Another Nationwide Search To Round Up The Usual Suspects? (Updated)


We confess to being a bit bewildered, and dismayed, to read in last week’s Park Ridge Journal that the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 board has hired BWP & Associates to conduct a “nationwide” search to replace Supt. Philip Bender. (“D64 Plans National Search,” Oct. 23)

Bender is moving on at the end of the current school year after four years as superintendent.  During that time there appears to have been little in the way of educational achievement to distinguish his tenure, or that of the School Board members who engineered his hiring – a semi-secret, arrogant and petty process orchestrated by then-president John Heyde, which we wrote about in our 04.07.10 post.

We can’t imagine similar nonsense occurring this time around, especially under the leadership of new school board president Tony Borrelli.  But Borrelli wasn’t even on the D-64 board back then, so he may not be aware of the problems with that previous hiring process; and he might be a tad too trusting of the folks who may have suggested the “nationwide” search process.

The threshold question that needs to be asked and answered is a simple one: What are we expecting to get from a nationwide search that we can’t get from one of our current D-64 administrators?

Yes, we see the irony of this blog asking that question, given our past criticisms of the lack of measurable performance produced by the D-64 teachers and administrators.  But for those who think our criticism has been off-base, the question becomes: Is D-64 so bereft of home-grown managerial and leadership talent among its current administrators that the Board thinks it necessary, or even desirable, to conduct a “nationwide” search?

The term “nationwide search” might sound impressive, but what is the practical value of such an effort?  But unless the District’s well-paid headhunters are looking to bring in a well-recognized education authority – like a Michelle “StudentsFirst” Rhee from California, or an E.D. “CoreKnowledge” Hirsch, Jr. from the Univ. of Virginia – to really shake things up academically, culturally and/or financially (and we haven’t heard even a whisper of that being considered), what’s the point of recruiting candidates from around the country?

Does anybody reasonably believe that so much innovation and proven success in elementary school education is being implemented generally in other parts of the country that D-64 would significantly ratchet up its educational quality and achievement simply by importing any random administrator from another state?  What does that say about D-64’s “farm system” for training, developing and promoting administrators?

Four years ago D-64 imported Bender from Indiana, and he didn’t move the academic performance needle one bit.  Nor did he do much for D-64’s finances.  And back in 1995, the District imported Fred Schroeder all the way from Schaumburg.  He didn’t move the academic performance needle much, either – although he did sell D-64 taxpayers on the 1997 “Yes/Yes” referendum for the brand new Emerson Middle School to replace what, at that time, was the District’s newest school: the “old” Emerson Junior High.

That sent D-64 into a downward financial spiral that almost put the District’s finances under the control of the Illinois State Board of Education, a situation that was avoided only by an emergency back-door issuance of $5 million of “working cash” bonds in 2005, and the multi-million dollar tax increase via the “Citizens For Strong Schools” referendum in 2007 – with plans for another one in 2017.

And for what it’s worth, the City’s importing of its previous city manager from Michigan didn’t turn out to be a successful four-year experiment, either.

Home-grown Sally Pryor filled the gap between Schroeder and Bender.  And while some people had their issues with her, we didn’t notice any appreciable difference from her predecessor or her successor, performance-wise.  At the very least, Pryor had greater familiarity with the District and the community, which probably was an un-measureable plus.

So rather than trying to entice some nobody school administrator from Tucson or Toledo to relocate to Park Ridge, why shouldn’t D-64’s first step be to seriously evaluate the administrators already on its own payroll – people who already know the District, the community and the culture and do not need a year or two of ramp-up time?

And if those senior administrators aren’t worthy of such first-line consideration, maybe they aren’t progressing well enough to retain their current positions, either.

To read or post comments, click on title.

UPDATE (11.01.13)  Dr. Paterno raises a number of good points in his comment to this post, and we take him at his word that he and his fellow D-64 Board members truly want “the best candidate for the job.”

We also understand that he is correct when he states that there currently are “less than a handful of D64 administrators who have the credentials or certification to become a superintendent,” as it appears that specific certifications are required by the state for those who will fill superintendent positions.  But we will take Dr. P at his word that any D-64 administrators who apply for the position will be given a fair shake – albeit with the knowledge that none of them likely will be able to demonstrate “a proven track record” of appreciably improving student performance either district-wide or in their own schools, given D-64’s unspectacular performance on standardized testing over the past several years.

