Payment For Performance? Not At D-64.


It’s a shame Marshall Warren was unsuccessful in seeking a seat on the Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 board in April’s election, because he proposed more meaningful ideas and changes to the way District 64 does business than any of the successful candidates, save for Anthony Borrelli.  

In a letter published in both local newspapers following the election, Warren challenged D-64 to make a number of those changes, including:

  • recording and posting the videos of D-64 board meetings on its website, via YouTube;
  • holding its meetings on evenings other than when the City Council meets;
  • allowing the public to speak on agenda items when those items are being discussed rather than solely at the beginning of meetings;
  • holding meetings in school auditoriums and gymnasiums rather than in D-64’s cramped basement meeting room;
  • posting monthly profit and loss (“P&L”) statements on its website;
  • posting standardized test score performance, along with any changes from the prior reporting period; and
  • posting the salaries of all D-64 employees for the current year and the prior year, showing the inter-year changes. 

You may have noticed that all those points are designed to increase the amount of information going to those Park Ridge residents whose tax dollars have helped D-64 record two dubious achievements: having the 4th highest-paid principals and the 25th highest-paid teachers in the entire state, according to rankings posted in last Tuesday’s (May 31) Chicago Sun-Times.

That’s right, folks: our average teacher and principal salaries – at $72,630 and $155,291, respectively – rank ahead of those paid in much more affluent and better-performing districts like Winnetka ($70,320 & $139,189), Kenilworth ($71,647 & $130,243), Glencoe ($66,973 & $123,500), Wilmette ($67,631 & $137,567), Bannockburn ($71,672 & $146,247), Lake Forest ($63,950 & $131,851) and Deerfield ($70,346 & $129,882); and also ahead of the equally affluent but better-performing districts like Arlington Hts. ($70,958 & $124,413), Northbrook/Glenview ($72,395 & $130,897), Western Springs ($64,614 & $120,010) and Lake Bluff ($66,340 & $149,512). 

Since those rankings were published, we have discovered that even residents who already thought D-64 teachers and principals were “overpaid” when judged by objective student performance measures like standardized test results, nevertheless were surprised to find out that our teachers and principals were that highly-paid. 

But, then again, that’s the kind of information we have come to expect D-64 to affirmatively hide from the taxpayers, considering that it remains the most secretive and least accountable of any of our local governmental bodies.  

Look again at Warren’s seven suggestions, above.  The fact that they were campaign issues in April rather than long-standing, institutionalized D-64 policies and practices shows just how insulated and opaque the current and former D-64 school boards have been for at least the past decade.  D-64’s Culture of Secrecy makes both the Park District’s and the City of Park Ridge’s baby steps toward transparency and accountability look like giant leaps by comparison. 

Go to D-64’s website.  Instead of easy-to-find useful information about things like how the District’s ISAT scores and personnel salaries compare with other districts, you’ll find it filled with what fictional “Col. Sherman Potter” of the M*A*S*H* television series probably would call “mule fritters” or “buffalo bagels.” 

One of our favorite bits of disinformation is an April 25, 2011 “report” on D-64’s “Strategic Plan 2011-12 Implementation” that is loaded with edu-speak jargon – starting with the obligatory “positive changes” and continuing with “authentic service learning,” “civil behavior initiatives,” “all stakeholders in our vital partnership,” “a shared journey,” a “strategy leadership group,” “readiness activities,” “release time,” a “ ‘strategic staffing case’ scenario,” “strategy committees,” “change protocol,” “strategy teams,” and things that are “holistically reviewed” – all of which apparently contribute to “a transformative journey.” 

As “Col. Potter” also was fond of saying: “Horse hockey!” 

We suspect that bit of puffery was orchestrated, if not actually written, by Cambridge Strategic Services – D-64’s strategic-planning/public relations consultant we wrote about back in November 2008 (“Hire A Consultant And Round Up The Usual Suspects,” 11.03.08) and again in May 2009 (“It’s Charade Time At School District 64,” 05.15.09) – if only because Cambridge appears to be claiming a copyright to parts of D-64’s “Strategic Plan”which includes what has been a fictional “parameter” for D-64 so far: 

“Student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests (ISATs) will always compare favorably with other high-achieving districts.”

Unfortunately for both the D-64 students and the taxpayers who are paying to educate them, that particular “parameter” is nowhere close to being achieved, as we can recall only two years over the past decade in which D-64 placed even one of its schools among the greater Chicagoland area’s Top 50 ISAT (and, before that, IGAP) performers in either the elementary or junior high brackets.

And that’s despite having the 4th highest-paid principals and the 25th highest-paid teachers in the entire State of Illinois.

To read or post comments, click on title.