Shoveling Through D-64’s Budget Process A Herculean Task


Tonight begins Park Ridge-Niles School District 64’s two-week sprint towards adoption of a new budget.  And, in typical District 64 fashion, the average taxpayer/voter is once again being treated like a mushroom: kept in the dark and covered with manure.

The most notable example is that, as of 7:00 a.m. this morning, D-64 still had not posted on its website any “reports” for tonight’s planned 3 hour-plus meeting to be held in the Emerson Middle School multi-purpose room.   By keeping the meeting materials un-posted until the day of the meeting, the Board and administration ensures that most residents won’t have any meaningful time to review whatever materials the District may end up posting later today.   Which is exactly the way this Board – and its predecessor boards, for that matter – seems to like it.

(Contrast that with the City of Park Ridge, whose materials for tonight’s meeting were posted last Friday.)

We say “3 hour-plus meeting” because the first 3 hours of the evening (from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.) will be dedicated to a catchy-sounding “Roles, Goals and Controls” workshop, followed by a “Final Budget Presentation” starting at 9:00 p.m.  For those who don’t yet understand D-64’s management tricks, these kinds of “workshops” are usually propaganda sessions – which would explain why the Board has scheduled this one for when any attendees are still wide awake, and puts off the real meat-and-potatoes part of the evening to when attendees either are heading for the exits or fatigued and half-asleep.  

We can’t even begin to imagine what kind of heifer-dust will be spread over the audience by the District’s new architect-of-record, who it appears will be in charge of the session designed to: (a) “expand community understanding of the [the District’s]master plan process” for maintaining, improving and/or increasing the District’s buildings and facilities (“D64 Plans Several Budget Meetings Next Month,” Journal, 8/31/11); and (b) explain “how plans for the future needs of our school buildings will be developed” (“District 64 board to talk finances, facilities at trio of meetings,” H-A, 9/8/11). 

But those hardy folks who can shovel their way through the opening 3 hours of shinola, or who choose to forego the propaganda and arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the 9:00 p.m. session, may likely find themselves watching the Board tap-dance around some less-than-wonderful information in the proposed 2011-12 budget.

According to the proposed budget’s “Comparison of Expenditures by Objects,” salaries, which represent 74.8% of the Education Fund balance, are expected to increase by 5.5%, or over $2.1 million – which appears to be the product of a 2.5% overall increase (per the terms of the teachers’ 3-year contract) plus additional teachers’ “step” (and “lane”?) increases.   Meanwhile, the benefits component of that same Education Fund’s expenditures is expected to increase 24.2%, or $1,153,668. 

If those one-year numbers aren’t sweet enough, those increases beginning with the 2008-09 budget year are $7,010,364 in salaries (a whopping 20.43% over 2008-09) and $1,392,672 in benefits (an even more whopping 30.74%). 

And that’s during the worst economic period since The Great Depression!

To help pay for these increases, the “Comparison of Revenues by Objects” projects property taxes rising by 4.4%, or $2,490,56, although total revenues for the new budget year are projected as decreasing $5,521,328 to reflect an even larger decrease in federal aid. 

Interestingly, the District’s projected total expenditures are down by $2,148,333 from 2010-11: from $72,663,447 to $70,485,114. 

Normally, we would applaud such a cut.  This one, however, appears to an illusion because it looks to be the result of an almost $6 million decrease in “Capital Outlay” – from the almost $9 million of “actual” capital expenditures that occurred in 2010-11 to to a shade under $3 million – even as the District is again refusing to budget for the heating and cooling needs of Carpenter and Field schools.

Can you say “Fun with numbers”? 

Given what we already have heard about the suspect condition of at least some of the District’s buildings and facilities, this looks and sounds almost like conscious neglect – which is one tactic for creating the kinds of crises conditions that are optimal for stampeding voters into more tax increases and/or bond issues.  And more revenue for the new architect of record, of course.

The 93-page proposed budget (updated as of 9/12/11), with all its schedules and numbers, sure is a lot for the taxpayers to comprehend (or even meaningfully inquire about) over the next 7 days until the District’s “final” budget Q-and-A on September 19; and over the next 14 days until the official “public hearing” on the budget and planned Board vote to adopt it on September 26.

