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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18 comments so far

Sayonara, Dr. Phil. Are you staying around Park Ridge so that you can find another Illinois administrator position to help you get an Illinois pension to add to your Indiana one?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, it worked for former Park Ridge City Mgr. Jim Hock, who came to Park Ridge after retiring from his city mgr. job in Michigan and, despite being sacked by Park Ridge, is about to be named city manager of Joliet. Another few years and he should have his Illinois pension vested. Then he can move to Wisconsin or Iowa.

Of course you’d think that child care — “glorified” ion the abstract by guys like you but despised in reality — should be done for free. In this country, we compensate what we value, right?
Shame on you, Pops. YOu don’t work for free; why should they?

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Despised” lunch room monitors? Really? Seriously?

But getting back to the topic at hand – job or hobby – we note that school districts in Elmhurst, Wheaton, Arlington Hts., Skokie, Wood Dale, Frankfort, Joliet and West Aurora are advertising lunch and recess supervisor positions that don’t require much in the way of qualifications (“good communications skills,” “punctuality,” “must be fluent in reading, writing and speaking English,” “must be dependable,” “demonstrates ability to follow directions,” etc.) or duties (“assist with monitoring student attendance,” “contact nurse for serious injuries or incidents to ensure student safety,” “assist children in need of assistance wtih lunch when necessary,” etc.).

And at one or two hours a day, one or two days a week, it sounds more like a hobby than a real job…and definitely not comparable to teaching or nursing, as some of the hobbyists were arguing in recent newspaper articles.

PW always makes mention of student performance on standardized tests, and I agree that is a very relevant factor relied on by many people when choosing a community to relocate. In the three years Bender was the superintendent, I cannot recall reading any good news about the District’s standardized test scores, other than that they didn’t go down. That is not a good sign.

Is D-64 (and, to a slightly lesser degree, D-207) upholding Park Ridge property values? Because for me, with no kids in the schools (ever), that seems to be the biggest factor after location for Park Ridge being a desirable oommunity and good investment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s always difficult to judge D-64 because the ratings we see (Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine) don’t rate districts, just individual schools. In those ratings, D-64 schools do not really shine, with the best D-64 school never (to our recollection) breaking into the Top 50).

As for D-207, in the 2013 U.S. News & World ratings, Maine South was 27th (for comparison, New Trier was 12th, Deerfield 5th and Hersey 10th); in the 2013 Sun-Times ratings, Maine South was 24th (New Trier was 4th, Deerfield 6th, Hersey 23rd); and in the SchoolDigger 2012 ratings, Maine South was 29th (New Trier was 7th, Deerfield 5th, Hersey 16th).

Thank you, Dr. Borrelli, for doing something that has not been done at D-64, questioning the way business has been done all theese years. My kids went to D-64 schools and got a good education, but not a great one even though I and the taxpayers of this town have been paying the price for a great one.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s always been the focus of our beef with D-64: Cadillac prices for a Buick education.

@9:31, Speak for yourself. I’d be curious as to what your definition of a “great” education is. My kids are nearing the end of their d64 education and I’d be willing to stack up what they’ve learned and gained to the “Cadillac” systems in the area.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course you would. That’s what virtually every D-64 Board member, teacher and administrator counts on: people like you saying that exact same thing – without any hard data to support it – to perpetuate the status quo of highly paid teachers, highly paid administrators and modest measurable student performance.

We would have more respect for the teachers and administrators if they came right out and said “ISATs and all those other standardized tests are nothing but crapola, and we’re going to educate our students the way we please – test scores be damned!” But instead they mealy-mouth unprovable nonsense like “we don’t teach to a test” and “we educate the whole child.”

And people like you keep buying it…hook, line and sinker.

11:09 am has reason to feel good because her/his property tax payments are likely to have been below what private educations would have cost. No wonder they’re happy. The rest of us have been subsidizing their children’s educations all along.

@12:46 I don’t get your point. Public schools should be abolished? Everyone should send their kids to private schools? Sigh. In any case, the disdain that you — and the editor of this blog for that matter — seem to have for just about every public/governmental institution in this town is getting tiresome. If this is such a wretched place to live then maybe you should consider moving.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Love it or leave it”? Seriously? That’s what the Nixonians were saying about the folks who opposed the Vietnam War. We didn’t leave then, and we aren’t leaving now.

