constituents is the “Mushroom Policy”: Keep those constituents in the dark and covered with manure. Hence, the minutes of those May, June and July Board meetings make no mention of drafting or passing one or more referendum questions for the November ballot.

We take a measure of pride in the fact that we never endorsed the first six listed above, or most of their predecessors whose mismanagement of D-207 contributed substantially to the quasi-criminal neglect of the District’s buildings and grounds for at least the past decade.

We did endorse Coyle, however, calling her a “star by far” in 04.03.2017 post based on what we saw of her service on the Park Ridge P&Z Commission and on the D-207 Community Advisory Council; and based on her support of our late mayor Dave Schmidt and his H.I.T.A. platform. We were confident she had the intelligence and the spine to break free from the bovine herd-think that has been the hallmark of the D-207 Board since at least the time Sullivan first sullied the D-207 Board room with his presence back in 2007.

In our post of 05.08.2018, we gave Coyle and Austriaco a half-pass for their under-performance as Board members, on the basis of their having just completed their “honeymoon” year. At the same time we called them out and encouraged them to “demand that D-207 taxpayers get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about everything D-207.”

Since then, however, neither Coyle nor Austriaco has done anything to shed more light on the POS results or on the $240.7 million boondoggle; or to push the Board to put a funding referendum question on the November 2018 ballot.

And because there’s only one more Board meeting – on August 6 – between now and the August 20 deadline for putting such a referendum question on the November ballot, the handwriting (albeit more like vulgar graffiti) is now on the wall.

It seems like the Boards of D-207 and Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 are engaged in a race-to-the-bottom of incompetent, secretive, disingenuous and/or outright dishonest government that not only extorts their respective taxpayers but, also, deprives their respective students of an education commensurate with all those tax dollars being extorted.

And by kicking the referendum can down the road from the much larger-turnout November election to the much smaller-turnout April 2019 election, D-207’s sad-sack Board has taken the lead in that perverse match race.

At least for the time being.

To read or post comments, click on title.

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.