That being said, you can contribute to the new superintendent hiring process by going to the D-64 website between now and November 4 and taking the survey of priorities for the new superintendent established by the District’s hired headhunter firm, BWP & Associates. Just go to the D-64 home page (, go to the “News & Announcements” block on the right-hand side of the page, click on “District 64 Board of Education Invites Input on Superintendent Search…” and have at it.

Frankly, we put virtually no stock in “anonymous” surveys of this type because they usually are designed either to yield a specific intended outcome, or to produce random results that can be interpreted in any way the surveyor (and the entity commissioning it) desires.  And it appears that this one can be taken multiple times, so ballot-box stuffing is to be expected, especially by the special interests like the teachers and administrators who have the most immediate interest (i.e., their jobs) in this decision.

Since this is the way the School Board’s headhunter wants to go, we have to face the fact that it’s the only game in town – and it’s better to be a player, no matter how rigged the game might be, than to sit on the bench.  But since it’s an anonymous survey that permits multiple voting, we’re suggesting that you “cheat” a bit when taking it – because we suspect that the PREA will be telling its members (perhaps overtly, but more likely with typical Chicago-style winks and nods) not to check the “I am employed by Park Ridge – Niles School District 64” box or the “School Teacher” box but, instead, to identify themselves as merely a resident (and maybe also a parent or retired person) when checking off “Strengths” such as “Excellent teachers and staff,” “Financial management” and “Academic achievement”; and issues such as “Funding,” “Instruction” and “Personnel.”

All you ordinary taxpayers should identify yourselves as employees, teachers, administrators and/or, at the very least, parents of current D-64 students – if only to neutralize the anticipated camouflage the PREA members are likely to be wearing.  And take the survey as many times as you can, since that’s another acceptable way to play a rigged game.

Then contact each D-64 Board member and demand that the District post not just the compilation of the results of the survey but also its raw data – including all of the individual surveys – online in real time, so that those results can be assessed by the taxpayers in their original, unadulterated state rather than after being sanitized by the District and/or its headhunter.

Because as a long line of t.v. and movie Westerns have taught us, when facing a rigged poker game you either hold a gun to the dealer’s head to ensure an honest shuffle, or you kick over the table.

The Uptown TIF: From Favored Child To Orphan


Last week’s local papers published a guest essay by Ald. Dan Knight (5th), the chairman of the Park Ridge City Council’s Finance Committee, about the financial problems and disappointments presented by the Uptown TIF.

Readers who didn’t pay attention to the TIF process when it was being created and implemented by past mayors (Ron Wietecha and Mike Marous) and City Councils (from 2003 through 2006) can benefit from the short history and explanation of the TIF presented by Knight.  But the essence of that essay is whether the City should stop abating the property taxes that otherwise would be levied specifically to pay the TIF-related General Obligation (“G.O.”) bonds.

Until now, the City has abated those property taxes related to servicing the TIF-related G.O. bonds, which are backed by the City’s full faith and credit (i.e., all of its assets and taxing ability).

This is significant in two respects, the first being transparency.

According to Knight’s essay and the front page of the Agenda Cover Memorandum by the City’s Acting Finance Director, Kent Oliven, the City’s customary abatement of those taxes that otherwise would be specifically levied by the County to cover the annual debt service on the City’s four TIF-related bond issues (Series 2004A, 2005A, 2006A and 2006B) means that those expenditures are “rolled into the City of Park Ridge line on a property tax bill” while TIF-related levies would “have their own line” on that bill.

We’re not sure why that has been done for all these years, but one explanation that comes readily to mind is that those mayors and aldermen responsible for the TIF decided that the luster of their grand Uptown project might dull a bit in the public’s eye if the million-dollar-a-year debt service cost kept popping up as a separate line item on each semi-annual tax bill.  Such an explanation seems to be born out (based on admittedly anecdotal evidence) whenever ordinary citizens discuss the TIF and the Uptown redevelopment it funded.

Ask residents if they like the development itself, and most respond with an unqualified (and often smiling) “yes.”  But inform them that the TIF has been running up $1 million annual deficits totaling approximately $6 million so far, which the City’s General Fund has been covering, and the response usually changes to an irritated “What?”  And follow that up with the expert projections now suggesting that the TIF will produce a total deficit of more than $20 million over its lifetime instead of the $40 million windfall profit the TIF-addled mayors and aldermen were touting less than a decade ago, and the average listener will go from the irritated “What?” to an incredulous “WTF”?!?!

And all that’s without telling them how all those TIF deficits have led to a downgrade of the City’s bond rating.