Actually, when you consider how much the various local governments do, our criticisms touch on very few of those services. It’s just that they often go to policy matters that tend to permeate the entire running of government.

But if you find what we write “tiresome,” stick with Jennifer Johnson’s shallow happy talk.

Don’t the school districts around us pay almost twice as much as this dist does for lunchtime help? You want people watching your kids in school for nothing? Who works for free? They have responsibilities, just like any job. Like it makes a difference because they have a few hours in their day to spare? I could care less that a retiree wants to work 90 minutes a day to supplement their income. Work is work, get real. If that’s the case should we expect crossing guards to work for nothing also?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We subscribe to Mark Twain’s view of school boards, so we are rarely suprised by their stupidity or that of school administrators. But we can’t imagine neighboring school districts paying “almost twice as much” as D-64 pays for “lunchtime help.” And no matter how you cut it, spending 1 to 1-1/2 hours a day watching elementary school kids eat lunch or play on a playground isn’t “work” – which is why we think those folks should “volunteer” their time rather than expect to be paid for it.

adding on, what you need to do is look at the teachers that work the lunch program. Guess what? They are not making $10 an hour.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Teachers are salaried and, therefore, shouldn’t be paid at all for that additional service during regular school hours.

5th Ward:

I do not understand your comment. I can almost you sneer as you type….”No wonder they’re happy. The rest of us have been subsidizing their children’s educations all along”. But isn’t this the reality of in a community. We all “subsidize” things for other people that we do not have a use for or use less that others. Society has deemed these things important (roads, schools, police, fire, parks, libraries, etc). Unfortunately you do not get to pick and choose what you pay taxes for and all of us use these things to varying degrees. I bet there are things that you find useful that that my tax dollars pay for and I could care less about. Do I sneer at the folks who drive to the city every day on a road that I pay for but almost never use?? “Why not put up tolls….arghhhh!!!!” And to be clear, society has deemed public education a necessity, not a “nice to have”, on the same level as police, firemen, infrastructure.

Related to schools, I became a father fairly late so until I was 40 my taxes went to support schools that I had no use for. I also do not have 8 kids so I am not getting my bang for my buck in that regard. Beyond that I will be paying for someone else’s kids after mine graduate. The same is true for 11:09.

I guess I can understand people complaining about pay versus test scores although I think the tests are a questionable measurement of I am not sure what. I also find it interesting how most of the folks are hit by this education/cost epiphany after their kids have graduated. But you seem to be arguing against the whole idea of public education.

EDITOR’S NOTE: 5th Ward can speak for him/herself, but this blog has never questioned the desirability of good schools. We just question the desirability of “Buick” schools at “Cadillac” prices. As for getting “bang for [your] buck,” D-64 is spending around $13,000 per kid – so unless you’re paying $39,000 in annual property taxes even your first kid in a D-64 school is being “subsidized”; and every additional one of your kids in a D-64 school is entirely on the taxpayers’ dole.

This editor paid taxes to D-64 for 14 years while paying private/parochial school tuition, and his only complaint during that time was the same one regularly expressed on this blog: the performance doesn’t justify the price. And that was his same complaint in earlier years when he did have kids in D-64 schools, so we’re not talking any post-education “epiphany.”

I’d sure like to see parents volunteer for the lunch hours. Can’t they skip Yoga for 2 hours to pitch in to their childrens school?

Also, beyond special education children….why is their subsidized bus service for public schools in D64? Parents can drive a few blocks to drop their kids off.

It sounds like our D64 parents are happy with any salary, fee or service as long as the rest of the district will pay for it. I think it’s time for users of the system to chip in financially.

Every fee / service should be continually analyzed for every govt. entity. How is that objectionable to anyone?

EDITOR’S NOTE: D-64 parents aren’t much/any different from D-207 parents, who aren’t much/any different from the folks who want to spend millions on fighting O’Hare, who aren’t much/any different from the folks who want to spend millions on fighting flooding: they’ll take as much of what they want as OPM will pay for.

Hi everyone. Clearly my last comment struck a nerve with some people who have the nerve to imagine what other opinions I may hold, so let me clarify those for you.

(1) I support public education (literally and figuratively).

