Public Watchdog.org

The Time Is Now To Step Up For Change At School Dist. 64

06.22.14

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you know that we write a majority of our posts about City of Park Ridge government.

One reason for that is that City government is the most transparent of the four principle local governments; i.e., City, Park District, D-64 and D-207. Another reason is that the issues are generally easier to understand, and because the current mayor and many of the current aldermen seem to try to simplify them more than do their counterparts running the other governmental bodies.

But the City represents only about 10% of our property tax dollars, while the two school districts combine to take almost a 70% bite and the Park District grabs around 5%.

So today we’re going to take a look at D-64 – specifically the topic of a June 17 article in the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate titled “District 64 school board approves 112 salary hikes, kills bonus program” – which reports that 112 D-64 staff members will get raises ranging from 2% to 3.75%, costing D-64 taxpayers approximately $157,000.

Why?

What have those administrators done that has measurably improved the quality of education at D-64?  What have they done to deliver even the same quality of education more cost-effectively?

Don’t expect to have those questions answered if you watch the video of the June 9, 2014 D-64 Board meeting.

If you jump to the 15:09 mark and watch to 42:15 , you will see the Board vote on 6 salary increases and one bonus payment, 5 of which were passed with barely a whisper of discussion by the Board members. And although Business Mgr. Rebecca Allard claimed the raises were tied to both performance and the Consumer Price Index (“CPI”), as best as we can tell only the $40,636 in raises for “Building and District Administrators” and the $18,500 of “Merit Awards” were anything even arguably merit-based.

All $18,500 of “Merit Awards” – including the $2,000 award departing Supt. Phil Bender tried to toss Allard’s way for alleged “exemplary performance and leadership” – were cancelled by a 4 (Board president Tony Borrelli, Dathan Paterno, Terry Cameron & Vickie Lee) to 2 (John Heyde & Scott Zimmerman, predictably) vote of the Board. But at least each of the proposed recipients of those awards, and the amount of his/her proposed award, was specifically identified in a June 9 memo of Supt. Phil Bender.

Neither the recipients nor the individual amounts of the $40,636 of raises passed by a 5-1 vote (Borrelli the only dissenter), however, were identified. And when Allard was asked about them, the H-A article reports that she effectively told the questioner to pound sand, stating that the information should be obtained through a FOIA request.

That’s what far too often passes for “transparency” at D-64.

You may recall from our 02.19.14 post that Allard herself is the recipient of a major sweetheart deal: she’s going to get $212,063 for the upcoming school year, allegedly her last before retiring with a guaranteed pension of what we understand will be upwards of $125,000 a year. For those of us who haven’t made a career of feeding at the public trough, that’s about $3 million worth of 401(k), assuming it’s well-managed.

Why does all this matter? Because D-64 taxpayers are paying premium prices, starting with the price of its personnel, for what is nowhere near a premium education.

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find the information on the D-64 website (we tried for 20 minutes and struck out), a list of D-64 full-time personnel and their compensation published on the Better Government Association website reveals that 79 teachers are paid over $100,000 a year (orange highlight), another 64 are paid over $90,000 a year (yellow highlight), and another 61 are paid over $80,000. And that’s for only 8-9 months of work, meaning it annualizes out to over $130,000, $120,000 and 100,000, respectively.

That’s more than Park Ridge’s median household income of approximately $90,000.

That’s with no risk of their employer relocating to another state or country, virtually no risk of their services being outsourced to private providers, and basically no chance of being fired.  Those great salaries also come with guaranteed defined benefit pensions that generally start at around 75% of the final years’ salaries, and increase annually by a cost of living allowance.

For those teachers who become administrators it gets even better, especially on the pension end.

According to the BGA website, our former D-64 superintendents are doing just fine, thank you: last year Elaine Rieger, who retired in 2000, drew $83,612, while Fred Schroeder, who retired in 2003, drew $170,974; and Sally Pryor, who retired in 2010, drew $183,377.  Meanwhile, former Emerson principal Vicki Mogil, who retired in 2011, drew $133,750; and former Lincoln principal Jim Blouch, who retired in 2009, drew $135,552.

