When The Inmates Run The Asylum (Updated 1/30/10)


If you’re one of the thousands of District 207 taxpayers who don’t have any children currently enrolled in, or soon to be enrolled in, one of the District’s high schools, you probably didn’t attend last Wednesday’s budget meeting at Maine East H.S.  That’s because those kinds of meetings aren’t made for you.

They’re made for demonstrations like the one the tearful students staged to save the jobs of approximately 75 non-tenured teachers who may be cut from the payroll to help fill what is looking more and more like a $19 million hole in the District’s 2010-11 budget.  

Never mind that such a “spontaneous” outpouring of student sentiment appears to have been orchestrated by the teachers’ union – it’s still great theater.  And great theater provides an easy “human interest” story for a superficial news media, which explains why the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate devoted an entire story to reporting student comments (“District 207: ‘We are a family here to fight against you’”) in addition to featuring student comments in its only other story on the meeting (“District 207 board hears impassioned pleas to spare teachers’ jobs”).

After all, why should our local papers struggle to analyze tough issues – like why so many individual teachers are making more than the annual Park Ridge median household income despite working only 8 months a year in jobs that can’t be outsourced or relocated, with pensions and benefits better than what are enjoyed by most of the folks paying their salaries – when its reporters can interview a few teenagers and write a warm-and-fuzzy about losing their favorite teachers or coaches because other teachers wouldn’t forego their raises this year?   

Those meetings are also made for the parents of those tearful students to show up and complain that they pay taxes and, consequently, their children deserve every educational benefit imaginable no matter what the cost – and no matter that their annual tax payments to District 207 barely make a dent in the actual cost of educating just one of their children.

After all, as Maine East science teacher Dana Nixon stated at the meeting: “A quality education is more than reading, writing and arithmetic.”  Indeed it is, which is why teachers and administrators can make a case for including Mandarin Chinese, fencing, cloisonné, field trips to Machu Pichu and even embalming among the offerings of a “complete” high school curriculum.

And those meetings are made for the school administrators to put on their concerned faces and act like they know what they’re doing, even though all of them are former teachers’ union members who retain the union entitlement mindset and who lack the formal business education or experience needed to run a successful card-table lemonade stand, much less the $100+ million a year business that is District 207.

The bottom line is that, if you are the average District 207 taxpayer, there are only two things standing between you and District 207’s (and District 64’s) pillaging of your pocketbook: tax caps and your elected members school board members.

The District 207 board members may be fine people, but what proven business education or experience do they have to act as directors of a $100+ million business, especially when they are overseeing a CEO (a/k/a, the superintendant) and operations officers (a/k/a, staff) who themselves are functionally clueless when it comes to business theory and strategy? 

According to the District 207 website, three of those board members (Margaret McGrath, Edward Mueller and Sean Sullivan) are attorneys, the last of whom is also the vice-president of business affairs (whatever that entails) at Triton College; two of them (Eldon Burk and Donna Pellar) are retired teachers, one of whom (Pellar) has a masters degree in “School Administration” (whatever that entails); one of them (Joann Braam) has a masters degree in social science; and one of them (Eric Leys) doesn’t even list any college education or an occupation. 

That’s it.  No MBAs and no demonstrated private sector experience running even a small business.  Just a bunch of business-“blind” union-sympathizing teacher/administrators leading a bunch of business-“blind” school board members.  No wonder the teachers’ union runs things…and why teachers’ raises appear to be outpacing the rate of inflation even during a recession.

So don’t be surprised if all those non-business types running District 207 come up with a “solution” that will involve dipping into the District’s reserves and further jeopardizing its long-term financial future for a quick and easy “fix” today.

When will this insanity stop? 

Not until somebody stops the inmates from running the asylum.

Update 1/30/10.  According to a statement issued by the District 207 administration, it is proposing a plan to “save” 40-45 of the approx. 75 teaching jobs scheduled to be cut – by…wait for it…”‘tap[ping] deeper into its fund balance reserve and commit[ting] up to an additional $2 million in deficit spending’ over the next two fiscal years.” (“New offer by District 207 could spare 45 teachers,” Jan. 29) 

We’d like to take a bow for calling that shot but, after years of watching shameless teachers’ unions and spineless/clueless school administrations, that kind of prediction is like shooting fish in a barrel. 