The second significant aspect of the TIF-related tax abatement involves how that abatement has resulted in the TIF’s looting of the General Fund by the approximately $6 million referenced above.

So the City Council is going to take up the abatement issue this November and December as part of its 2014-15 budget process.  The Mayor and the Aldermen will discuss whether to raise the City’s tax levy to cover all or part of the debt service cost of those TIF-related G.O. bonds, thereby reducing or eliminating the continued erosion of the General Fund.  Oliven suggests that doing so would send “a signal that the City is aware of its debt obligations and is willing and able to raise taxes, if necessary, to meet those obligations.”

This is what it’s come to: further reduce expenses, or raise revenues through a higher-than-usual tax increase.

We’d love to see former mayors Wietecha and Marous, former city manager Tim Schuenke and all those TIF-loving aldermen return to take a bow for those results of their grand TIF plan, and maybe share with the current Council and City Staff all the reasons why the TIF garnered their enthusiastic support.  But we’re guessing that isn’t likely to happen.  The ones we’ve talked to recently seem to have partial Alzheimers (Half-heimers?) when it comes to the TIF’s financing and projections.

Which proves the old adage that success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

Which the current Mayor and Council have been forced to adopt.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Can Candidate Thillens Alibi Away Commissioner Thillens?


Late December we published three posts (12.05.12, 12.13.12 and 12.19.12) critical of the Park Ridge Park District’s arrogant approach to spending over $7 million – of which over $6 million was borrowed through the issuance of non-referendum bonds that depleted the District’s non-referendum bonding power – on the new Centennial water park, a facility that can be used only about 3 months a year.

That’s about as dumb an idea as building an outdoor ice rink in Orlando.

Our main beef about that facility, however, wasn’t its stupidity.  Or its cost.  Or the way it was being financed.  Or the substantial change it works on Centennial Park.

It was that the Park Board, while insisting that the project had overwhelming support from the entire community, refused to hold an advisory referendum to let the community prove its support for spending that kind of money, and undertaking that kind of debt, on that kind of project – especially while another $13 million of bonded debt for the Youth Campus park project was already on the horizon.

That’s almost $20 million of bonded debt on projects for which the District’s version of “business plans” look like they started with a “break even” result followed by revenue and expense numbers pulled out of thin air to reverse-engineer themselves into that “break even” result.

And there was no bigger cheerleader for both projects than Park Commissioner and Board member Mel Thillens.  Not only was he 100% behind the no-referendum water park, but he was a leader of the Our Parks Legacy campaign – which, by the way, he was legally entitled to be, notwithstanding his position on the Park Board.

But that was then.

Now Thillens is running as the Republican candidate for state representative against Democrat Marty Moylan.  And suddenly Candidate Thillens has found religion, talking that fiscally-responsible talk expected from Republican candidates…even the fake ones – that he never talked as Park Commissioner Thillens.

So when you go to his “About Mel” campaign web page you’ll find him touting himself as the candidate whose parents taught him “[t]o not spend what we don’t have” – despite his whole-hearted support for spending almost $20 million of bonded debt (a/k/a, money “we don’t have”) that will burden the District’s taxpayers for the next 15 years.

Ironically, borrowing money for unnecessary, frivolous and even wasteful reasons is a hallmark of our General Assembly in Springfield, so Mel could fit right in.

As an ally and tool of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Candidate Thlllens also brags on his web page about how he “respect[s] the taxpayers…[and] the people of our community too much to fall so short on promises while bleeding them dry.”  Just last December, however, Commissioner Thillens didn’t respect those taxpayers enough to give them even an advisory vote on the Centennial water park – nor did he seem to think too much about them before sticking them with a 5%-plus tax increase to help cover the debt service on those non-referendum bonds.

But that was then.

Now Candidate Thillens is saying he regrets that tax increase vote, and he is balking at the District’s proposed 2.8% tax hike Park District Superintendent Gayle Mountcastle is pushing because, according to her, “[t]here’s so many things out there that we’re hearing the public wants, but we’re not able to give it to them because we’re not building up the capital” in the District’s slush fund.  Mountcastle would like to add a few more achievements to her resume and see what bigger, higher paying park district might come a-courting.

After having supported the borrowing of almost $20 million in just one year for two non-essential (and one downright foolish) amenities that are unlikely to even pay the cost of their own operations, and having voted to increase taxes by over 5%, Candidate Thillens is now questioning a $15,000 electric gate at the District’s garage, according to a story in this week’s Herald-Advocate (“Park Ridge Park District proposes 2.8 percent tax-levy hike,” 10.22.13).

