D-64’s Community Finance Committee: “Think Tank” Or P.R. Machine?


Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 recently issued a press release [pdf] to announce the appointment/re-appointment of 31 members to the District’s expanded “Community Finance Committee” (“CFC”).

The CFC, headed by the triumvirate of Craig Elderkin, Phil Eichman and Diana Stapleton, was formed in 2004, ostensibly to help D-64 manage its finances that were in such bad shape that they were drawing increasing scrutiny from the Illinois State Board of Education (the “ISBE”).  At that time, the District’s fund balance had fallen to a critical level after being depleted by at least five years (1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003) of deficit spending following the construction of the new Emerson Middle School.

In 2004, under Supt. Sally Pryor and School Board members Joe Baldi, Rich Brendza, Ares Dalianis, Christina Heyde, Dean Krone, Steve Latreille, Chris Mollett, and Sue Runyon (all of whom were hand-picked by the D-64/D-207 Caucus), the deficit spending reached almost $5 Million while the fund balance dropped to $2.66 Million – it had been over $11 Million as recently as 1999.  As a result, the District landed on the ISBE’s financial “Watch” list, the worst of three undesirable designations which the ISBE applies to school districts whose finances fall below the ISBE’s “Recognition” standard for sound financial management.  A copy of D-64’s 2004 “Financial Profile,” along with the ISBE’s explanation of the financial profile system, can be found by clicking here [pdf].

Since then, however, the CFC has been little more than an enabler and cheerleader for the District’s deceptive financial maneuvers.  It spent its first two years on an orchestrated, Kabuki-like fact-finding and analysis of the District’s finances, before finally reporting its foreordained conclusion that the District needed to go to referendum for a big tax increase – something that should have been apparent to the D-64 Board and Administration without the charade of the CFC.

Meanwhile, in the Fall of 2005, the CFC tacitly endorsed the District’s borrowing of $5 Million in non-referendum 3-year “Working Cash Bonds” – instead of issuing the shorter-term tax anticipation warrants designed to deal with delayed tax revenues – to address the delay in the District’s receipt of its second installment of property taxes.  Once those taxes were received, however, the District used them not to repay the bonds but, rather, to partially replenish the depleted fund balance.

Although that bait-and-switch tactic temporarily got the ISBE off the District’s back, it left the District with a $5 Million debt that needs to be paid off this year.  And it sure makes the CFC look like just another group of tax, borrow and spenders, something D-64 has never lacked.

Frankly, we are generally skeptical of these kinds of committees because the members are not elected by the public and do not even take an oath of office to discharge their duties to the best of their ability and solely in the public’s best interest.  Consequently, they tend to operate “in the shadows” with minimal accountability to the taxpayers and voters.  And too often they are chosen because they are some politician’s friend/crony, or because they can be counted on to go-along-to-get-along.

We are even more skeptical of the CFC because, unlike the City of Park Ridge’s committees and commissions, it operates in even darker “shadows” than other municipal boards, committees and commissions:  It does not appear to have either its meeting agendas or its meeting minutes posted on the D-64 website, or otherwise available to the community:  How many Park Ridge residents even know of the existence of the CFC or can identify any of its members, much less have any idea what actually goes on at its meetings?

And while we have no clear reason at this time to question the good faith and public spiritedness of these CFC appointees, we do question how they were chosen and what special qualifications or expertise they bring to their positions – other than most of them being parents of D-64 students.  Take a look at the names listed on that press release and, if you know any of them at all, ask yourself how many possess such impressive financial acumen that they deserve to be making recommendations to the D-64 Board on such important financial matters as how to manage and spend the District’s $52.6 Million 2007-08 budget [pdf]?

This also raises the specter that most of those members might be little more than rubber-stamps for whatever CFC leaders Elderkin, Eichman and Stapleton dictate, and mere conduits for whatever propaganda the D-64 Administration and Board wish to disseminate.  Supt. Pryor almost admitted as much in the press release, when she stated: “The CFC has proved to be one of the best means to nurture rapport and trust with our community.”  In other words, the CFC is just a public relations tool.

Hey, Sally!  If you really want to “nurture rapport and trust” with the voters/taxpayers, try telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what’s going on at D-64.  Start by telling us why D-64, on your watch, mismanaged itself into a full-blown financial crisis by burning through almost $7 Million of fund balance while engaging in years of irresponsible deficit spending and then jumping an extra $5 Million into debt before finally going to referendum?

