Time For Another District 64 Referendum?


Last week we criticized Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 for its latest display of hide-and-seek, as reported by the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate: concealing the amount of money it intends to spend on a “master plan consultant” until after the consultant is chosen.

Reading between the lines, this “master plan consultant” very well may also become the District’s referendum consultant if it can identify enough maintenance, repair and renovation projects  that have been neglected (since the District blew its wad on the construction and bonded-debt financing of the new Emerson back in 1997?) as to justify a major new building initiative that will require a binding referendum.  

So today we’re taking another shot at District 64 based on another H-A article (“Tax hike on table for all District 64 board hopefuls”) about the upcoming school board election, which appears to be the first election in memory that doesn’t feature a slate of candidates selected and endorsed by the General Caucus of School Districts 64 & 207.  That might explain why we’ve got more contested races than we’ve seen in 20+ years, with 5 candidates vying for the 3 four-year terms and 2 candidates vying for the 1 two-year term. 

The H-A article focused on referendums, specifically if and when District 64 could/should hold another one to suck more money out of the beleaguered taxpayers.  

Only one school board candidate,  Anthony Borrelli, sounds dead set against any new tax increase referendum.  He stated that he “would attempt to place the district in a sound financial footing to be able to operate without [a referendum].”  That sounds like a concept we can get behind, at least insofar as Borrelli has fleshed it out in his “Candidate Statement” posted on the County Clerk’s elections website – the only such statement posted by any District 64 candidate. 

We also like what little we’ve heard so far from newcomers Dan Collins, who claims to have a plan “to ensure we stay within our budget without an additional referendum”; Kristie Bavaro, who wants board members to “maintain accountability and scrutiny”; and Marshall Warren, who says he will support a referendum only for “a precisely-defined set of needed physical plant projects.” We hope all three of them will soon start putting some meat on those rhetorical bones, a la Borrelli. 

Unfortunately, their incumbent opponents can’t even manage comparable rhetoric. 

The best incumbents Scott Zimmerman and John Heyde can do is avoid the substance of the issue altogether by claiming they will honor a “promise” allegedly made during the 2007 referendum campaign that the District would not seek another taxing referendum until 2017.  And incumbent Genie Taddeo simply blames Illinois law for being “structured to cause school boards to go to the public periodically for needed funding.”  We assume she’s referring to the tax caps, which is the standard target for every tax-and-spend bureaucrat and politician in this state.

Like most District 64 taxpayers, we’re still in the dark about just how many millions of additional tax dollars the District already has received (and spent) compliments of that 2007 referendum, just as we are in the dark about just what measurable educational benefits all those extra tax dollars have produced. 

On the latter point, we note that the District is trumpeting the fact that it’s again among the 29 Cook County elementary school districts that received the 2010 “Bright Red Apple” award  based on five criteria, only one of which is “academic performance.”  Not surprisingly, the District remains deafeningly silent about why it isn’t among the 14 Cook County elementary school districts that also won a “Bright A+” award, which is based entirely on “academic performance.”

For some time we’ve been questioning the District’s inability to break through to the upper echelon of Chicagoland school districts in ISAT scores, noting how District 64 underperforms several other districts that spend less per pupil,  have larger class sizes, and/or have lower salaried teachers and administrators.   When talking about school quality, student achievement is pretty much Job One – followed by the ability to produce that achievement in the most cost-effective way. 

While we’re not ready to brand any of the newcomer candidates as a budding Michelle Rhee, they all at least seem to be attuned to the fact that District 64 has to be managed better and do better on student performance measures like the ISATs.  Meanwhile, the incumbents appear content with the “same ol’, same ol'” – as measured by things like the Bright Red Apple award, pupil/teacher ratios, teacher compensation and advanced degrees.

That difference might well turn this upcoming election into a referendum...on the incumbents.  

To read or post comments, click on title.

5 comments so far

Dr. Borrelli is a good man, and it appears he understands this important issue. Are there *any* other candidates on the same side of this issue, or is it only Borrelli?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We only know what has been printed in the newspapers, although the Republican Women of Park Ridge are putting on a candidates’ forum this Thursday night at South Park Fieldhouse, beginning at 7:00 p.m. – so we might hear more about each of these candidates at that time.

The voters decide the outcome of any tax increase referendum. Are you saying the voters should not be asked their opinion?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not at all. We think the voters should be asked about all major expenditures, tax increases, or projects/programs that could significantly change the “character” of the community.

I agree!! But first, we must have a referendum on what exactly qualifies as a “major expenditures, tax increases, or projects/programs that could significantly change the “character” of the community”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, that’s what our elected officials are for. Or at least what competent, responsible and accountable elected officials are for – which would explain why neither then-mayor Howard Frimark or any of that Council would support then-Ald. Dave Schmidt’s request to put a straightforward police station referendum on the ballot by Council action.

But as soon as resident Joe Egan and his merry band of signature gatherers collected more than 2,800 signatures to force a Schmidt-style referendum question onto the ballot (where it was subsequently defeated 83.39% to 16.61%), Frimark and Friends tried to negate it with a competing (and confusing-to-dishonest) one that was defeated by only 53.20% to 46.80%.

All the candidates have said they would ask the voters for their opinion except Anthony Borrelli. The only one who said he would not ask the voters their opinion is Anthony Borrelli, and he is the one you singled out for praise. The messages you are giving are contradictory and confused.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not true. According to the H-A article, incumbents John Heyde and Scott Zimmerman, along with newcomer Dan Collins, “[a]ll indicated that they would stand behind” an alleged pre-2007 referendum “promise” not to go to referendum until 2017; and incumbent Genie Taddeo and newcomer Kristie Bavaro said they wanted to put off going to referendum; and Marshall Warren wanted to go only for specific construction-related projects.

The reason we singled out Borrelli is because his comments to date seem most in line with our philosophy of better management instead of more taxes, especially for a District that previously mismanaged itself to the brink of fiscal crisis before issuing $5 million of non-referendum bonds and then passing a windfall referendum that seems to have encouraged it to resume free-spending.

District 64 has money issues? It’s surprising since they are breaking a 30 year lease on a daycare that is providing them $30,000 a year. How are they going to recoup that? More taxes?

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