Cue The “Injuns”


Back in the day when Westerns were all the rage on both the big screen and the small, it became almost a cliché to see a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire at night in the middle of nowhere when one of them would remark “It sure is quiet” – to which another would respond “Yeah, too quiet.” 

And then, almost immediately, that quiet would be shattered by a bunch of whooping “injuns” galloping in with arrows flying, or firing rifles purchased – often along with some “firewater” – from unscrupulous “white” traders. 

For some reason we find that old cliche a fitting metaphor for the dead silence surrounding the ongoing Park Ridge–Niles Elementary School District 64 teacher negotiations, with nary a whisper emerging about what kind of deal is being cut. 

From our observations of public sector union negotiations over the past couple of decades, any “too quiet” situation bodes ill for taxpayers.  That’s especially true with the scheduled commencement of the school year rapidly approaching and the prospects of a strike becoming more frightening by the day to those parents for whom the D-64 schools serve double duty as both education and day-care.  That invites manufactured “crises” giving rise to rushes to judgment that always involve throwing more money at the teachers. 

We’re not ready to cue the injuns just yet, but we also have no reason to believe that the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), the teachers union, is asking for anything less than the moon – especially in view of the recent report from D-64 that it is anticipating 2.5% lower expenses this coming year, thereby arguably freeing up some additional cash for teacher raises and/or benefits.

We don’t know if that 2.5% in any way reflects a reduction in D-64’s Uptown TIF-related payment that we hear the City is going to try to negotiate because of continued dismal revenues from that financial white elephant, but that’s another variable that the D-64 negotiating team better be keeping in mind, along with the $14 million D-64 says it needs for immediate capital expenditures that are projected to eventually total $23 million, all-in.

We also hear that there was an acknowledgement at last night’s D-64 Board meeting that the rosy expense projection may already be history.  At any rate, that projection never factored in any of the increases in compensation for teachers, teachers aids, administrative staff or custodians that seem to be inevitable whenever the District and the PREA “negotiate” – as they are scheduled to do tonight.

And the Board is holding a closed-session “retreat” at Emerson School this Friday night – to engage in one of the many exceptions to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, 5 ILCS 120/2(c)(16): “Self evaluation, practices and procedures or professional ethics, when meeting with a representative of a statewide association of which the public body is a member.” 

The irony of their discussing surrender (to PREA) at a retreat – perhaps under the “practices and procedures” of submission – is almost too delicious…in a perverse way, of course.     

And let’s not forget skeevy Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s recent proposal to dump a good-sized chunk of the teachers’ pension funding into the laps of the local districts.  Frankly, that may be the most intelligent and fiscally responsible thing Madigan has proposed in his 30+ years as speaker – assuming it’s not just some cynical political ploy – because local school boards have been borderline criminally irresponsible in jacking-up, and then “spiking,” teacher and administrator salary to boost pensions, seemingly without regard for the consequences because those pensions are administered on a state-wide basis.

If the D-64 Board actually cared about the taxpayers and the long-term fiscal health of the District, the mere threat by Madigan of such a substantial expense being kicked back to local districts should be a major constraint on any raises.  But we’re talking about the same crew that has helped give this District the 4th highest-paid administrators and 25th highest-paid teachers in the state, so the only question about the current teacher negotiations would appear to be: “How much?”

We’ve previously expressed our strenuous opposition to any and all public-sector labor negotiations conducted in secret.  That opposition becomes even more strenuous when D-64’s lead negotiators are board president John Heyde and member Pat Fioretto.  Per our Western metaphor for the D-64/PREA negotiations, if the taxpayers need a John Wayne (think “Jake Cutter” in “The Comancheros”) standing tall and shooting it out, in Heyde and Fioretto they get the equivalent of chuckwagon cooks (think “Wishbone” and “Mushy” from “Rawhide”), slingin’ hash instead of flingin’ lead. 

Now we’re down to only 2 weeks until the first day of school, and the silence surrounding a new teachers contract is almost deafening. 

Okay, it’s time: Cue the injuns!

To read or post comment, click on title.

12 comments so far

What kills me is that any possibility of money on the table will be gobbled up by any union. Teachers, public works, etc.. How about realizing that all our towns are still suffering and that we’re all being pushed to our limits and just can’t afford more taxes. This is right out of Goodfellas! I, personally, haven’t had a raise in 3 years yet I’m happy to have a job.. So my income hasn’t increased yet my taxes have gone up..

And now the Park District wants to buy land and renovate Centennial?

I’m just about ready to throw in the towel and move out of PR just because of the taxes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Then you better plan to move out of Illinois, because what you’re seeing with our local governments comes from the same playbook being used in other communities. OR…you could roll up your sleeves and get active in making THIS community a better one.

Has the D-64 board or administration ever acknowledged that we have the 4th highest paid administrators and the 25th highest paid teachers? If so, have they explained why academic performance, whether measured by ISAT scores or any other standard, doesn’t match those rankings?

With all the money, our tax money, the schools are spending, we deserve a better product than what we seem to be getting. What is wrong with these board members?