And, not surprisingly for spineless school administrators and their clueless school board overseers, the District 207 statement does not say just how deeply it will be dipping into those reserves, even as it disclosed that the teachers would still be receiving their “step” pay increases and their 3.5% cost-of-living increase (which appears to triple-plus the actual increase in the cost of living!) for the upcoming school year – in return for giving up only their 3.2% COLA the following year. 

Looks like yet another tower of jello negotiation strategy by District 207. 

We did get a kick, however, out of Supt. Ken Wallace’s mealy-mouthed, public relations propaganda statement touting this proposal:

“While this doesn’t solve our financial situation, it buys us some time to do long-term planning with various stakeholders to be in better position ourselves to deal with these difficult economic times going forward.  In light of the difficult economic times that our communities are experiencing, we hope this proposal is a win-win.”

Yes, Ken…a “win-win” for the teachers’ union, as in: “Heads the teachers’ union wins, tails the taxpayers lose.”


39 comments so far

For another take on this problem, check out former Supt. Joel Morris’ letter to the editor in yesterday’s Daily Herald:

“Ex-Dist. 207 superintendent Morris: I didn’t mismanage”

May I ask what information or, god forbid, evidence you have that the suudent protests were orchestrated by the teachers union?? I am not saying you are wrong but I am just curious what facts you have to back it up.

Additionally, I do find your comment about most people who do not have children currently going to district schools not attending the meetings becuase it is “not for them” to be hysterical!! Not for them?? If “them” are concerned about their tax dollars, I urge them to get off their collective asses and attend the meetings!! As most know, the bulk of our taxes goes to support schools.

So let me me see if I have this right. You are saying that all those who did show up are either kids that were taken advantage of by the teachers union or whining parents. Of course the people who really “get it” do not show up becuase the meeting is not for them.

anon on 01.26.10 11:50 am:

We base our statement that student attendance at last Wednesday’s meeting “appears to have been orchestrated by the teachers’ union” on comments heard at the meeting, on comments heard around town since the meeting, and on the notable lack of student turnout at other D-207 meetings.

As for our assertion that the meeting was “not for them” [i.e., the taxpayers], see definitions of “irony” and “sarcasm” in your favorite dictionary.

The Tribune is reporting that Plainfield school dist. is cutting 222 jobs, incl. 132 teachers, to save $11 million of a projected $16 million deficit. And their school bd. pres. is saying its a revenue problem rather than an overspending problem. Hah!

anon on 01.26.10 11:50 am

I don’t know if the union is necessarily orchestrating the student protests, but union members are probably “encouraging” student protests.

Like retired teacher Sandy Dienes used to “encourage” her students to “volunteer” for Rosemary Mullilgan’s campaigns.


Ok….if that is what you want to go on. There is another possibility. It is possible that these students heard about potential layoffs and who it might affect and decided to show up and let their voices be heard. There are many examples of people “showing up” when an issue is very important to them. Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks who showed up at council meetings screaming their heads off when PADS was the issue who have not been seen at a meeting since.

Ah yes, Sandy Dienes, who with her husband is comfortably retired at a young age thanks to those wonderful union teachers contracts (aren’t their kids on the D-64 payroll, too?). Has she ever been against spending taxpayer money?

Where are all these MBAs itching to be on the District 207 school board? Do they actually exist?


I question that myself. If I am not mistaken, the stock answer you will get is that the caucus sytem prevents all of these wonderful people who are out there and really want to serve from throwing their hat in the ring.

In the interest of full disclosure I offered this to Underground when they served up the 207 Bargaining Agreement but hope you will let it through too.

The District 207 Bargaining Agreement contains the answers to why the budget in 2007 is such a mess….just as does the Dist 64 agreement.

The Dist 207 salary schedule shows that the average teacher salary increase over the 5 years of the contract is slightly over 7% per year based on the schedule for a BA/BS degree teacher. The last time I looked at Dist 64 it was 6.7%.

The tax cap says that revenues collected cannot exceed the smallest of 5% or the cost of living which has been very low for several years and negative in 2009.

Salaries account for 75% of the schools expenses. You can’t raise costs 7% with revenues flat and not end up where both districts did.