Now that Commissioner Thillens has become Candidate Thillens, expect to hear a lot more double talk from him as he tries to sound fiscally responsible while still pandering to the special interests who want whatever Park District facilities and programs they can get other people to pay for.  And there’s still more than a year left before Candidate Thillens can go back to being plain old Commissioner Thillens.

Or state representative Thillens.

To read or post comments, click on title.

Would D-207 Voters Give Superintendent 5-Year Extension?


Let’s start this post out by saying that we’ve got no personal beef with Maine Twp. High School District 207 Superintendent Ken Wallace.

But just how ridiculous is it that the D-207 School Board – save for member Mary Childers, the only “no” vote – recently voted to give Wallace a 5-year contract extension after only four years on the job?  Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville received only a 3-year contract extension, and that was after winning his second Stanley Cup in four years!

What leads to such bizarre decisions by our elected School Board members?

A rumor that Wallace was going to declare for free agency?  A report on TMZ that Wallace will be directing the next Batman movie?  A job offer from Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 that included a $20,000 raise and an Arby’s franchise?

Last week’s Park Ridge Journal story (“Dist. 207 Supt. Granted 5-Year Contract Extension,” Oct. 16) and this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“District 207 superintendent gets five-year contract extension,” Oct. 21) provide little more than the following insight, compliments of Board president Margaret McGrath:

“Dr. Wallace has demonstrated exemplary leadership, not only in setting the tone for the professional development of teacher leadership and classroom innovations that are resulting in improved education and opportunities for students, but also in effectively managing and resolving budgetary, personnel and student issues.

“The extension of his contract ensures invaluable continuity as the district follows through on several initiatives, the continued success of which has been integrated into his contract in the form of performance goals.”

Can one fit more meaningless bureaucratic buzz-terms – “exemplary leadership,” “professional development,” “teacher leadership,” “classroom innovations,” “invaluable continuity,” “several initiatives,” “continued success” and “performance goals” – into a mere two paragraphs?

We doubt it.

When you read horse hockey like that, you can be pretty sure that there’s way more foam than beer in the glass.  But from what we’ve seen of the D-207 Board members over the past several years (with the exception of Childers and former member Ed Mueller), they are masters of foam over substance.

Where are the performance metrics – that objectively measurable, hard-number data that proves the achievement of Maine Twp. High School students actually has increased over the four years of Wallace’s tenure?  All we’ve seen over the last four years is a decline in performance and rankings, even for the flagship of the D-207 fleet: Maine South.  And the most notable headlines involving D-207 we can think of during his four-year tenure have been the ones related to the Maine West hazing scandal.

According to the Journal and H-A articles, in addition to the 5-year contract extension Wallace was also given:

  • a $3,000 raise (1.5%, from $206,916 to $210,000) in his base pay, and locked-in 1.5% increases in each of the following four years;
  • 22 vacation days and 12 sick days (almost 7 weeks) per year, the former of which he can accumulate at the rate of 5 per year up to a total of 69 (for cashing in and adding to his salary for purposes of pension calculation when it’s time to retire?);
  • 82 sick days (or over 16 weeks worth) to start the contract;
  • a boost in his car allowance from $450 to $600/month; and
  • a reduction, from $30,000 to $25,000, in the amount of liquidated damages Wallace would have to pay D-207 if he bailed on the District mid-contract.

But perhaps the most significant benefits conferred on Wallace by the new contract are eligibility for two separate “merit pay” increases, one for up to $26,000 and the other for up to $25,000.  He picked up the $25,000 increase for the 2011-12 school year, which bumped his pay for that year up to $221,950 according to a TribLocal story from June 7, 2012 (“D207 superintendent gets pay raise, $25K job-performance bonus”).

Caesar’s sports book in Vegas isn’t even posting a betting line for Wallace getting at least one $25,000 bonus: it’s virtually a sure thing with this current Board, which means that his new salary effectively will be $235,000 during the coming school year, and could soar to $260,000 if that second bonus kicks in.

School superintendents, like presidents and governors, are often unfairly blamed for their predecessors’ mistakes, and unjustifiably credited for their predecessors’ accomplishments due to the delayed effects of governmental decision-making.  But presidents and governors only get re-upped for only four years at a time, if at all; and the voters are the ones who get to do the re-upping.