One of the legendary labors of the mythical Hercules was his shoveling out the Augean Stables.  With no Hercules to clean up the mess that is D-64’s budget, however, that task is left to the mere mortals who pay one-third of their property taxes to the District.  And, historically, they have not been up to the task – which is why the cost of D-64’s schools keeps going up while its measurable academic achievements don’t. 

That means more shovelers are needed.  With bigger shovels.

To read or post comments, click on title.

21 comments so far

Well said. My records reflect 42.29% of our property tax bill being paid to D64 and 25.46% of my bill to D207. So, if 68% of our property taxes goes to the schools, no one should complain about property tax increases if they don’t pay attention to what happens in school board meetings.

It seems to me that the D64 Board isn’t the least bit serious about allowing for new budget discussion or questions. If the Board took the task seriously the Board would either place this critically important topic at the front of the meeting or dedicate this meeting to Budget. When I see a Board Meeting that plans to have the budget presentation and discussion come up around 9PM – it tells me that the Board either doesn’t give a hoot about input or questions from the attendees or doesn’t think there’s much to say. How sad is that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s what it tells us, too. Very sad, but even more disappointing and sickening.

Salaries and benefits are expected to increase by millions, all the while the Carpenter and Field children have to suffer with no AC and noted “improper ventilation” concerns for at least another school year? The school board president admitted that the budget for 2011-12 capital equipment was pretty well tapped out (based on what the improvements they did to some of the schools this past summer). We are already well into the budget year now. We need a better temporary solution than closing schools!

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Board – led by president Heyde – spent almost $9 million in “Capital Outlay” this current year, and almost $6 million last budget year, so it looks to us like that board caused whatever condition “pretty well tapped out” describes.

Based on D64’s own strategic plan, the writing is on the wall for a new referendum in 2016-17. Do you think the “aging buildings” and “antiquated boilers” will be budgeted for earlier than that? Either way, do you think the fund balance could be eaten up by salary increases and consulting and technology fees alone?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Frankly, we will be surprised if they can hold out that long…which is probably why they brought in a new hired-gun architect-of-record to cry wolf and/or sell the voters on higher taxes, more bonded debt, or both. This way, the new AofR can lament, criticize and propose without having to “wear the jacket” for all the repairs, maintenance, improvements, etc. weren’t done over the past X number of years when Green & Associates was the AofR.

Using your numbers, salaries and benefits will increase 3.25 million this year!! Wow!

With so many businesses closing and less sales tax money coming back to Park Ridge, we homeowners may continue to see our property taxes increase to foot the bill. But what is worse is how can it be fair to ask taxpaying homeowners to pay for teacher and admin salary increases (that are not merit based) before we pay for our children’s schools aging building needs?

EDITOR’S NOTE: All good questions…which should be asked to the School Board before it passes this new budget.

It cost so much less to educate a child in the Catholic school system with a quality education very comparable if not better than the D64 schools. Do many older people or non-D64 parents attend school board meetings? We are all taxpayers and it is tough to see that we might have to pay increased property taxes and have more bond debt all to pay for what looks like mostly salary increases and not the children’s needs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Catholic school system should not be a straight-up benchmark for the cost of elementary school education for several reasons, not the least of which is that Catholic (and all private) schools get to select their students while public schools are pretty much stuck with educating whichever kids are within their jurisdictions.

That being said, salary increases of over 20% during recession years, combined with starting salaries of $40,000+ for a max of 9 months of work, are a bit difficult to defend with any kind of intellectual honesty or fiscal responsibility. Not that the teachers union and its stooges on the School Board won’t try, however.

Is your “Editor’s Note” to the 1:27 comment directed at all of the members of the D64 board?

EDITOR’S NOTE: No. Borrelli, Collins and Zimmerman were not on the Board when it negotiated the current contract in 2009, so they could not earn “stooge” recognition in that regard. And neither Borrelli nor Collins were on the Board when the last budget was passed, so they escaped “stooge” recognition in that regard, also.