And we believe all of them retired before reaching age 60.

Meanwhile, our elected representatives on the current D-64 Board – like their predecessors for the past 20+ years, at least – keep doling out the cash with no rhyme or reason, just because they can. Without any major qualms, without much in the way of serious debate, without any evidence that our kids got a better education this year than last, and without any demands that our kids will get a better education next year than they did this year.

If you don’t believe that’s acceptable or sustainable for a community such as ours, you can do something about it. But you have to act fast.

Board member Terry Cameron is moving out of the area and must vacate his seat, so the Board will be interviewing for his replacement in the next few weeks.  However, the deadline for applying for that appointment is 4:00 p.m. TOMORROW, MONDAY, JUNE 23!

You can get all the information you need on the D-64 website’s Board member vacancy pageBut you had better act fast, because you can be sure that the Park Ridge Education Association will do its best to fill Cameron’s seat with someone who can be depended on to rubber-stamp higher pay and even less accountability for teachers and administrators – while claiming it’s all “for the kids.”

And because D-64 practices faux-transparency rather than the real thing, the Board claims it will be conducting the candidate interviews during an open Board meeting – but then will adjourn to the ostensible secrecy of CLOSED session to deliberate over its members’ choice of who gets the vacant seat.

Because a majority of the current Board members have no desire to share their decision-making process with the taxpayers who got to elect Cameron but aren’t getting a vote on his successor.

To read or post comments, click on title.

20 comments so far

My three children went through D-64 schools and I thought the education was good, although not great. But the idea that a grammar school teacher can make $100,000 for 9 months of teaching grammar school is incomprehensible to me.

The video of the meeting just makes me scratch my head.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We wonder what most of those School Board members were scratching when they should have been discussing the policy behind raises for employees who don’t seem to be improving the product or reducing its cost.

Has District 64 ever made any public pronouncement on those ISAT rankings and the place of its schools in them? I don’t recall ever seeing any official response to those rankings in the Tribune and Sun-Times.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We do not recall seeing any report, newspaper article or meeting minutes that responded to those rankings. But, then again, a response would be inconsistent with the “We’re fine, just ask us” approach that D-64 has traditionally taken in response to objectively measurable performance vis-a-vis other comparable districts.

It seems like there is absolutely no accountability by either the D-64 administration or the Board to the students, the parents or the taxpayers. The only outcomes we can count on are that teachers and administrators will make more money each year, and that our taxes will go up each year.

Now I know why the school fees for 6-8 grades will remain at over $300 per year despite the fact that we are being forced to buy a Chromebook at a cost of $300 plus $30-$40 for insurance and another $15 or so for the software to run D64 programs. That means a cost of over $650 to send a child to a public school and that is before we go to the store to buy Kleenex and chlorox wipes that the district also cannot seem to afford to buy.

I realize I am running the risk of you calling me a freeloader but this level of fees is outrageous. I appreciate that parents should pay for extra items not related to the actual education of our children but nearly $700 is nuts.

I contacted the district and got some bs response from the communications/pr admin employee. She forwarded a FAQ that showed that 56% of the fees go for instructional materials. Since the district is making us buy a computer for our student why do they need $175+ for instructional materials? No textbooks only $15-$25 license fees for access to the online book.

(It is also interesting to note that the district sent 3 mass emails in the one week since school has been out reminding us to register and pay the 2014-2015 fees online. Apparently they want all the 6-8 grade parents/taxpayers to pay the fees before they realize they are also going to have to shell out another approximately $350 for a second rate computer.)

I know that the board voted by to institute the 1:1 technology initiative-but it only past by 1 vote. I emailed the school board about the total fees for 6-8 graders-grades k-5 are getting district provided computers at a cost of more than $300,000 to the district-and only one board member had the decency to email be back. Dr. Paterno indicated that this outrageous cost was one of the reasons he voted NO to the 1:1 technology initiative. Not one of the 4 members could bother to respond and explain themselves.

I did watch the meeting from 4/28 online and the cons to this 1:1 initiative were quite strong. But the 4 board members who voted YES did not care and clearly don’t care about the taxpayers and parents who have to pay for this initiative which has a total cost of nearly $750,000 plus another admin employee.