This is just awful management!!

It leads to the cycle of costs out of control leading to layoffs leading to parents go crazy leading to a referendum for higher taxes which passed in 64 last time. The system works great for the staff but not for the students or the tax payers.

By the way, at 7% per year things double in 10 years. That leads to the following wage schedule for a new teacher based on the present contract increase as below

Year 1 $43,000
Year 10 86,000
Year 20 172,000
year 30 344,000
Year 40 688,000
Pension at 75% $516000 plus cost of living

Don’t kid yourself this won’t happen and meanwhile most of our sons and daughters won’t have a pension

Why doesn’t the D-64/207 Caucus say that it is specifically looking for MBAs and CEOs/former CEOS to be candidates, instead of its namby pamby “The Caucus looks for individuals with a commitment to providing quality education for the whole child, familiarity with issues facing local schools, and a policy of fiscal responsibility.” What a crock, and look where that has gotten us.

And MBAs and CEOs/former CEOs should be the kind of superintendent and ass’t superintendent candidates the D-207 and D-64 boards look for, not PhDs in education.

The Caucus is not looking for people who will be fiscally responsible. They are looking for people who will pump the maximum number of dollars into the school districts to keep teachers off the picket lines, every possible course and extra cirriculum offering in the syllabus and maximum dollars flowing to the parochial schools too. Tax payers be damned. Out of control and excessive salaries be damned.

The kids see the worst examples of waste possible setting up false ideas of what they should expect as adults and how little they have to do to “live in luxury”

I heard a Financial Manager from one of our neighbor districts say several years ago: “My job is to wring every dollar out of the tax base that I can”…….I thought they worked for US.

The caucus will never accept a fiscally responsible expert of any kind on the board!!!!

the caucus hasn’t put a competent business person on either school board for at least the last 20 years. if you look at the caucus officers, you’ll know why: phil eichman, michael calahan, marianne griebler, kathy hanson, peter taddeo, michele douglass and wendy kaegi. other than accountant callahan who at least can do the number, who else has an mba or the experience to know what it takes to manage a multimillion dollar business?

Anon on 01.26.10 1:16 pm:

It is possible that high school students could get themselves as charged up about one of their teachers getting sacked as could adults who didn’t want their neighborhood (around St. Mary’s) or their kids’ school (St. Paul) becoming a congregating point for admitted alcoholics, drug addicts and the mentally ill. But, frankly, we doubt it.

We do, however, concede that Anonymous 12:32 pm’s suggestion that the teachers “encouraged” the students’ attendance might be more accurate than that they “orchestrated” it.


I agree that a more business minded approach should be taken to financial management of the district.

However, I find myself musing about all the supposed superior practices in the private sector and the continual disparagement of the public sector when, in my recollection, there are plenty of businesses who borrow for various purposes.

Some privately managed businesses borrow for capital improvements, which they call investments or retoolilng or various other things. The public sector does this too.

Some privately managed businesses run lines of credit, which is borrowing, in order to bridge gaps in their receivables and payables. The public sector does this too.

Are all the private businesses doing all that borrowing terribly managed? I don’t think so. I managed one of those businesses, and according to a local business publication, it is one of the top 10 in its’ field.

The credit crisis has handicapped business since business can’t get the credit (borrowing) it relies on for investment and expansion and gap bridging.

So, my question to you is, how do you tell the difference between good borrowing and bad borrowing?

Anonymous on 01.26.10 7:26 pm:

As we see it, “good borrowing” is borrowing that provides a measurable return on investment that exceeds the cost and other consequences of the borrowing. It can also include borrowing for those things that legitimately can be termed “essential” to operations but which are not affordable without reducing cash reserves to an unsafe level.

“Bad borrowing,” on the other hand, is borrowing that does not provide a measurable return on investment that exceeds the cost and other consequences of the borrowing.

By that standard, borrowing for something like the synthetic turf field at Maine South might be (but we’re not saying “is” because we don’t know all the relevant details) considered “good borrowing” because the return on investment (measured by the savings in water, seed, sod and other maintenance) might provide a relatively quick pay-back and “profit” – while borrowing to add the lights would appear to provide neither an “essential” element nor any significant potential for generating a positive return on investment.