(2) Public education, like any public expense, should be managed well, both for quality and value.

(3) I do NOT believe that throwing money at something makes it better, and that mentality seems pervasive among people who work in public education.

(4) We overspend on school administration.

(5) People who use public education should shoulder more of the burden, via user fees (all of you D-64 and D-207 parents know what I’m talking about).

To the person who suggested I move out of town: Really? That’s how you disagree with someone, by just wishing they would go away? Where is the attitude of diversity, inclusion and tolerance?

Believing in the role of government, as I do, does not mean I should also believe in every public spending proposal that occurs to some bureaucrat or elected official. Someone’s got to speak up about the waste and inefficiency. I am thrilled that the current board is taking responsibility.

“…….so unless you’re paying $39,000 in annual property taxes even your first kid in a D-64 school is being “subsidized”; and every additional one of your kids in a D-64 school is entirely on the taxpayers’ dole”.

Just like for all those years (until I was about 40) I “subsidized” all those other kids and in about 4 years I will be in the “subsidizing” rather that “subsidized” role again.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What are you smoking, Slick? If you’re home value is anywhere near the Park Ridge median of around $400,000, your annual tax bill probably pumps no more than $4,000 into D-64’s coffers annually, or less than 1/3 of the cost of educating ONE kid.

So 9 years of D-64 (K-8) nets you $117,000 of education for $36,000. At $4,000/year, you need to pay 20+ years of taxes just to eliminate that delta; and add just one more kid into that equation and you’ll be worm food before you come close to squaring the pot. much less subsidizing anybody.

@10:58, I wasn’t suggesting that a move out of Park Ridge might be in order just because we have differing opinions. Please. But when one hears you (and many other commenter here) complain, time and time again, how pretty much every entity in town is doing everything wrong, it made me wonder if there was anything positive you found about this place.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every governmental entity in town IS doing things wrong, including some big and expensive things – but not even close to “everything.” So that’s just an incorrect and stupid statement to make.

If you think the things criticized here are right and good for the community, defend them rather than just whine about them being criticized. The main reason we let commentators like yourself comment anonymously is to encourage legitimate debate that might be stifled if the more timid among us had to sign their names.

3:17, you have a bad habit of exaggerating my views, e.g., I argue for parents paying a fair share of their children’s education, and you say I must resent roads, fire and police protection, etc. Now you say my criticism of poor fiscal management means I think “everything” is wrong. Why don’t you address my specific points on the merits?

Since child care for an hour and a half requires little more than a temp of 98.6 in your eyes, you won’t have any problem taking a shift to see just how little work it is, right? When was the last time you spent five minutes in charge of multiple kids’ welfare? And as a working mom, I’m as envious as your spiteful reader of the fortunate Yoga-ettes, but those gals are the ones who keep everything going in the schools, charitable clubs and other non-paid amenities and services that make our town and others so sweet. To say they don’t volunteer enough is just, well, ignorant.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Are you saying that the lunch monitors undergo rigorous phyical training, pyschological screening, and instruction on the strategy and tactics of juvenile counter-insurgency? And are you saying that those lunch monitors are only doing it for the $10/hour?

This editor would love to take a shift, and he wouldn’t even accept the $10/hour. Unfortunately, he has a real job that requires 50-60+ hours a week, not just the hobby-lobby 1.5 hours per day, one or two days per week.

6:12pm – The “Yoga-ettes” aren’t fortunate…they are successful, their significant other is successful or most likely they sacrifice an income to raise children.

However, let me understand your logic: “Yoga-ettes” are ‘fortunate’ but really are the ones that do all the little things in town that make it great. Therefore, the taxpayers should pay extra because D64 parents are busy making Park Ridge swell. I don’t buy it, unfortunately, I am paying for that logic.

Every parent is challenged in different ways but still are responsible for their little ones. Maybe kids can bring their lunch and eat at their desks? Or if everyone would like to chip in and pay for these lunch specialists, then feel free. If you want amenities, you pay for it.

It’s great that taxpayers are beginning to see how bloated our school districts have become.

More please.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The ONLY “positive” result we have seen from the current recession is the increased attention and critical thinking being directed at: government and its expenditures, including infrastructure, public employee wages, benefits and pensions; public subsidization of public and private interests; and the sustainability of various public and private programs, including entitlements.

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