Public Watchdog.org

With Herald-Advocate And Journal Under Control, D-64 Turns Its Sights On “Spinning” TribLocal

10.27.11

If you don’t recognize the name Bernadette Tramm, don’t feel bad.  The “Public Information Coordinator” of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 probably likes it that way.

She’s the District 64 employee whose job it is to burnish the public image of District 64 – to ensure that good news about the District gets shouted from the rooftops while bad news gets buried.  Quickly.  No matter how little useful information might be flowing out of D-64’s headquarters, it’s Ms. Tramm’s job to convince the average citizen that the sunlight on D-64 is so bright it’s time to put on the Oakleys…and slather on a little SPF-30 for good measure.

When D-64 wins the virtually meaningless “Big Red Apple” award every year, it’s Tramm’s job to make sure every local news organization knows about it the moment it’s announced.  And when the Chicago Sun-Times reports (as it did in its May 31, 2011 edition) that D-64 has the 4th highest paid administrators and the 25th highest paid teachers, it’s also Tramm’s job to convince those same local news outlets not to sully their pages with such matters.

So Tramm must have been working overtime this past week to spin the Chicago Tribune’s “TribLocal” reporter, Jennifer Delgado, into writing not one but two stories that were printed in yesterday’s edition.

The first, “D64 looks at new ways to communicate with taxpayers,” is a puff-piece on D-64’s purported embrace of increased communication and transparency “with parents, community members and taxpayers” – including improvements to the District’s website, the use of social media, and online surveys.  Delgado writes approvingly of how, just this past August, “the district started taping board meetings in response to parents [sic] complaints” – without mentioning that the District’s taping commenced only after resident Marshall Warren showed up with his own video camera and recorded the August 8th meeting.

Delgado also fails to mention that, prior to Warren’s self-help cinematography, Supt. Philip Bender was resisting video-recording of meetings and calling for an opinion from the District’s legal counsel, while Board member Scott Zimmerman proclaimed the videotaping of meetings as being “against school board policy.”  Why the oversight by Delgado?  We’re guessing she didn’t dig outside the little area Tramm had plowed for her – which means that including such information, as President Bush ’41 used to say: “Wouldn’t be prudent.”

Prudence also may be why Tramm bemoaned the expense of the community-wide telephone survey suggested by Board member Anthony Borrelli, and why a proposed District “blog” will likely contain only “one or two paragraphs or photos of school happenings” and won’t “be geared for commentary.”  In other words, D-64 doesn’t want any comments it can’t sanitize and control.

And prudence may also be why we can’t seem to find anywhere on the D-64 website the exact amount of extra dollars – not just the 44 cents added to the levy in 2006 and 2007, or some unidentifiable percentage – that the referendum tax increase took out of the taxpayers’ pockets; or why nobody at D-64 seems to be able to satisfactorily explain why its schools don’t consistently score as well on the ISATs as many suburban districts whose administrators and teachers aren’t nearly as well paid.

That’s what passes for communication and transparency from D-64.

Delgado’s second article “D64 moves quickly to bring finance committee back,” reports on D-64’s intention to quickly reconvene its Community Finance Committee (“CFC”) and recruit new members “to study subjects like spend management, student fees and taxpayer education.”

Anytime you hear the term “taxpayer education,” think “propaganda.”  And when it comes from D-64, that propaganda likely is coming from Tramm.

The CFC, you may recall, was created in 2004 in order to address the death-spiral the District’s finances were in the years following the 1997 “Yes/Yes” referendum to replace the District’s then-newest school building with the “new” Emerson Middle School.  The CFC’s innovative response to that problem was to: (a) recommend a “backdoor” non-voting referendum that authorized the issuance of $5 million of working-cash bonds to keep the Illinois State Board of Education from taking charge of the District’s finances; and then (b) recommend the 2007 tax increase referendum.

Can you say “tax, borrow and spend?”  Or “borrow, tax and spend?” Or how about “Spend, borrow and tax?”  Did you know that’s what passes for financial strategy at D-64?

Which is why Delgado’s reporting that a CFC “subgroup” had advised the D-64 administration and Board that “the district’s fund balance would reach an apex after the referendum but then would gradually decrease, meaning the district might have to seek another referendum” made us more than a little suspicious – if only because we can’t tell from Delgado’s article whether the subgroup’s advice to which she refers occurred back in 2007, or is of more recent vintage.

