Transparency At School Dist. 64 Improves, Albeit Slowly (Updated)


Four years ago the Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, led by president John Heyde and his merry band of Pat Fioretto, Russ Gentile, Sharon Lawson, Ted Smart, Genie Taddeo and Eric Uhlig, played coy and secretive with D-64 taxpayers when hiring soon-departing superintendent Philip Bender out of the Hoosier State.

We wrote about that secretive process in our 04.07.10 post, “Arrogant And  Disrespectful, Or Simply Petty And Juvenile?” in which we embedded Heyde’s “invitation” to meet the then-unidentified “preferred candidate” – but only after he had become the “preferred candidate”; i.e., the proverbial “done deal.”

But last week D-64 released a message from current D-64 Board president Tony Borrelli about the search for Bender’s replacement, and the differences in content, attitude and style between his message and Heyde’s are noteworthy, even if not all that substantial.

Heyde spent one sentence describing the “Leadership Profile our community developed in December,” while Borrelli devoted a full paragraph to it – identifying the consultant (BWP & Associates) who compiled the community data for that Profile from “almost 1,000 voices” and pointing out that the Profile is accessible on the D-64 website, which it is.

While Heyde made the “preferred candidate” available to the community for a whopping one hour meet-and-greet that was announced a mere three days before it was to be held, Borrelli is bringing in the two finalists and announcing, weeks in advance, what sounds like more than one meet-the-finalists session.  Hopefully those dates and times will be posted sooner rather than later so that the largest number of residents can make themselves available for the events.

Has Borrelli and the current Board come up with the optimal process for hiring a new superintendent?


But the journey from D-64’s Star Chamber-like proceedings to full transparency takes time – along with a majority of transparency-minded Board members who are willing to tell secrecy-loving bureaucrats to shape up or ship out.  By our count, Borrelli needs at least two more kindred spirits to secure a majority on that Board, but that can’t occur any sooner than the next school board election in April 2015.

Under Borrelli’s leadership, however, the Board has taken another step in the right direction, although not without a few bedeviling mis-steps along the way – the biggest of which appears to be the “Leadership Profile” produced by the cockamamie survey BWP came up with, allegedly to provide itself and the Board with insight into the community’s views on educational matters and issues.

We’re not sure from where Borrelli got those “1,000 voices,” but this Leadership Profile appears to include only 777 “voices.”  And, because of the anonymity and the survey’s susceptibility to multiple takings by the same individuals, those 777 “voices” might well be only 111 people speaking 7 times each.

Throw in the goofiness of some of the survey choices (e.g., among the “important characteristics you would like a superintendent to exhibit” are “Sense of humor” and “Peacemaker”)  and you’ve got something we described as basically worthless when writing about it in our 10.31.13 post.  After viewing the results, we are not inclined to modify that description.

What should the taxpayers make, if anything, from the results of Question 3, where the most “voices” identified the District’s top three “strengths” as: “Excellent teachers and staff,” “Reputation of district” and “Available resources”?  Or from the identification of “Facilities,” “Financial management” and “Culture in district” (whatever THAT means) among the least of its “strengths”?

Are “Interpersonal skills” (whatever THOSE are, in this context) really more important for a superintendent than “Managerial skills” or “Organizational skills,” as the answers to Question 4 would indicate?  Or than “Financial skills” – especially when “Financial management” is one of the biggest weakenesses identified in Question 3?

As we predicted, the questions asked by that survey make the resulting Leadership Profile highly subjective, easily manipulable, and pretty much GIGO, which should have been obvious to the Board from the start.  That should be an embarrassment to Borrelli and the Board.  But at least it’s published for the taxpayers to see, and that’s yet another small step for transparency and accountability under Borrelli’s leadership that was missing on Heyde’s watch, and on the watch of Heyde’s predecessors.

Whether it means that D-64 will be able to hire a new superintendent who can produce better objectively-measurable results – yes, Veronica, we mean standardized test scores – than his/her predecessors, remains to be seen.  Considering the taxes D-64 residents are already paying, however, it’s well past time our schools started achieving scores on those tests that are competitive with those from comparable communities like Elmhurst, Glenview, Northbrook, Western Springs, etc.

Otherwise, the still-high “Reputation of district” will most certainly decline further – and, with it, our property values, as prospective non-resident home buyers look for a better ROI elsewhere.

UPDATE (12.28.13)  Just when we see things moving in the right direction re the hiring of a new superintendent under School Board president Tony Borrelli, D-64 announces that: (a) each of the two finalists will be available for a public meet-and-greet on separate days, rather than together; and (b) each of them will be available for a total of only one hour – but only in half-hour increments, from 10:30-11:00 a.m. at Emerson and from 5:30-6:00 p.m. at Lincoln.

Maybe there’s some rhyme or reason behind that kind of scheduling, but we can’t really see any.  If this occurred under the Heyde administration, we’d be firing up the barbecue.  And so, in the interest of fairness, we’re lighting up the cowboy charcoal in the Weber for the Borrelli administration on this one.

A half-hour session for a community meet-and-greet?  Seriously?

Not having both finalists at the same session, so that the public could catch them both on one visit rather than two?  Seriously?

The latest session ending at 6:00 p.m., when many people who work outside Park Ridge aren’t even back in town?  Seriously?

We’re not sure whether this qualifies as a sham, a charade, or simply flipping the ol’ bird to the taxpayers of this community who soon will be paying one of these two finalists a good chunk of change, and entrusting him/her with the education of their children.  But we sure expected better.

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3 comments so far

So, PW, your in the tank for Borrelli just like you are for Schmidt, just like you are for Biagi. Same old same old.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re “in the tank” for nobody.

We happen to like what Borrelli appears to be doing over at D-64, just as we happen to like what Schmidt and Biagi are doing at their respective governmental bodies. All three of them could use better supporting casts; but as best as we can tell, all three of them have the same basic sense of local government – transparency, accountability, taxpayer-centric – that we do. Hence, our general support of them.

Isn’t now the time that Dr. Paterno shows up to explain and tap dance??

If only more members of the board would interact with taxpayers! Some might call it tap dancing, but it’s better than remaining invisible. I challenge every one of them to explain their actions and decisions to their constituents. Thankfully, Borrelli and his allies are moving the board in that direction, albeit slowly.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Exactly, although we suggest that “allies” assumes a fact not yet in evidence.

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