EDITOR’S NOTE: If they’ve done so, we haven’t heard or seen it. In fact, we can’t recall ever reading or hearing an official D-64 reaction to any of the standardized test score rankings that appear annually in the two Chicago newspapers – other than the trite “we don’t teach to the test.”

What’s wrong with these board members is that they are being run by the administrators and teachers/PREA rather than vice versa. Outside of Mr. Borrelli, they are just rubber stamps for whatever their masters want.

I’ve noticed that when you publish articles about the school districts you seem to get far fewer comments than when you post things about the city of Park Ridge. That tells me people aren’t interested in changing the way the schools are run, or they don’t understand what the schools are costing them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re perplexed by that ourselves. Maybe City issues tend to be more understandable to the average person than D-64 or D-207 issues, if only because both the teachers and the administrators (former teachers) seem to try to make the whole educational delivery system as arcane as possible.

I don’t understand why the expenses are coming in 2.5% lower.

Are there open job positions not filled? Are there teachers retiring who made a lot of money and the new teachers do not make as much money? Are maintenance costs lower because of renovations being done? Did they buy gas or other utilities at a fixed rate ahead of winter?

There maybe one time savings or there maybe real savings, but without knowing the make up of the potential savings, maybe the district can’t spend the monies.

It would be nice if they actually reduce expenses versus the prior year as opposed to being under budget by 2.5%.

Obviously if there budget went up 10% versus last year’s actual, and they are projecting to be 2.5% below budget, there is no real savings (only an inflated budget).

It would be very nice if expenses came in below last year’s actual and they didn’t raises our property taxes come next years billing cycle.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We do not have the time to sift through the D-64 budget to come up with these explanations; and D-64’s admin and board have never demonstrated any inclination to make its budget and budget process more transparent for the average taxpayer. Oh, well, there’s always the D-64 Community Finance Committee that seems to be filled with h.s. home room rep wannabes, and headed up by two former board members who – by our recollection – never saw an expenditure that they didn’t like.

Of course, they never demanded performance commensurate with those expenditures, but that was probably well above their pay grade and, therefore, deferred to the “experts” in admin.

I agree with the comment of “Bnonymous” above…for some reason the school districts don’t generate nearly the, uh, enthusiasm, as city government topics. I wouldn’t say, however, that school business is any more arcane than city business. Both have their acronyms, abbreviations and various rules of disorder.

Perhaps many people think “it’s for the kids” and thus immune to public oversight. Given that quality of schools is a factor when buying a home, no one wants to risk cheapening the value of public education.

It’s silly to debate whether we spend too much or too little on education. The schools are fine and we hope the board and the administrators focus on improving whatever needs to be improved.

The problem is, the answer to every need for improvement is “more money”. Not shifting funds from one thing to another, but adding to the size of the budget. How many taxpayers are aware that salary increases for teachers are over-and-above the scheduled, automatic “lane step” increases that come every year?

The public ignores this dynamic, seemingly considering it only two times a year when property tax bills arrive, and even then without a careful look at the culprits.

The vast majority of your property tax bill goes to the school districts, and the vast majority of increases in recent years is also the schools.

Maybe what we need is public education such that enough taxpayers get interested enough to attend meetings. Lots of people were angry about kinky deals like $400,000 for Napleton, but that’s chump change compared to what we pay administrators, consultants and — yes — teachers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “For the kids” is one of the greatest marketing ploys ever, and the national teachers’ unions deserve credit for making it so.

But we have to disagree with you, FWT, about it being “silly to debate whether we spend too much or too little on education.” The concept of “value” is what we always should be striving for in government, and how much we spend for the performance we get in return goes to the heart of the matter.

You are dead right, however, on the public’s ignorance about things like salary increases for teachers being “over-and-above the scheduled, automatic “step” and “lane” increases that come every year. That’s where the D-64 board members, as The People’s (a/k/a the taxpayers’) representatives, do an absolutely terrible job of informing their constituents – and the “mainstream” local media do an even worse job, if that’s even possible. Both the board and the media also seem intent on covering up the fact that whatever salaries teachers receive are for basically an 8-month year, which makes those already attractive salaries look even better on an annualized basis.

Most people can figure out almost instinctively that $400K to Napleton is a kinky deal, but it’s a bit more difficult to undertand whether Carpenter or Field schools really need another “curriculum specialist” of a “technology coordinator.”

And when the superintendants and principles running these multi-million operations are simply glorified teachers who probably never even ran a sidewalk lemonade stand as kids – instead of trained business managers who know how to wring every last drop of performance out of every dollar – we will remain locked in the current unaccountable “for the kids” tax/borrow/spend addiction.

5th Ward Taxpayer at 7:37 AM is both eloquent and correct. Something like 80% of our taxes go to the schools, and something like 80% of housing values depend on perceived school quality, so it’s the official sacred cow, elephant in the living room, etc. Sally Pryor made as much as POTUS. Does that make sense? I don’t think so. And compared to the school districts’ mindboggling budgets, the City’s $55+ million and the Park District’s $15+ million annual total budgets are chump change. Let’s pay the teachers for results and documented efforts toward results, since home life and basic ability do impact grades, folks. Let’s take the next teacher’s raise out of the administrators’ bonus pot. How’s that sound?