When the District pushed through the 2007 tax increase referendum, it did so with the promise that the revenues produced by the tax increase, combined with the District’s more frugal management, would put off any future tax increase referendum to 2017.  At this point in time, however, we are skeptical about that promise becoming reality because we see no hard evidence that D-64’s management has been frugal…even before Board members John Heyde and Pat Fioretto start negotiating the new teachers union contract.

Which means that the CFC subgroup’s prediction may very well come true…and sooner than 2017.

And when that time comes, expect Ms. Tramm to do her best to spin that bit of dross into pure gold.

To read or post comments, click on title.

11 comments so far

That is horrible news. The district teachers are only the 25th highest paid. They should be in the top ten. We need to pass a referendum to increase taxes to increase the teachers pay.

I know you will make fun of my suggestion, but I am a proponent of our students even if it means we have to pay the highest salaries to our teachers in the State. I am not a teacher but I believe the future to this country’s success will be in the education given to our kids.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Keep talking like that and you’ll find yourself on the D-64 Board with your fellow Kool-Aid drinkers.

Dear Anon., great idea — just throw more money at the problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, that’s been the American Way for the last 30-40 years – and look where it’s gotten us.

Looking through the D64 website I keep seeing references to “spend management” but no references to “save management” or “value management.” Am I missing something?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not that we can tell.

845pm-that was completely absurd. An average teacher does not becoem a great teacher if you pay him/her $25,000 more. He/she just becomes a higher paid average teacher.

EDITOR’S NOTE: So long as teachers are rewarded for longevity rather than measurable merit, we will spend increasing amounts of money for underachievement.

I agree with the 845pm writer. If you want the best teachers, you have to pay premium dollars.

You want a BMW you don’t buy a Buick. You want the best lawyer you go to the best firm, not a small shop. You need a medical procedure, you go where they have the top physicians. You want to learn to play golf, you go to the best instructors.

If the community wants the have the best teachers, the district and taxpayers have to pay the higher dollars.

We happen to live in the Country Club area and can afford send our kids to private schools. However, we believe in the Public Education system.

You don’t raise the salaries of the existing teachers. You recruit the best teachers from other areas by paying them higher salaries. Alternatively, you put in place a system that brings in the best teachers from the universities and groom them into becoming top notch teachers.

You pay based on measurable merit not longevity. You do have to pay for talent. Teachers, while you may all think are a commodity, really are not all the same.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You sound more like one of those people who simply believe in the free education system. And you’re probably also one of those people who, when their kids get through with the school system, bolts for a lower-tax community.

But let’s run with your idea for a moment and play Theo Epstein with the D-64 teacher roster. Who are the Top 20 free-agent teachers? What kind of contracts are they demanding? What 20 current D-64 teachers will get launched to make way for the free agents?

Once you get back to us with the answers to those questions, let us know if Drew Rosenhaus represents any of them.

“Who are the Top 20 free-agent teachers?”

That is easy!! We just use the same tests you always go on about as if they were gospel, right?? If you want to use “the tests” as the do all and end all for D-64 and D-207 performance why not use “the tests” to identify the top free agents.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, but that won’t work because: (a) we’re not aware of any database that identifies teachers with ISAT scores, either at D-64 or other districts; and (b) to the extent that D-64 can internally identify its own teachers with particular ISAT scores, that would only work to determine which current 20 D-64 teachers get launched.

Frankly, it was a stupid idea right out of the box, but we just thought we’d humor the commentator because, with ideas like that, he/she probably needs a boost the the self-esteem. You, too.

Actually your response to the 2:23pm person is an interesting one. My kids go to Field school. The parents do know who the best teachers are. The worst teachers are easily identified too.

I would venture to bet that the Administrators know who the best and worst teachers are as well.

In business we get rid of the bottom 20% all of the time. We have to pay to keep talent or obtain talent.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s your problem: if D-64 were a business, it would have been bankrupt at least once already. And it never gets rid of its bottom 20% because we’re guessing that most of those teachers have…wait for it…tenure!