How likely is it that the voters would give Wallace a five-year deal, even without all the compensation and vacation/sick day increases?

Can you say “NFW”?

Is D-207 a 1.5% better school district than it was last year?  Will it be 1.5% better in each of the next 5 years?  Was student performance 1.5% better last year than the year before, and will it be 1.5% better this year versus last?  Is the property tax bite D-207 takes out of the taxpayer 1.5% less than last year, and will it be 1.5% less in each of the next 5 years?  Do these kinds of things even matter to the D-207 Board?

Can you say “NFW” again?

To read or post comments, click on title.

Defibrillator Purchase Gets Curiouser And Curiouser


What a difference a few months make.

Back in January, February and March, Fire Chief Mike Zywanski was trying to stampede the City Council into buying Zoll replacement defibrillators on a no-bid basis because the current ones were past their useful life and implicitly jeopardized the safety of Park Ridge residents.  He kept that shtick up until a few pointed questions from Mayor Dave Schmidt and Finance Committee chair Ald. Dan Knight (5th) forced him to admit that public safety would not be threatened by delaying that purchase.

At Monday night’s public works Council COW meeting, bowever, Chief Z sounded like a man who had found religion – even if the epiphany was produced by a whack on the head with a Bible or the City Code – when he proclaimed that not only did his evaluation Committee test two brands of defibrillator besides his beloved Zoll, but that the Committee is now looking at “reconditioned units,” “military surplus” units, and purchasing cooperatives.

Wow!  Next thing you’ll know, Chief Z will be featured on the new Joe Francis exploitation video: “Fire Chiefs Gone Wild!”?

Chief Z even brought Battalion Chief Tim Norton along with him, who confirmed (in response to a question from Knight) that the current defibrillators are still in good working order.

That’s good to know, because according to Chief Z there’s still a lot to do before he brings a formal purchase recommendation to the Council – even though the Committee (according to its August 28 meeting minutes) already has unanimously recommended the Zoll.  Chief Z talked about the need to solicit information and opinions about the competing defibrillators from users besides the four Committee members, and to get pricing information.

So in true cart-before-the-horse fashion, Chief Z’s evaluation Committee has unanimously recommend the Zoll device: (a) without getting any written evaluations from the PRFD personnel who performed most of the 220 field tests of the competing units (at least 70 for each model); (b) without contacting other fire departments to get their input and experience with the three devices; and (c) without getting any pricing.

As the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland absurdly demanded: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”

Amazingly enough, from simply listening to Chief Z describe this process Monday night, you might have thought he really had no idea how lame and inept it actually sounded.  And without the Council meeting videos providing close-ups, it’s impossible to pick up any facial “tells,” gestures or body language that might reveal whether he was buying his own story.

Chief Z also mentioned the need for him to get together with the City Attorney to find out whether this purchase needs to go out for bid/RFP.  When that occurs, however, you can bet the ranch that the main topic of conversation will be ways to avoid competitive bidding or an RFP process.  Such avoidance likely will involve Chief Z arguing that only the Zoll is small enough to fit in the current ambulances without any significant retro-fitting – an argument he previewed Monday night when he announced that the “size of the units will be a big factor” and we already know just by looking at the specs that the Zoll is notably smaller than either the LifePak or the HeartStart.

How convenient that no set of criteria was established BEFORE the field-testing was conducted.  Without such pre-established criteria, Chief Z and his Committee members have a clean slate on which to write any bidding/RFP criteria needed to favor the Zoll defibrillator, especially if the City Attorney gives any weight to Chief Z’s insistence that size really does matter.

But look on the bright side.

It’s always possible that the Zoll is the better unit of the three field tested.  And it’s always possible that the junior-high quality field-testing protocol Chief Z came up with is simply the best he can do, and not evidence of a kinked-up deal.  And it’s always possible that the Committee’s evaluation process is straight-up objective rather than subjectively steered.

Then again, almost everything is “possible.”

To read or post comments, click on title.

Chief Z’s Still A Zoll Man


One agenda item for tonight’s Park Ridge City Council meeting is the Fire Department’s defibrillator replacement plan.   That’s the one we criticized in our post “Is It Fraud, Or Is It Negligence (03.04.13).

Just looking at Fire Chief Mike Zywanski’s Agenda Cover Memorandum, however, suggests that this replacement project is still a Chief Z goat rodeo, only with a few more goats.

