Public Watchdog.org

It’s Charade Time At School District 64

05.15.09

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.

5 comments so far

Though my children have nearly always had good teachers (one year was bad out of 15 years combined), my impression is that D64 is overrated. I read comments on this site and others from PR residents raving about the schools in PR. Real estate agents use this as a selling point for homes. But if you compare PR to other towns with similar characteristics, our schools fall short. As PWD mentioned-not one school in the top 50, yet Dr. Pryor is taking home a significant compensation package and our teachers are well paid. And when Dr. Pryor retires, the taxpayers will be on the hook for a hefty annual pension to her.

For that, our taxes keep going up. The fees we pay to the school keep going up-$202 for fees for grades 1-5? Ridiculous. And the students do not even get books for this-it is often photo copied worksheets. We spend lots of money all year long supplying basics to the kids (wipes, paper, kleenex, etc). Where did the $202 go? What are my taxes paying for-only salaries, pension and basic fixed asset maintenance.

Let’s hope the next time D64 comes asking for a bond referendum, PR residents will not be so quick to fall for the “its for the children” line so often thrown at us. They still have not proven they have the ability to spend our money wisely.

Hey, ‘Dog, it’s about time you got around to looking into just how bad things are being managed at D-64. The teacher’s union runs the district because all the administrators are former teachers who want to stay chummy with their former colleagues. And the school board members are just mopes picked by that caucus (which you have criticized a couple of times, as I recall) who wouldn’t know quality education or fiscal responsibility if it bit them on the ass.

A 27% increase in 2 years is criminal, especially after they told us for years (when my kids were still in D-64 schools) that they were making millions of dollars of budget cuts that wouldn’t hurt the quality of education. So if that was the truth, then is adding all this extra expense just wasting money?

i guess i was as guilty as most other commentators for paying a lot more attention to city government than to district 64. over the weekend i looked at my property tax bill and district 64 is the big ticket item. as you note in some of your previous district 64 posts, financially they were a mess until the 2007 referendum, and their performance on isat testing looks pretty mediocre to me.

how do they keep getting away with this?

I ask again — who watches the watchmen? What is the procedure for running for school board? Is there not some kind of vetting board that “approves” who can run for school board?

The School Board is supposed to be the “watchman,” but its members are little more than rubber stamps for the adminstration, which is why they were endorsed by the “District 64 & 207 General Caucus.”

In our opinion, the only capable District 64 Board member over the past decade or more was probably Dean Krone, an attorney whose area of practice is municipal law. But even he was more go-along-to-get-along than he should have been, given his ability; and on those rare occasions when he did break with the pack, he ended up standing alone.

So anybody who wants to be on the school board either has to sign on and get the Caucus endorsement, or he/she has to run against its candidates. Three seats will be up in Apri 2011 – the ones currently held by John Heyde, Eugenia Taddeo and Theodore Smart.

Good luck.



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>