Public Watchdog.org

Will Caucus Once Again Appoint D-64 Board?

01.16.09

With two announced candidates for mayor and the likelihood of contested elections for the Park District Board, it’s once again looking as if the General Caucus of School Districts 64 and 207 will be effectively appointing the new District 64 School Board members.

The Caucus – a haphazard collection of individuals supposedly representing whichever local organizations wish to participate – has been responsible for every District 64 board member but one (current board member Ted Smart) for the better part of two decades – so dominating the electoral process that its candidates rarely even have any competition. 

This time around, however, only four people sought Caucus endorsement for the four available seats, and none of them are the current occupants of those Board seats: Sue Runyon, Chris Mollett, Ron James and Marty Joyce.  So it looks like that quartet will be moving on, leaving behind a legacy of higher taxes, unspectacular academic performance, and a retiring superintendant who – thanks to generous raises that appear to have upped her compensation by more than 25% over the past four years – will be retiring in 2010 after seven years at the helm with an annual pension that will be substantially more than the average household incomes of the taxpayers footing the bill.  

And if that kind of fiscal insanity is your flavor of Kool-Aid, then you will probably love their four Caucus-endorsed replacements: electrical engineer Russ Gentile, who admits to only a “layman’s understanding” of District finances; union attorney Pat Fioretto, who rates his understanding of school finances as only “good to fair,” based on working with the group that supported the 2007 tax increase referendum; banker Sharon Lawson, who thinks she has only an adequate to good understanding of some school finance issues; and Kraft Foods finance professional Eric Uhlig, who acknowledges that even he will have to “get up to speed quickly” on District 64 finances.

Irrespective of the concerns we have about these four simply continuing the District’s questionable fiscal policies and practices, we really do hope that some challengers to Caucus hegemony over the District 64 Board emerge in the waning days for candidates to file their petitions.  And the same goes for District 207, too.  

That’s because we believe that uncontested races that don’t give the voters a real choice are the sign of a sick society, one which tends to get even sicker as apathy and cynicism set in.

Another reason for our desire for contested elections is that the Caucus-dominated District 64 Board, in our opinion, has consistently overpromised and underperformed since at least the 1997 “Yes/Yes” referendum that led to the construction of the new Emerson Middle School.  For most of those 11 intervening years the District was in almost constant financial trouble, even as its budget and tax bite increased. 

Facing possible sanctions from the Illinois State Board of Education for its precarious finances, the Board bought itself a little breathing room in 2005 by sneaking $5 million in working cash bonds past the voters through the use of a “back door referendum” on which we didn’t even get the chance to vote.  And it followed that sleight of hand with its well-orchestrated 2007 tax increase referendum, the effects of which are now being felt, big-time, by the taxpayers even as the values of their houses crater.

Meanwhile, and most disturbingly from our perspective, the academic performance of the District’s schools is lackluster at best for a community of our affluence.  As we pointed out in our post “Time For Taxpayers To Start Paying Attention To School Dist. 64” (10.31.08), not one District 64 school currently ranks among the top 50 in academic achievement as measured by the annual ISAT tests; and, as best as we can tell, not one has done so since ISAT (and before that, IGAP) performance rankings first appeared several years ago.

The District 64 Administration and its Board members, however, don’t want the taxpayers and parents thinking about test score rankings – only about any increases, however slight, over the previous year’s scores, either for the District overall or for any individual school(s).  And when they’re not patting themselves on the back for any increases, they are explaining away any decreases, if only with that old standby: “We don’t teach to the test.”

Well, maybe it’s time to start.  And maybe its also time that the voters, not the Caucus, got to choose the District 64 Board members.

P.S.  On an unrelated item, the police station referendum drive is in its stretch run with over 2,000 signatures but still needing a couple-to-few hundred more to ensure that the advisory referendum question gets on the April ballot.  If you can get some signatures, or if you just want to sign a petition, contact Joe Egan at jjegan1@aol.com.  Or you can go to New Prospects at 110 S. Prospect until 6:00 p.m. today, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, and from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday, where petitions will be available for signing.

But don’t tell Mayor Howard “The Bully” Frimark…who knows what he might try to pull?