While you’re working on that alibi, however, feel free to try something easier – like posting on the District’s website the agendas and minutes of the CFC, as well as the members’ qualifications and expertise that justified their appointments.  That’s not much, but we realize the journey toward transparency and accountability needs to start with small steps.

8 comments so far

I’m glad you mentioned those working cash bonds. That whole deal smelled funny at the time because why would you need 3 year bonds if all you were doing was covering for a couple of months of delay in getting the taxes in? But if I remember right they said that they expected these tax delays to become a chronic problem so that they wanted to have the money available for future delays. But I remember reading a couple of months ago they were talking about issuing tax anticipation warrants to cover this year’s delay in tax revenues. So, oabviously, the $5 MIL FROM THOSE BONDS IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE FOR WHAT THEY TOLD US THEY WERE GOING TO USE IT FOR!

What kind of dishonest bast*rds are running that place?

Anonymous 01.04.08 @ 11:34 am:

Your memory sounds right to me.

I agree that those people are dishonest, but I think it’s primarily them wanting what they want and not trusting the voters to give it to them, at least not without some elaborate campaign like they staged in 1997 (“Yes/Yes”) and again in 2007 (“Citizens for Strong Schools”).

But even worse than just paying high taxes is whether we may be paying North Shore taxes for a lot less than North Shore performance.

I have a problem with school adminstrators (like the superintendent) acting like politicians. And I have a bigger problem with the people we elect to keep an eye on the administrators (i.e., the School Board) turning into tools of those adminstrators-politicians.

We’re paying too much money in taxes to be lied to, especially by a superintendant that’s being paid around $170,000 a year with the job security of a 3-year contract. How many of us who are paying her that nice salary have a 3-year contract, or any contract for that matter? 

Talk about the inmates running the asylum! 


How could those school board members have engaged in so many years of deficit spending????

The average citizen doesn’t pay attention – he thinks his elected representatives are on top of things when they rarely are. And the newspapers give us the print journalism version of “happy talk” reporting.

I can understand school districts from the impoverished districts on the south side being on the Illinois State Board of Education’s “Financial Watch” list. Those cities’ tax bases have been destroyd. But, it is outrageous for any school district in Park Ridge to be placed in the same status as Ford City. The District 64 School Board’s incompetence is manifest. And the School Board has tried to camoulfage their incompetence with dishonesty.

I remember the Working Cash Bonds noted in a Jan. posting above. I have also heard and seen recent D64 updates. One coreection: The WC Bonds were stated upon issuance (per Board minutes, from what I can tell) then and now as part restoring fund balances AND covering late tax receipts– which is related, since low fund balances meant not much cash on hand. And I don’t see any dishonesty on the WC Bonds vs. the 2007 Tax Warrants — the Referendum tax receipts (fall, 2007, first installment) were exactly the money held up by Cook Co. That is, D64 was operating under the old pre-Ref fund balances, since the Ref’s two year increase didn’t start until Dec. 2007 (due to the Cook Co. lag). Ironically, it seems as if the Tax Warrants confirmed the D64 statement that they really did NOT have money for more than 30-60 days, something they starting saying in 2006.

It remains our understanding that at the time the non-referendum Working Cash bonds were issued in the Fall of 2005, D-64 was looking at the very real possibility that the State Board of Education would take over its finances – in large part because D-64’s fund balances had been spent down to a dangerous level.

D-64 needed to boost those fund balances but was afraid to go to referendum because the School Board (Christine Heyde, Ron James, Marty Joyce, Steve Latreille, Chris Mollett, Sue Runyon and Genie Taddeo) believed a referendum would fail without an elaborate propaganda campaign that it didn’t have time to mount in the Fall of 2005. Plus it knew it was going to have to go to the voters for a larger referendum in another year or so.

But because state law prohibited school districts from issuing non-referendum Working Cash Bonds for the purpose of replenishing depleted fund balances, D-64 claimed those Working Cash Bonds were being issued to cover the delayed property taxes – so that when those property taxes were finally received, they could be funneled into the fund balances instead of used to pay off the Working Cash Bonds.

So by doing that little “Texas Two-Step,” D-64 was able to use non-referendum debt (the Working Cash Bonds) to effectively replenish its depleted fund balances – doing indirectly what it could not lawfully do directly. And less than two years later, D-64 passed its multi-million tax referendum thanks to the masterfully-orchestrated propaganda campaign led by former 5th Ward Alderman Steve Huening – and has gone back to its big-spending ways.

Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


(optional and not displayed)