We have yet to see any reliable metrics directly tying intra-school (or intra-district) increases in per-pupil expenditures to increases in academic achievement. But we’re pretty confident that if such metrics are ever developed, the teachers’ union will not only trumpet them but also immediately demand the re-opening of contract negotiations.

How about getting rid of all the illegal students enrolled in 207? How many illegal immigrants are in the school and how much could we save by expelling them for obtaining a free education that they are NOT entitled to?

PubDog–I must ask this. Becaus the Cook Cty taxes were sent out/due late in ’09 (and oh my the next one came quickly!) would that cause a deficit in the municipality income, like a school district or city? I’m not an expert on this and have been wondering.


There are probably students enrolled in D207 who are not residents of the district and therefore “illegally” enrolled; but not all those students are necessarily illegal immigrants. I apologize in advance if I have misunderstood your statements as combined; perhaps you were addressing the issue of illegal enrollment and illegal immigrants separately?

Incidentally, if illegal immigrants pay rent for housing, they are likely being charged a portion of the property’s taxes in the rent, along with the other renters. Landlords are not known for their willingness to “carry” the cost of property taxes; those are universally passed on to tenants. The point being, they aren’t necessarily getting a “free education” if they live in the district.

My guess is, if all the “illegally” enrolled students were tossed out tomorrow, such an action probably wouldn’t make much of a dent in the $19M budget deficit, but I can’t even begin to guess what amount could be “saved” by eliminating those students from the classrooms.


No. Those late payments create shortfall gaps that require business managers and finance directors to run around shuffling money between accounts (internal borrowing from one account to another); think the City’s water fund and general fund. Sometimes short terms loans are sought or bonds are issued; think D64’s working cash bonds. At the moment the phrase describing the usual method for generating cash to cover the shortfall escapes me. *edited to add*, Tax Anticipation Warrants are the usual method.

But, the late payments do not account for the type of deficit D207 is currently experiencing in projecting its overall budget numbers.

I know for a fact that there ARE students enrolled at Maine East who are in the U.S. illegally. I spoke candidly to one who admitted his illegal status and said that all of his friends at school are also illegal here.

How they get enrolled is a mystery to me since I had to show birth certificates and social security numbers for my kids to be enrolled in school.

But my point is that we are giving a free education to students who have no business being here. They are taking away resources from the school and the district and the students who are legal residents!

This morning, the District 207 website posted 25 or so pages of Q & A’s relating to the budget and the staff reductions. FYI.


Just curious, can they say if they are Haitian?? Idiot!!

By the way, I am not sure of the exact “cost per child” for D207. I have seen averages of 10K but of course that varies by area (I would guess 207 is higher). Just for the hell of it, and to Alpha’s point, 19,000,000 /10,000 = 1900 “illegals”. That would mean we would have to boot approximately 70% of the enrollment at Maine South!!

Who is the idiot and what does that Haitian comment mean???

Kristen’s comments lead me to believe she is an idiot. We have a budget short fall in district 207 and she takes it as an opportunity to preach the gospel of Dobbs. We have a huge issue with illegal immigration in this country but it has zero to do with the budget short fall in 207. Does she think there was a sudden spike that that accounts for 19M?? Aside from Alpha’s comment related to what they pay in rent, Kristen makes a completely false connection between illegals and the issue at hand.

Tha Haiti comment was an attempt at being ironic – sorry if I missed the mark with you. I find it ironic all the funding raising and outpouring of assistance for Haiti after the earthquake, yet if some Hatians risked their lives to make it to the US Kristen would want them kicked out of school and, I imagine, not given medical care. It is estimated that there are over 100 thousand Hatians illegally in the US.

Illegal immigrant students removed from the classroom setting become part of the farm team for gangs.

In trying to pinch every penny, we hope people aren’t foolish with their pounds.

We are hoping there are school board members who will remain stoic to the task at hand and not cave in on the principles of responsible representation and fiscal management. And we hope those school board members are a majority.

Anon: Just what I thought would happen…

You call me names and get on your soapbox that because someone risked their lives to get here and remain here illegally, they are entitled to free education and medical care on the taxpayer’s dime. The honest, hardworking taxpayers are funding those who are not entitled to these benefits. This is considered theft of services. And I am sure that it HAS contributed to the budget crisis.

