Hire A Consultant And Round Up The Usual Suspects.


Last week we wrote about the most recent ISAT test scores and how Park Ridge/Niles Elementary School District 64’s scores at both the elementary and middle school levels don’t seem to be measuring up to our community’s expectations or its financial support. (“Time For Taxpayers To Start Paying Attention To School Dist. 64,” Oct. 31).

We noted how, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, no Dist. 64 school cracked the Top 50 schools in ISAT scoring, losing out to schools from districts that spend on average as much as $4,100/yr per pupil more than we do (Glenview, $14,858 v. Dist. 64 $10,755) and as much as $2,500 less than we do (Western Springs, $8,172).

So when we hear that Dist. 64 has decided to spend $39,000 on a “long-range strategic planning” consultant, we have to wonder just a little bit about where the administration’s and school board’s focus is.  And when we read about the things this consultant is already saying about the District, we wonder even more about the administration’s and board’s judgment. 

As reported in last week’s Park Ridge Journal (“Dist. 64 Planning For Long Term,” Oct. 29), Dist. 64 hired The Cambridge Group, and it sounds as if lead consultant “Dr.” Howard Feddema (why is it that educators with Ph.Ds seem so obsessed with calling themselves “Doctor”?) is already blowing smoke up our collective skirts. 

Feddema wasted no time in praising Dist. 64 for “operating at a high level…financially” even though the District’s newly-abundant cash reserves are not the product of highly-competent “operations” but, instead, of a windfall of tax revenues resulting from last year’s referendum – which helped avert the financial crisis that D-64’s School Board and Administration created with their financially inept “operations” between 1998 and last year.  

So excuse us if we don’t break out the champagne upon reading that Feddema is comparing District 64 to an “organism” that could be viewed (because of its newly-flush financial status) as being at its peak “10” level – but which needs his strategic planning services to avoid the plateau-and-decline tendency of such “organisms.”

We’re also skeptical when we read on the Cambridge Group website about Feddema’s strategic planning model for school districts, which was created by Cambridge Group president and founder “Dr.” William Cook, and that promises to “dramatically improve student learning over time.”  Maybe our skepticism is because “over time” for many consultants tends to mean at some point in time after the consultant’s service contract expires and he/she has moved on to another project.

The dead giveaway for us, however, is when Feddema claims that the success of his work “depends on collaboration among teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and community leaders to identify long-term strategic direction and link that direction to the development of annual operating plans that drive daily practice in schools.”  Spreading responsibility over that many different factions ensures that nobody – and especially not the consultant – can be held accountable if/when the strategic planning falls short of its goals.  

Nevertheless, the District is already set to form its “30-member planning task force” early next year to work with Feddema.  You can bet that task force will be composed primarily of well-meaning but over-matched residents (not unlike the District’s Community Finance Committee) who can be expected to go along to get along with the handful of group “leaders” who are clued into the District’s desired outcomes, even if those outcomes are nothing close to what the District actually needs.

But hiring consultants and rounding up the usual suspects is just what the elected and appointed officials at Dist. 64 need to avoid accountability to the voters and the taxpayers.

7 comments so far

If we already have a highly-paid superintendant and numerous administrators (including a “business manager”), a 7-member school board whose member are supposedly vetted by the Caucus and then endorsed as the most qualified candidates for those offices, and a Community Finance Committee filled with supposedly financially-savvy residents, why do we need all these consultants?

That is an age old question that can be applied to the private and public sector. Why would a corporation hire consultants when they have well paid executives and a qualified board of directors? It seems Accenture has made a hell of a businesss out of it!!!

Anon at 10:34 – The more inept and/or cowardly the management, the more the need for consultants to do management’s work for it or cover management’s butt. And when it comes to government, inept and cowardly are pretty much all you’ve got.

WHo in their right mind would give basically a teacher like Sally Pryor a $50 million business to run? But that’s what we’ve done, and she’s running one under the supervision of the Seven Dwarfs on the D-64 School Board. No wonder they are willing to turn over financial control to the un-elected Elderkin, Eichman and Stapleton of the CFC.

It’s the blind leading the halt followed by the lame.

“Round up the usual suspects” is exactly right. And then if/when stuff doesn’t work, they can blame the consultant, who can in turn blame the Dist. for not doing everything he recommended in the exact way he recommended it.

These postings are totally unfair to the school board members who are all volunteers and who go to all those meetings without being paid and put up with all the headaches because they want to give something back to the community.

All you are doing by posting these criticisms is discouraging people from serving on the school board.

To: anonymous on 11.04.08 12:14 pm

Tell us you are kidding.

From what I’ve seen of the people who have filled the seats on the District 64 school board since they decided to build the new Emerson back in 1997, we’d be better off if most of them had been discouraged from serving. The only one that seemed to have any idea of what he should be doing and why was Dean Krone, and he lasted only one term (I think).

Do we really need 8 consecutive years of the Heydes or Sue Runyon? Or the return of Marty Joyce for another tour of duty? What does Genei Taddeo bring to the table that’s worthwhile. Chris Mollett?

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