Back in March the Council correctly nuked his first attempt to ignore the City’s competitive bidding process – behavior recently trending upward at City Hall – and give away a $150,000 replacement defibrillator contract to the current defibrillator vendor (Zoll Medical Corporation) under the guise of needing “emergency” replacement of the current units.  After Chief Z was forced to admit under Council questioning that the “emergency” was bogus, the Council (by a 6-0 vote – Ald. Maloney absent) ordered him to perform some actual due diligence before coming back to the Council with a recommendation on this purchase.

But even a cursory look at Chief Z’s “due diligence” reveals what appears to be, at best, a grudgingly superficial attempt at placating the Council.  And if you’re looking for an actual recommendation or any evaluation data in that memo or its attachments, you won’t find it – because it’s being saved for the November Public Safety Committee of the Whole meeting.

Public Safety chair Ald. Nick Milissis better plan on packing a gyros (with extra tzatziki) for that meeting.

It looks to us like Chief Z is employing one of many tactics used by government types to bamboozle the public and/or the public’s decision-makers (in this case, our aldermen) into making uninformed/under-informed decisions: withholding detailed information until the last possible moment so that the decision-makers don’t have enough time to study it and ask the tough questions bureaucrats hate to answer.

Like questions about the protocol for the “field tests” of the three competing brands of defibrillators that ostensibly were conducted by certain members of the Fire Dept. in response to the Council’s demand.

Seeing as how Chief Z seemingly has been trying to steer this contract to Zoll from Day One, we frankly expected the Fire Dept.’s “Cardiac Monitor Committee” (the “Committee”) to conduct the field testing without any identification or ranking of product criteria and features against which to benchmark each product’s performance in the field tests.  That’s because such benchmarking makes it a lot tougher to cook the test results and the recommendation.

But according to the Minutes of the Committee’s March 13 meeting, Batallion Chief Tim Norton DID prepare “a handout that detailed the criteria that would be evaluated on the cardiac monitors” – which supposedly was attached to the Minutes.  But guess what?  No such “handout” is included with Chief Z’s memo to the Council, so we can’t even comment on how good or lame the handout was; or whether the “criteria” were ranked in order of importance.

And while the memo indicates that the “field tests” of the three competing brands of defibrillators were completed by July 31st…SURPRISE!…none of that data or the specific results of those field tests are included with Chief Z’s memo.  Instead, he includes a separate blank “Monitor/Defibrillator Evaluation Form” for each of the three devices tested – perhaps to add some physical thickness and heft to what might otherwise look to be a lightweight effort at rubber-stamping a foreordained decision.

“Foreordained”?  You bet!

Despite the fact that Chief Z’s memo doesn’t contain the pre-test criteria handout, or any data compilations, or any actual filled-out evaluation forms, the Minutes of the Committee’s August 28 meeting identify the best-performing unit as…wait for it…drum roll please…THE ZOLL!  The one Chief Z tried to stampede the Council into purchasing on a fake “emergency” basis back in February-March.

And that Zoll recommendation comes notwithstanding the Committee’s bemoaning “so little feedback” from the Department personnel who allegedly answered a total of 220 advanced life support calls (at least 70 with each brand of monitor) during the field test periods, but apparently didn’t care enough to provide their evaluations of the respective machines for the vast majority of those calls.

So…the Committee reached its recommendation of the Zoll more than 6 weeks ago, but Chief Z is neither making a formal recommendation nor providing the Council with all the documentation allegedly supporting the Committee’s recommendation so that the aldermen can study and analyze that data between now and the November Public Safety meeting.

Sadly, we can’t say this kind of shell game surprises us.

We lost a ton of confidence in Chief Z when he proposed a ridiculous set of “Ground Rules” for the firefighters union contract negotiations, then sat stonily silent during a Council meeting while Mayor Dave Schmidt repeatedly asked who locked the City into such rules.  Since that display of cowardly dishonesty, his fingerprints have covered the rejected faux-emergency no-bid defibrillator purchase and then on the rejected giveaway of the $3,000+ used SUV to MTEMP.

But his latest defibrillator memo and its attachments (or lack thereof) suggest that either he is intentionally screwing with the Mayor and the Council over the due diligence they demanded he perform, or he lacks the basic competence to do it properly.  Either way, don’t the taxpayers of Park Ridge deserve better from their fire chief?

Similarly, is City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton asleep at the wheel in letting Chief Z get away with this kind of nonsense?  As the City’s CEO, he should be riding herd on his department heads and making sure the Council’s time and effort isn’t wasted on half-baked memos that invite deferrals of Council action.  Unless, of course, this is the way Hamilton likes to do business, too.

