Time For Taxpayers To Start Paying Attention To School Dist. 64


Park Ridge/Niles Elementary School District 64 is the single biggest recipient of our property tax dollars.  Nevertheless, it usually succeeds in keeping a low profile and avoiding serious scrutiny, which helps explain how it could spend itself to the brink of financial crisis from 1998 through 2006 without much notice or criticism – until it came time to panic-peddle last year’s tax rate referendum.

The District’s finances were so mismanaged after five straight years of deficit spending that in 2005 the Dist. 64 Board had to sneak $5 million in non-referendum “working cash bonds” past the taxpayers in order to begin restoring its decimated fund balances and avert a possible takeover of its finances by the State Board of Education after several years of appearing on the State Board’s “early warning” or “watch” list. 

But from what we’ve seen those folks inhabiting the ESC at 164 South Prospect, now flush with referendum cash that has helped our property taxes soar, haven’t really changed their tax, borrow and spend ways.

That the Dist. 64 School Board and Administration can’t seem to manage its finances (even with the help of its 34-member “Community Finance Committee” formed in 2004, and apparently still headed by the triumvirate of Craig Elderkin, Phil Eichman and Diana Stapleton), however, is even more troubling in light of the District’s rather lackluster educational achievement.

The Chicago Sun-Times, in today’s edition, ranks Illinois elementary and high school districts based on average scores on 2008 state reading and math tests, using “a well-known statistical method called standardizing to analyze the ‘scale scores’ of public school third- through eighth-graders who took the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests and high school juniors who took the Prairie State Achievement Exam this past spring.”

Based on those rankings, it doesn’t look good for the home team.

Not one District 64 school cracked the Top 50 in either the elementary school [pdf] or middle school [pdf] categories, losing out to schools from Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Chicago, Barrington, Evanston, Glenview, Highland Park, Hinsdale, Northbrook, River Forest and Wilmette, to name just a few of those districts to whom we sometimes compare ourselves but who spend more per pupil (from River Forest’s $11,156 to Glenview’s $14,858) than the $10,755 average reported for District 64.

We also lost out, however, to districts who spend less than us, like St. Charles ($10,385), Palatine ($10,108), Downers Grove ($10,611), Wheaton ($10,746) and bargain-basement Western Springs ($8,172).

What gives? 

According to the story about test scores published in yesterday’s Herald-Advocate (“District 64 scores high in reading, math,” Oct. 30), we’re fine…just ask us.  But of course, there was no mention in that article about exactly how our kids’ performance compares to those other school districts, even though the Herald-Advocate is part of the Sun-Times News Group and presumably had access to its parent paper’s analysis.

We can hear the District’s spin doctors already, pooh pooh-ing standardized testing and explaining how they don’t stoop to “teaching to the tests” but, instead, focus on more meaningful measures of performance and achievement. 

Maybe they do.  And the fact that Maine South tied with Vernon Hills H.S. for 15th on the Sun-Times’ list of Illinois high schools [pdf] might even support District 64’s explanation, although we’ve also heard the argument that Maine South’s performance benefits from the kids the parochial elementary schools feed into it.

But when Park Ridge property values depend on our ability to compete with these other communities on a variety of bases, of which quality schools is one of the most important, our continually increasing taxes combined with Dist. 64’s modest performance jeopardizes not only our investments in our homes but also, ultimately, the quality of life in our community.

So what say you, Supt. Sally Pryor and Board members John Heyde, Marty Joyce, Ron James, Chris Mollet, Sue Runyon, Ted Smart and Genie Taddeo?

12 comments so far

We have paid a lot of taxes for a long time to put our kids through what we thought was a top-notch public school system run by Dist. 64. Now our kids are out of that system yet we’re paying even higher taxes for what looks to be diminishing quality of education. But the teachers keep getting raises, Dr. Pryor keeps on getting even bigger raises, and everybody on the school board keeps smiling and saying everything is wonderful (but could be even better with still more money).

You’re right about competing communities.  Why should someone pay $700,000+ for a house in Park Ridge when they can get better schools in places like Glenview or Northbrook for only a few dollars more?  Our location is better (nearer O’Hare and downtown Chicago), but unless you fly a lot or commute regularly, those advantages don’t compute.

This news is a lot more “trick” than “treat.” Why doesn’t that surprise me.

I recall seeing something that says Supt. Sally Pryor makes over $200,000. For somebody responsible for a $50 million business, that’s small potatoes IF she could actually do the job. But if we can’t get even one of our 7 schools into the top 100 (50 elem., 50 middle), she CAN’T be doing the job.

And if anybody wants to see why things are so screwed up at Dist. 64, go to a school board meeting, especially when they’re discussing the budget. I had all I could do to keep from laughing out loud at some of the things they said.

Sure – when inner city children underachieve its the parents fault, but when privledged Park Ridge children dont measure up its the school district’s fault.

Anonymous @ 8:52: I don’t think that’s the message at all. The parents in the inner city (to the extent there are any) are as responsible for their kids as suburban parents. But the schools, including the teachers who are being paid to teach and the admnistrators who are being paid to administer, also have to be held accountable for the results.

Unfortunately, the teachers AND THE TEACHERS UNION and the administrators are always ready to take the credit for good results, but they want no blame for bad results. But since they’re getting paid to do a job, I’ve got a lot easier time telling them to either produce or find another line of work.

You know another thing that came to mind while reading this and though this was before 1998, it was a few years earlier the district decided to reopen Emerson Junior High and in the process builds a whole new building.

Why couldn’t they have reused the previous building they used from 1959 to 1984.

Just something extra worth mentioning.

I think its a matter of economics. I don’t think the point of the post is to place blame on someone for the “shortcomings” of the students. I think its a matter of economics: If we pay X amount of $$ per student – we should expect XX on tests. And btw, interesting how the teachers have a love hate relationship with test scores. When your kid is failing a class the test scores are gospel; but when the test scores are used to quantify their ability to teach suddenly the test scores are mitigated.

Will ANYBODY take responsibility for the quality of education (or lack thereof) that the the D-64 schools are delivering? Anybody? Bueller?


I am a recent transplant to PR so I do not know the quality or condition of the old building but my guess is that you answered your won question.

The building was built in 1959!!!!

At the time it was demolished, the “old” Emerson Jr. High School was the newest of all Dist. 64 schools; and it was being used on a rental basis by the Chicago Futabakai Japanese School, which relocated to what we believe was Rand Jr. High in Arlington Hts.

Anon 11.03

I could do without your hysteria!!!

Plus all the other Dist. 64 buildings are older as the PW owner says, which makes it silly to have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to have rebild it when they probably would of done just fine if they had moved back into the building they originally used.

I did not intend to be hysterical. Again, I am somewhat of a disadvantage because I was not here. I do not know the condition/size of the prior building. Perhaps there were capacity issues. Perhaps there were technology issues with the building (Wiring/heat etc). Perhaps the looked at the cost to build versus what they believed would need to be done to the old building.

Did you or anyone ask these questions when the decision process was taking place to build it? Without any further data to go on it does not seem unreasonable to me to build a new school in the place of one that was built in 1959.

Anon @ 11.02 1:53 am

Bueller went to Glenbrook North.

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