Of course, you are too cowardly to identify yourself but you’ll call me an idiot. Very immature.

First of all Kristen, I never said I was mature but perhaps I have been unfair with you. You say you are sure illegals have contributed to the budget crisis. OK….how? What is it about the illegal problem that has contributed to the 19 million and how much would you say that number would go down if we kicked them all out? While we are at it, what exactly would propose we do with them when they are kicked out? Of course I know you want them all kicked out of the country but are you willing to pay for that? It is going to cost a hell of a lot of coin to do that if it is what you are suggesting. SO tell me, what is your plan??

I am in no way “pro-illegal immigrant”, if that is even possible, but I am sick of these oversimplistic views of a serious issue. School is in debt 19 million so it is th immigrants fault. There is simply no evidence that that is the case.

The previous superintendant said “it is very difficult to operate a business with essentially no increased revenue.”

Not true, you simply can only spend as much as you did last year to make the same surplus (businesses call it profit). The problem is that the teaches salaries are tied to one number, and revenue is tied to another. That will always lead to unexpected deficits and surpluses. Exacerbating that problem is that in time of surplus the board and super add positions to eat up the surplus. (207 added 10 teaching positions in the last couple years.) Then we can’t unwind it without union uproar and protesting students.

The board needs to make the tough calls, trim the admistrative positions, can the extra teachers, and renegotiate the union contract to save others or let those go too. And when the contract does get negotiated, make sure someone links revenue and expenses. That way we won’t be spending like lottery winners one year, and weeping with hat in hand the next.

Seems like common sense, and I don’t even have an MBA.

Anon 4:43

I couldn’t agree with you more. You’ve stated the problem and its best resolution succinctly and accurately. In my humble opinion, but I don’t have an MBA either!

A4:43 and A6:40,

You’re both just too entertainingly coy for words.

In other news, thank you both for getting back to the subject of the post.

I don’t know how much illegal immigrants contribute to the D-207 budget deficit, but if I ran D-207 I would ferret out and turn in every illegal alien student enrolled there – simply because “illegal” is just that: illegal. We can’t afford our own problems, much less some other country’s, and I don’t care if the “illegals” are from Mexico, Ireland, Poland or Switzerland.

And if you’re a teacher who wants to be considered a “professional,” then get your ass out of the union, because unions are supposed to represent fungible, expendable blue-collar labor that didn’t have the skills or ability to sufficiently represent their own interests other than in a collective. Unionized teachers are no more “professional” than the practitioners of the world’s oldest profession, except the latter admit to what they are.

Without beating the topic into the ground, the issue of the 19M deficit is not SOLELY due to the students who are in the country getting an education without having parents/guardians contribution a fair share to the cost of that education…..but it’s a START. For next school year a revision of the rules of enrollment should be drafted. I’m not a school administrator or a business major, but the issue does need to be addressed…..”I’m just saying.”

(312) 353-4465

US Department of Justice Immigration & Naturalization Service, Chicago Aslyum Office, United States Government Enforcement

Go for it.

Dwight Esau writes like he’s on the union’s payroll. But most of the Speak Out items seem to back the District.

YOU CALLED IT, Pub Dogs! The Advocate is reporting that D-207 is proposing a deal with the teachers union that will “tap deeper into its fund balance reserve and commit up to an additional $2 million in deficit spending” over the next two fiscal years.

More mush from the wimps.

Anonymous on 01.30.10 10:44 am… if I read it right, that’s $2 million deficit spending over EACH of the next two years.

What the hell… it’s only money.

If I am reading the announcement from the District administration correctly (that announcement is on the D207 website), they are saying that the teaching jobs will be saved through a two part process: the District will run a greater deficit for next year, but only if the teachers agree to forego a 3.5% COLA increase for next year (which amounts to about 1.5 million savings). That’s even more than what the District was asking the teachers for the last time they tried to open the negotiations. Could the financial people weigh in here? Also, the District revised its five year forecast last week after it digested the new inflation numbers, and the forecast was much better than they originally thought. How has that impacted all this? Would appreciate someone bringing all these factors into focus for those of us who are not financial wizards.

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