It’s Charade Time At School District 64


Over the past few weeks we have been beating up on the City of Park Ridge for its $2 million deficit budget.  But of our three main local governmental units, neither the City of Park Ridge nor the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District can hold a candle to Community Consolidated School District 64 when it comes to spending the taxpayers’ money.

Not only does District 64 have the biggest budget of the three but, as can be seen from the “expenditures” pages (11 & 12) of District 64’s 2008-09 budget document [pdf], District 64 has been on a two-year spending kick, apparently to make up for those years when it teetered on the brink of financial catastrophe and regularly flirted with the unfriendly takeover of its finances by the State Board of Education.  Expenditures jumped $6 million (a/k/a, 12.5%) from 2005-06 ($47,985,622) to 2006-07 ($54,134,215), and another $8 million (a/k/a, 14.8%) from 2006-07 to 2007-08 ($62,290,761).

That’s a whopping 27.3% increase in just two years!!!! 

Unfortunately, we can’t tell exactly what real educational benefits the taxpayers, or even the students, have received from that monumental increase, because District 64 tends to be vague and mysterious on such things as objectively measurable performance or standardized (ISAT) test scores.  But one thing we can tell you with certainty: you won’t find one District 64 school on the Chicago Sun-Times’ lists of the Top 50 Illinois elementary schools and the Top 50 Illinois middle schools [pdf].

But we can always feel better about ourselves knowing that District 64 Supt. Sally Pryor makes it into the “Top 50” elementary school district administrators (as reported by the Family Taxpayers Foundation) with her 2008 salary of $228,911.  Is that what they call paying for performance?

Not only can District 64 spend our money like drunken sailors on shore leave, but it is absolutely masterful at public relations – as evidenced by the award just-departed School Board president Sue Runyon won from the Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), a non-profit 501(c)(3) propaganda machine for the “education” community (translation: teachers and administrators).

And that propaganda machine is hard at work again, as evidenced by the District 64’s May 4, 2009 Press Release [pdf], in which Supt. Pryor hails the District’s new “Strategic Plan” as an “exciting plan” which “captures the hopes and vision we share for the education of our students.”  Warning: If you continue reading the Press Release beyond that point, you had better put on some waders – because the you-know-what gets a lot deeper.

Not surprisingly, there’s no clear mention of this “exciting plan” raising standardized test scores or achieving other objectively-measurable academic standards.  But when somebody talks up a strategic plan by pointing out that it was produced “through more than 35 hours of strenuous effort,” you can pretty much assume that the warm breeze you feel is smoke being blown up your kilt, especially when all that “strenuous effort” occurred “[u]nder the skillful leadership of Dr. Howard Feddema of the Cambridge Group” – the hired-gun consultant we wrote about back on November 3, 2008.

But the real clue that this strategic planning session wasn’t intended to be taxpayer-friendly, or even taxpayer-conscious, comes from the list of folks who participated in that “strenuous effort”: 17 of them were District 64 teachers or administrators, while 11 were “community members” – only one of whom (Bill Kann) had no children in District 64 schools and, therefore, could reasonably be viewed as having no direct personal stake in the process other than as a taxpayer.  Talk about a stacking the deck!

That’s what passes for “community outreach” at District 64, however.  And since “community outreach” is just the propaganda substitute for “round up the usual suspects,” what the taxpayers are really getting with this new “Strategic Plan” and its “Action Teams” is just another charade.

A very expensive charade.