All in all, this defibrillator deal sounded kinked back in March; and it sounds no less kinked six months later.

The question is whether the Council will let Chief Z get away with it.

To read or post comments, click on title.

School District 64’s A Happening Place


A number of things have happened over at Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 since we last wrote about it on July 22.

There has been a brief dust-up over whether lunchroom and after-school monitors (a/k/a glorified babysitters) would have their pay cut from $12/hour to $10/hour.  We question why those “jobs” shouldn’t be performed by Park Ridge’s many “volunteers,” given that from what we can tell most of the folks doing the monitoring are stay-at-home parents and retirees who appear to have a few spare hours to donate to the community.  But that’s a topic for another time, assuming this brief mention doesn’t provoke a spate of indignation by those monitors who feel the need to defend their compensation.

There was a school board and staff “retreat,” which we hear may have been the most productive such exercise in decades.  As best as we can tell, that’s one of the first accomplishments under new Board president Tony Borrelli, and we hope to address that – and other initiatives Borrelli reportedly is pushing – in greater detail in a future post.

We probably won’t be addressing a future post to the announcement that Supt. Philip Bender won’t be back next school year.   That’s because we can probably say all we need to say about Bender’s short tenure by noting that expenses continued to increase but measurable student performance did not.  In other words, D-64 taxpayers have continued to pay – handsomely – for non-performance at a Bender-led D-64.

But what does get our attention and deserve some discussion today are the recent reports of D-64’s $3 million deficit, which now is being projected at a much lower $1.7 million.  Believe it or not, that’s good news for a couple of reasons – and, no, we’re not going soft on deficits.

As D-64 is telling it, that entire $1.7 million deficit represents capital expenditures; i.e., money used to purchase long-term capital assets like a new heating plant and air conditioning for Carpenter School, more efficient boilers at Lincoln Middle School and Franklin School, and air conditioning at Franklin and Field Schools – systems that should serve the District’s students for a decade or two, at least.  D-64 Business Mgr. Becky Allard is claiming that, excluding the capital projects and debt service payments, the District’s operating fund would actually be showing a $3.1 million surplus.

We’re going to have to look at that claim a bit more closely before we endorse it, but for now we’ll take it at face value – while pointing out that one explanation for such a surplus is the ever-increasing number of property tax dollars the District keeps gobbling up.  What we really hope to see – and what we hope Board president Borrelli demands – is a full-blown public debate over whether these long-term capital improvements should be funded out of operating cash, as D-64 has been trying to do recently, or be the subject of long-term debt; i.e., bonds.

Such a debate would be a big improvement over the quasi-secret discussions that were often held, primarily in closed session, by previous school boards, followed by quick and unexplained votes as soon as those boards emerged from closed session.  That’s how the District issued the $5 million of non-referendum “working cash bonds” back in 2005 to fend off the likely takeover of its finances by the Illinois State Board of Education after several years of “early warning” and “watch list” citations by the ISBE.

Back then D-64 was using financial gimmicks and obfuscation to conceal the true economic consequences of the $20 million-plus of bonded debt for the questionable 1997 “Yes/Yes” new-Emerson referendum – the focal point of which was demolishing and replacing the District’s then-newest school – so that the D-64 board could continue to raise teacher and administrator salaries beyond what the taxpayers likely would have tolerated had all the economic facts been disclosed in full and understandable fashion.

We’ll reiterate something most regular readers of this blog already know: we’re no fans of public debt, in large part because it is usually undertaken by feckless, pandering public officials – and feckless, incompetent bureaucrats – who figure out, early on, that spending OPM not only can be fun but that it also can make the special-interest recipients happy.  And happy special interests make good campaign contributors and less-critical residents.

But when used wisely for long-term capital assets and not allowed to simply enable more irresponsible discretionary spending, bonded public debt can serve a very fair and legitimate purpose: spreading the cost of valuable long-term community assets to the expected beneficiaries – including taxpayers who will become residents (and beneficiaries) in future years.

What appears to be a Borrelli-driven emphasis on strategic thinking and decision-making has already caused D-64 to make a commitment to managing its finances so as not to seek another operating expense referendum until at least 2021 – a four-year increase over the 2017 target set by the proponents of the 2007 tax increase needed to keep the State Board of Education away from D-64’s door.  With the District already able to raise taxes at the rate of inflation, however, we question the logic behind even a 2021 referendum.