Honor. There is little Honor in the world today. It’s the only reason I can place on why elected officials would pay themselves first. There should be some bylaw or regulation that states these people can not talk pay until ALL the needs on the budget are met. They can’t pay themselves first, period! If they want raises they have to come to the community for a referendum vote. The system is running backwards!

i am glad to have found your website but it depresses me further with regards to the sad state of affairs in park ridge. i believe the mayor has the tax payers interests at heart so feel a bit better there, but the schools? what a joke! we moved here for location but i wish i had checked out the schools better. my kids can see the difference between their prior schools and pr schools and it isn’t good. the school system here is awful, the curriculum is weak, there are too many teachers that should have been let go long ago, and our taxes are ridiculously high to pay for all of this crap! i am a lowly private sector worker who has had 2% raises over the past few years and i have a good job!!! but these teachers are making more than me and with 3 kids in the system, i can telll you we’ve had more bad than good and my kids test scores have gone down since moving here. there are a bunch of buffoons running the board now and in the past. bender doesn’t bring anything to the table. i am optimistic about borelli but how much can one get done? i wantd to attend the budget meetings and make my voice heard but as you noted, they sneakily have that scheduled at 9! let me get to the real question: what are our options as the “employer” of these teachers and owner of the school system? can we fire them and start over? bust the union? when i went to college teaching was a public service job, you did it for love of teaching not money but it’s a business now so let’s it like a businesss. everyone in the private sector knows what’s going on and has felt the pain yet these teachers are immune. if the schools ever showed up on any top 50 schools list it might be easier to swallow but we’ve got the bad all the way around here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: the only answer is for citizens to call out our elected officials who aren’t doing the job, and replace them if they don’t raise their games.

Borrelli may be a one man army, but he’s tremendously outnumbered.

Well, what happened at the meeting?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re still checking with our sources. But, meanwhile, anybody who was there and who wishes to provide any reports is welcome to do so.

Gee…you mean Mad Parent did not go to the meeting?!?! Shocking!!! I wonder what he was doing at 9PM that was more important than all the problems he says he has with his children and their education at D64.

EDITOR’S NOTE: First of all, we re-read Mad Parent’s comment and saw no indication it was a “he” rather than a “she.” Second, whether MP had something “more important” or not, 9:00 p.m. is not an appropriate time to start a budget meeting, especially when it is delayed 2 hours past the normal meeting starting time by what sounded like it was going to be a dog-and-pony show by the new architect-of-record.

Third of all, while I agree with your points one and two, that is no excuse for not going to the meeting. If a parent has the issues that Mad Parent claims to have (awful, weak curriculun, teachers who should be let go, kids can see the difference…etc). This person paints a picture that his children’s education is suffering since moving here. If I felt that way they could hold the meeting at 2 AM and I would be there. If Mad Parent did not show up at the meeting and make all these points with specifics, I can only assume the issue is not as bad or as important as he/she claims. At the very least, Mad Parent is getting what they deserve.

By the way, you are correct in that I was wrong to assume the gender.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Again, we disagree: local gov’t meetings need to be held at reasonable times; and beginning a budget meeting, or any meeting of any signficance, at 9:00 a.m. is not a “reasonable time.” If D-64 was insistent on holding both meetings the same night, the better move would have been to start the budget meeting at 6:00 p.m., and the dog-and-pony show at 9:00.

Do you have some type of self imposed deadline that you must post an article to you own blog for some reason?

You report certain facts, meeting delayed, total salaries, etc., but if we trust you implicitly without knowing all of the details of the meeting, you become just another talking head and not a reporter.

Perhaps you don’t consider yourself a reporter. Maybe you consider yourself a columnist.

Whatever the case maybe, you should collect the facts first and than state your opinion. If the meeting hasn’t happened, and you don’t have the time to attend the meeting, you are as uninformed as the rest of us.

District 64 budget should be scrutinized, but on the basis of facts not conjecture.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There was an oft-quoted unofficial motto of the old Chicago City News Bureau: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

You shouldn’t trust us (or anyone else) “implicitly” when it comes to government. Nevertheless, we try to provide facts as well as commentary about those facts; and we take great pains in trying to make sure our facts are accurate (including by providing the supporting references as attachments or links). Our facts about the budget came from the District’s own budget document.

As for “conjecture,” we will address that complaint once you identify what it is you are labeling as such.

I do not know much about the Finances of District 64.

All I can say is I am very happy with the education that my kids are receiving.

I was raised a bit differently than many of the bloggers here apparently were. I feel as a parent that it is my responsibility for my kids education. The teachers are a conduit between the subject matter and the student. I have to make sure that my kids understands the material and it is not pure memorization.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For some people, ignorance is bliss.

