“Transparency” Is Still MIA At School District 64


Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 has been not only the most costly of our three entirely-local governmental bodies but also the least transparent: it remains the only one among the City of Park Ridge and the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District that does not videotape its meetings, and its board minutes often read like the redacted version of a federal indictment. 

So it comes as no surprise that – according to the District’s business manager, Rebecca Allard, as reported in yesterday’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article (“District 64: Field narrows to 2 in search for master plan firm,” March 8) – our secrecy-loving school board members and administration are concealing the price of the contract the District will be offering the lucky winner of District 64’s facilities “master plan consultant” contest until the District actually makes its selection.

After all, why give the taxpayers any reason to be riled up about yet another expensive consultant boondoggle until after it becomes a “done deal”? 

According to the H-A article, this “master plan” is “intended to prioritize the maintenance needs of all nine District 64 schools.”  Apparently the District doesn’t have anybody on Staff who has the ability to determine, plan and budget for “a range of current building maintenance needs” like: 

  • “heating and ventilation” (Carpenter is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Hmmm, what might solve those two problems?);  
  • “carpeting” (Can’t we get a free carpeting “expert” by dialing 588-2300?);  
  • “painting” (Benjamin Moore or Dutch Boy?);  
  • “utilities” (Electric Company or Water Works?); 
  • “lighting” (We’re all for it!); and  
  • “asphalt and landscaping” (Not interchangeable). 

The two finalists are allegedly “architectural” firms: Oakbrook-based FGM, and Ohio-based Fanning Howey, which conveniently just happens to have a Park Ridge office.  That’s why we’re putting our standard PublicWatchdog $1 wager on Fanning Howey – that, and the fact that its website advertises its expertise in such traditional architectural and engineering disciplines as “community engagement” and “referendum/bond issue assistance.”

As the H-A reports, Fanning Howey brazenly admits to a strategy for getting community support for what likely will be boxcar-number tax increases and/or bond issues that includes thumping the tub for schools hosting “church groups, community-centered assemblies, sports leagues, concerts and adult education classes…during non-school hours.”

The better to justify expensive additions, major renovations, and designs that are “flexible” – a term as essential to describing modern public buildings as “vibrant” is to describing municipal redevelopment projects.

Can you feel you wallet getting lighter already?

If not, check out the District’s recent “Ten Year Financial Projections” from yet another consultant: StratPlan Consulting & Modeling.

Start with its Page 1 description of the District’s “Recent History.”  It describes the District’s 1999-2007 financial problems as if they were produced by forces of nature (and that perennial villain, the “tax cap”) rather than by the acts and/or omissions of the School Board or administration – such as the District’s mismanagement/mis-budgeting of the “New Emerson” project that left it on the brink of having its finances taken over by the Illinois State Board of Education in 2005, a situation it averted only by issuing $5 million of non-referendum “working cash” bonds to restore its depleted fund balances.

Head over to Page 6 and read StratPlan’s (i.e., the School Board’s) description of timing a “strategic referendum” so that it can ask the voters “to simply replace the expiring debt levy with a comparable operating levy – at no net tax rate increase.”  In other words, just keep replacing debt with more debt so that it (and the expensive debt service) becomes permanent.

But what strikes us as outright deceitful is that, despite the pages upon pages of graphs and tables, we can’t find any record of exactly how much in total property tax dollars District 64 was collecting before the 2007 tax increase referendum, compared to what it has been collecting since that referendum.  Is it just coincidence that this report starts with the 2007-08 school year?

We also can’t seem to find that tax information in anything else available on the District’s website.

But that’s the kind of obfuscation and misdirection we’ve come to expect from District 64, its board and its administration…and from the consultants it hires.

To read or post comments, click on title.

4 comments so far

Dear PubDog: We must stop this madness. You’ve incited me to look up some things and here is what I found.

The schedule of BoE meetings is here:

From the meeting of 3/7 you describe, they have only posted the agenda, not minutes or anything else. (Hey, D64 people, why not post the power point presentations made by your two finalists so we can all read them?)

The next meeting is on 3/14, this Monday, at Lincoln Middle School, 200 S. Lincoln. At 6:30 there is a facility tour and the actual meeting is at 7:30 p.m.

Wanna bet how it plays out? “Oh my goodness, just LOOK at how awful this school is, we need to hire a consultant NOW!”

Some former alderman will likely jump to the local news pages to say how we aren’t taxpayers but citizens or people. Well, not all of us are chumbolones.

Thank you, PubDog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’re welcome.

In fairness to D-64 (which it really doesn’t deserve, considering how it “plays” the taxpayers), not having draft minutes of Monday night’s (3/7) meeting posted by 3/10 is not as troubling to us as the failure to have the minutes from the FEBRUARY 14th MEETING posted.

And yes, we can expect that each of these “facility tours” will be dog-and-pony shows to justify big-buck, brick-and-mortar expenditures…because when you can’t post Top 50 ISAT scores or any other objective measures of competitive educational achievement despite constant COLA-plus raises for teachers and administrators, you need to distract the “sheep” with some spiffy new project so they won’t realize that they’re already being fleeced.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t be too hard on yourself, FWT – your 1st comment to this post contains more attention, thought and work product that most residents put into local government in a typical year. And that’s why we’ve got what we’ve got.

It has been more than 10 years since D-64 spent $20 million on brick and mortar, so the time is ripe for another big borrow-and-spend on brick and mortar. Time to bring those consultants on board and let the propaganda campaign begin.

Algernon: See you Monday night at Lincoln. I’ll bring you some flowers. Are we the lab rats or the lab technicians?

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