Yo, Dog: Salary entirely unconnected to performance is THE American way, and the phenom is far, far more evident and extreme in the private sector than in the public sector. And please don’t say salaries in the private sector are controlled by the magic of supply and demand; that’s simply laughable. The average shareholder is as impotent as the average taxpayer as boards and executives co-sign each other’s unearned gelt on a routine basis and what few real savings they create are due to legislation that lets them privatize gain and socialize losses. And don’t say that we as consumers don’t have to support corporations with monstrous top pay and shameful rank-and-file pay. Those companies who sell everything from from bedsheets to bombs are vendors to the public sector, and we do pay top dollar to them through our taxes and the no-bid, wink-wink system. What good are three bids when all three are insanely inflated over what they’d charge a private customer? Does $60 billion in documented illigitimate and overbilled military costs we da people have paid on Iraq and Afghanistan get your attention? Even Sally Prior is underpaid by that standard. To reframe something you said years ago, it would take a hell of a lot of teacher salaries to equal Bushie-Blackwaterfest.
So let’s pay teachers well. (Why are our lousy adminsitrators paid at the #4 level and teachers at #25 level? The unions wrangled the former, but who authorized the latter in my name?) And then let’s hold both teachers and their overpaid, non-union bosses accountable for results. And let’s forget about seniority as a virtue. Sticking around where you’r well treated isn’t a virtue, it’s common sense!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yo, Anonymous. Did the Occupy Wall Street – Chicago Division shut down early today?

Just slaggin’ ya.

But really, why bother with all this grand-scale stuff that you admit you and every other average citizen/taxpayer can’t do anything about – unless you’ve got a few hundred grand to put in somebody’s campaign fund, or you can bundle that same few hundred grand? Why not focus on our little 8 square mile corner of the world, where you can run into the mayor or your alderman at the Jewel, the Farmer’s Market, Starbucks, Houlihans, etc.?

We’d rather see teachers paid more than Blackwater alums, if that was the choice available to us. But if the measure of teachers being “well treated” is whether they stick around, then it would appear that the D-64 teachers themselves believe themselves to be very well treated – considering how they sure do seem to stick around. Otherwise, they would all be making that easy jump to CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, hedge fund manager, or privatizer of gain/socializer of loss.

And by no credible standard was Sally Prior ever underpaid.

a couple of things…..
Credit is due to watchdog for keeping this blog updated but perhaps some content should give service to the fact the district is responding to the taxpayer. Whether or not you agree about the process everyone can agree the district is now more

EDITOR’S NOTE:…transparent? Okay: before they were opaque and now they are minimally transparent – but only because Marshall Warren started videotaping meetings when D-64 balked after several requests. Now, if the Board and administration could only figure out how to provide 4th-ranked ISAT results to go with its 4th highest-paid adminstrators; or 25th-ranked ISAT results to go with its 25th highest-paid teachers.

wow!! … To 5:04pm- REALLY? Poor Sally Prior is underpaid with an estimated 6 million to be earned in retirement? If you don’t want to “support corporations with montrous pay and shameful rank and file pay”, why don’t you come down on the union bosses are stealing millions from the Teacher’s Retirement system?

and 8:45pm… what salary amount do you think is “fair”?

TWO EX-BOARD MEMEBRS! Go Figure!!!

The new CFC community coordinators are:

Ares Dalianis – A Park Ridge resident for 11 years, Mr. Dalianis is an attorney specializing in education law, school finance and property assessment issue. He has been a resource for CFC since its inception in 2004 regarding his areas of expertise. He also served on the Board of Education in 2003-04. Mr. Dalianis has two children who are currently enrolled in District 64 schools.

Genie Taddeo – A Park Ridge resident for 19 years, Ms. Taddeo is a local realtor. She was a member of the Board of Education from 2005-11, serving as Vice President and Secretary. She also was the Board’s liaison to the Middle School Program Review, the Curriculum Council, the Facilities Committee, and the Elementary Learning Foundation among other assignments. In addition, she helped develop the District 64 Strategic Plan as a member of the Strategic Planning Team in 2009-10. Ms. Taddeo has a child currently enrolled in District 64, and one who has graduated from the District’s schools.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Round up the usual suspects.



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