And we are happy that you’re happy about your kids’ education (presumably from D-64 schools). But if you truly believe the your kids’ education “is [your] responsibility” shouldn’t you be home-schooling them?

Finally, a quick Internet search did not disclose “conduit” as a synonym for, or definition of, “teacher.”

Conduit, noun – an agency or means of access, communication, etc.

Conduit, any channel, or means, whereby something is passed on.

Being a conduit for learning is the idea.

Maybe you should google ‘juxtaposition in composition’! Or perhaps your primary education didn’t learn you very well! Like you say, “for some people, ignorance is bliss”!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: No matter how blissfully you juxtapose, we still see no mention of “teacher” in those “conduit” definitions; and no mention of “teacher” in any “conduit” definitions we could find. But if you like the teacher-as-conduit metaphor, kumbaya.

You disagree??? hmmmmmmm…..OK. In my post I said I agreed with you that time of the meeting was not appropriate and should be changed for such future meetings.

The point I was making was that if a parent (mad parent for example) has the kind of issues that were stated in that post the inconvenience of the meeting is not an excuse. This person painted a literal crisis in the education of his children but they cannot figure out how to make a 9PM meeting???

You disagree with that?? Does Mad Parent have to attend teachers conferences?? You know they schedule those during work hours requiring missing time at the office. How inconvenient!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not excusing “Mad Parent,” who didn’t explain why he/she couldn’t/wouldn’t attend. Maybe he/she had young children and no sitter after 9:00. Maybe he/she had no transportation to/from the meeting after 9:00. So what? 9:00 p.m. is a boneheaded meeting time seemingly designed to minimize attendance. But if the Board and admin. had some other justification for it – other than to give “prime time” exposure to “Roles, Goals and Controls” – we haven’t heard it.

The “Hide in Plain Sight” school of info management, by no means limited to school boards, is to have the noncontroversial stuff early and leave the hard stuff for about 2 hours into the meeting when people are dragging and less attentive. It’s unconscionable to post an agenda with topics in a certain order and then move them around at the last minute so that people are there longer than they needed to be, left before the topic came up or arrived too late for the topic. The fact that the ultimate employer/customer is working elsewhere 10-12 hours to pay for everything and has to wedge parenting in there somewhere; tries to devote a couple of his rare nonscheduled hours to attending a public meeting where his money is being discussed, and then is outmanuvered, is just plain wrong.


I agree that the timing of the meeting was off and I would most definitely agree that what you have described would be very wrong. The problem is (as far as I know) what you seem to be describing did not happen. According to what PD wrote, the budget portion was always described as being at 9PM so it would appear thay did not switch around the order of the agenda.

It’s sick that an apologist for the school board, school staff or other school bureaucracy would take Mad Parent to task for not attending a meeting held at 9 p.m., a meeting not well publcized, and a meeting where the materials hadn’t been posted until the day of the meeting. Mad Parent isn’t the problem, YOU are the problem, Mr. or Ms. Self-Righteous Elitist Bureaucrat.

EDITOR’S NOTE: FWT: We usually agree with your comments but, in this case, we need to point out that we saw news articles in both local papers about Monday night’s meetings a week or two in advance. We don’t know, however, what kind of notices were contained in the take homes or otherwise made.

As for not posting materials until the day of the meeting, however, you are spot-on. That’s been a chronic problem with D-64, and that’s clearly intentional on the part of the D-64 administration and/or the school board itself.

5th ward:

Gee you are right. Anyone who might read a post such as that of Mad Parent, painting this terrible senario wherin the education of his/her children is at a crisis point, and wonder if said parent could find a way to attend this or any other meeting, must be an apologist for the school board.

By the way, I too am a “lowly private sector worker”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Who – either Mad Parent or FWT – said anything about Mad Parent’s inability to attend “any other meeting”?

gee, i wish those who put so much vitriol in the fact that i,mad parent, did not attend a 9 pm monday meeting would put that energy into understanding the nasty state of d64 affairs. and yes, i have 3 small children and a job so by 9 i can’t put 2 sentences toegether! focus on the the big picture, that is the problem here. don’t be mad at me because d64 is a runaway train. editor was the only one smart enough to figure out i am female

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, this editor was the only one not dumb enough to assume you were male.

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