EDITOR’S NOTE: POTUS’s annual salary was raised in 2001 from $200,000 to the current $400,000. So, in fairness to “Mustang Sally,” she didn’t out-earn POTUS.

While we like the idea of charging the administrators for teacher raises, unless you can find a way for those administrators to also cover the teachers’ pension increases related to those raises, the taxpayers would appear to be better off with no raises for anybody at this time.

(Modesty compelled us to modify your “Name” – hope you don’t mind)

The IL Policy Inst came out with its recent report that shows that half the districts in the state pay at least part of the teachers’ pension payments and that 207 pays all of the teachers’ share. Don’t be surprised if 64 tries the same trick and attempts to hide it as 207 did. I tried to get 207 to take back its commitment during its recent negotiations and got no where.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We aren’t surprised by anything D-64 tries. But at least D-207 – or, more specifically, Maine South – is ranked academically as one of the best high schools in the state. The same cannot be said for any of the D-64 schools, other than if you count teacher (25th) and administrator (4th) compensation.


FYI….you can take it for what it is worth. I am sure you will think it is crap. So be it!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s just say there’s not a high level of public trust in TRS these days.

Sorry but the above link may not work. Below is a copy of what was written.

School Districts “Picking Up” Members’ TRS Contributions

Issue: The Illinois Policy Institute on October 13, 2011 released a study of the school districts in Illinois that “pick up” or pay the 9.4 percent teacher contribution for their TRS-covered employees. IPI research indicated that about half of the 867 school districts in Illinois “pick up” all or part of the teacher contribution. The IPI concluded that when districts pick up all or part of the teacher contributions, that means teachers are not paying the contribution. The IPI says this amounts to $400 million “extra” that taxpayers must pay every year to TRS that teachers should be paying.

Answer: This is an incorrect view of how teacher contributions are paid by TRS members. Illinois taxpayers are not paying an “extra” $400 million for teacher pensions and teachers are not being spared the responsibility of paying $400 million in contributions.

Teacher contributions to TRS are deferred income. The TRS contributions are part of a teacher’s overall compensation package along with their take-home pay. The TRS contribution is designed to come back to the teacher later in life as a retirement benefit.

When a school district “picks up” the contribution, the money still comes from the teacher’s total compensation package. The “pick up” is in reality only a difference of when the district deducts the contribution from the teacher’s salary – either before taxes are deducted or after taxes are deducted. Teacher unions for years have negotiated this point with school boards as part of overall salary and benefit packages for teachers. There is an income tax savings for teachers if the contribution is deducted pretax.

In practical terms, no teacher writes TRS a check every month and mails it, so no teacher in Illinois directly “pays” TRS. All contributions from every teacher in every school district are deducted from paychecks by the school districts and sent to TRS in one lump sum. Member contributions to TRS in fiscal year 2011 totaled $909.6 million.

The IPI conclusion that taxpayers are paying “extra” for the pick-up rings false because, in the end, taxpayers pay for everything in a school district, including all teacher salaries. There is no “extra” $400 million.

If you carry the IPI’s conclusion about TRS contributions to other examples you’ll realize that everyone who participates in Social Security hasn’t paid their share of federal Social Security taxes because their employer is paying the tax for them. No one writes a check to Social Security when they get paid. The FICA tax is deducted from the paycheck. It’s the same thing for TRS contributions. One of the reasons Illinois teachers don’t contribute to Social Security or get a Social Security benefit is because they make the same type of paycheck contribution to TRS.

I agree that property taxes are out of control but if we had a more business friendly atmosphere in this town we might not have to dump so much cost into them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have been hearing about “a more business friendly atmosphere” for years, and we still don’t know what that means in real, practical terms. Park Ridge apparently has a sufficiently “business friendly atmosphere” to attract a Whole Foods, even when our City Council told them “no” when they asked for several million dollars in tax revenue-sharing over 20 years. But please clue us in on what’s so business un-friendly about Park Ridge.

Sorry for the late post, but why did D64 stop charging parents for lunchtime program and is now absorbing the approximately $300,000 annually? Is it a strategy to make things look worse then they are?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check our post from 3/17/11, which may be the only time we wrote about the lunch program. But we don’t think that D-64 ever tries to make anything look worse than it is – normally it’s just the opposite. At least until it wants to pass a referendum.

Dear Parker:

I’m supposing only a little bit, but if I may, it seems your point would be that if we only had more businesses, then those would pay more property tax, thus holding down the property tax bills of residents.

If so, two observations for you.

(1) In the past seven or eight years we have landed a number of businesses here, like Trader Joe’s, Houlihan’s, Eggsperience, et. al., and property taxes still went up.

(2) Governments spend whatever they take in, and then some. Tax increases designed to balance budgets never achieve balance unless spending is significantly reduced.

In other words, we could remove whatever barriers to commerce you imagine, and add as many new businesses as real estate will allow, and we’d still have at least the same property taxes we do now.

Stop trying to distract from the real problem, which is excessive spending by the school districts and the city government.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Or “excessive spending” as measured by the 4th ranked administrator pay and the 25th ranked teacher pay, while student performance rankings are in another time zone.

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