Realistically, living up to that 2021 plan will take far more discipline and fiscal responsibility than D-64 has ever demonstrated – no matter how many of the $20-50 million of capital projects the District’s architect of record already has identified are undertaken, and how much debt service is added to future D-64 budgets.

And you can bet the ranch that the PREA and the District’s highly-paid administrators won’t look kindly on anything that threatens to interfere with, or limit, their future salary and benefit demands.  They may want nicer and better schools in which to work, but they aren’t about to sacrifice increases in their compensation for them.

Just like they haven’t been willing to forego pay raises in the face of stagnant student performance.

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It Really Is The Principle, Not The Money: Redux


We’ve previously published posts (on 08.12.13 and 09.18.13) about how government can be bad in principle, even if the financial consequences are relatively modest – echoing the Biblical teaching (Luke 19:17) that people who cannot handle little matters should not be trusted with bigger matters.

That’s why a story in this week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate’s on-line version caught our attention.  It’s about the Park Ridge Library, for which this blog’s owner/editor has been a trustee since his appointment in 2011 – over former mayor Howard Frimark’s vehement objections, and despite Frimark’s insistence that the City assess a $500,000 fine against that owner/editor for displaying a stylized version of the City flag on the blog’s banner.

Titled “Park Ridge Library Board vote saves Food for Fines – this year,” the H-A article provided little worthwhile information beyond the title, the vote totals on the Food for Fines (“FFF”) resolution (4 to continue, 4 to stop; tie goes to continuing), and the identities of who voted how (to continue: Benka, Ebling, Harrison & Schmidt; to stop: Foss-Eggeman, Hynous, Trizna & White).  Then again, the reporter wasn’t at the meeting to hear the discussion, so it’s no surprise that the core issues that fueled the discussion and informed the vote are basically ignored.

Issues such as how and why the Library ever started such a program that effectively has been stealing money from the Library (and, therefore, Park Ridge taxpayers) for years?  No real explanation of how and why has been given to the Board members, which suggests the program probably originated as one of those sounded-good-at-the-time ideas for spending OPM (“Other People’s Money”) on somebody’s favorite charity, which a past Library Board just mindlessly rubber-stamped.

Kind of like how, for many years, the City Council mindlessly rubber-stamped arbitrary donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to private “community group” corporations to spend however they chose, without any transparency or accountability to the taxpayers.

The H-A article also ignores how much the FFF program costs the Library and, therefore, the taxpayers.  No hard numbers were presented to the Board on that point, either.  But considering that the Library collects roughly $80,000 in fines annually, the one-month holiday-season Food for Fines program probably costs the Library/taxpayers around $7,000 in cancelled fines; and the 2-week program this past Spring cost around $3,500.

Those aren’t boxcar numbers, to be sure.  But it’s disingenuous, at best, to make charitable donations with public monies when Library staff and certain Board members whine and moan about how the City Council isn’t giving the Library enough money.

The H-A story also fails to give the reasons why four Library Board members insisted on keeping FFF going for at least another year, which included: (a) it’s been done for all these years; (b) the Maine Twp. food pantry (part of Maine Twp. government, like the MTEMP that wanted a free used SUV from the City) is counting on the FFF money; and (c) there’s too little time before the upcoming holiday season FFF to let Library patrons know that they can’t discharge each dollar of fines with one “food item.”

Had the H-A reporter attended the meeting, or even listened to the audio recording of it, perhaps she might have understood (and, therefore, reported) that the main objections to the FFF program were far less about the money going to a food pantry “that does not exclusively assist Park Ridge taxpayers” than they were about the Library not being legally authorized to “donate” funds that should be devoted to Library purposes; and that such donations are so far afield from legitimate Library purposes that they breach the public trust attaching to those public funds given away.

What may be the most interesting omission from the H-A story, however, is its failure to report that: (a) the Board members who voted to stop the FFF program proposed that the Library nevertheless collect food and monetary contributions for the Maine Twp. food pantry (albeit without credit against fines owed) during the scheduled FFF period; and (b) that those Board members who wanted to continue throwing taxpayer money into the food pantry basket did not support the alternative proposal.

We understand how spending OPM can be fun.  But as we consistently have argued, local public officials and employees breach their public trust when they give away the taxpayers’ money for reasons unrelated to the essential purpose of the governmental unit they manage or serve.

And in so doing, they demean the voluntarism, generosity and public spiritedness of the very taxpayers whose money they are giving away.

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