I found the salary data on the district’s website. I may be out of date by a year but 17! administrators make $100,000 a year or more in salary and benefits while 144 teachers fall into this category. And the district just hired a new Supt. at nearly $240,000 all in I believe despite the fact she has not held this position in the past. That much for an untested person?

Now we know why the district needs to collect nearly $65,000,000 in tax levies and another $1,000,000 in school fees. They need to overpay administrators and teachers that do not produce the quality of education that this level of compensation should produce.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anybody who can’t stop whining about having to pay “over $650 to send a child to a public school” for an education that costs the taxpayers over $13,000, and then wants Kleenex and Clorox wipes, is well past “freeloader” status: they probably should have their picture on the wall of the post office.

But we digress.

If you watched the video from the 04.28.14 meeting you saw that the four “yes” voters were Board mastermind John Heyde, his apprentice Scott Zimmerman, Zimmerman’s apprentice (and soon-departing) Terry Cameron, and the clueless-more-often-than-not Vickie Lee, while Board president Tony Borrelli and members Dathan Paterno and Dan Collins voted “no.”

But not that Cameron is leaving mid-term, 4 seats – A MAJORITY – will be up for grabs this coming April 2015: Heyde’s, Collins’, Borrelli’s and Cameron’s. And it will be THAT majority who decides on the next teacher contract. So with PREA-tools Zimmerman and Lee locked into their seats for two more years, expect the PREA to do whatever it takes to make sure at least 2 of the 4 vacancies are filled with PREA sycophants.

Well thank goodness the deadline has passed. The line of people on prospect “throwing their hat in the ring” was causing a traffic nightmare!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We hear that at least 10 hats made it into the ring.

4:56:

Nice of Paterno to e-mail you back. You do realize he voted yes on the Chromebooks in the past as well as bonuses based on zero measureable criteria, right? Did he have any comments on those outrageous costs???

My wife and I are in our 50s, we both work, and our combined private sector incomes are slightly better than what we might have made had we both been teachers in D-64. But during the past 25 years we have been out of work for almost two years (combined) and we get 3-4 weeks of vacation instead of 12-16.

We also feel like we’ve done better than most in putting together over $1 million in 401(k) accounts, but that will not get us anywhere near the annual retirement incomes of teachers of our age and relatively same income levels, even if we wait until 65 to retire.

So this kind of pay scale doesn’t make much sense to me, especially if we are not getting top-notch schools for the money.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s one of the sweetest gigs going, at least so long as you’ve got a majority of parents and school board members who are happy with spending bushels of OPM for relatively average performance.

And we keep on hearing (and already have seen) that many of those parents (and school board members?) are planning on moving out of the District to some lower-tax, lower services locale once they suck all the “free” education for their kids out of the current taxpayers.

5:30 am-thanks for the tone. Yes I am aware of Dr. Paterno’s work on the board and don’t always agree with him. I was merely commenting that he was the only one to email me back on this particular issue which is costing the district and the taxpayers and the parents a heck of a lot of money. A heck of a lot of money for s second rate computer that may not provide a better educational experience and for which out very old school buildings may not be able to handle the technology related demands of.

This level of mandatory cost to send a child to 6th, 7th or 8th grade frankly defies reason. But again given the way the board compensates the teachers and administrators it provides a maddening explanation as to why they think it is ok to charge more than $650 to attend a public school.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Listen up, freeloader: it IS “ok to charge more than $650” for a $13,000 education. And that’s even if you’re on the higher end of Park Ridge property values and are paying $4,000-5,000 in taxes to D-64 for your one kid to attend. Although we’re betting you’re a double or triple header, because it seems like the freeloaders who complain the most and the loudest are the ones sucking the most benefits out of the system.

Reading the comment by Anon yesterday at 4:56 p.m., my first reaction was: “C’mon, really? You’re complaining about less than a thousand dollars in fees while the rest of us pay $5k to $10k per year to subsidize your childrens’ educations?” (You’re welcome.) My second reaction was that this parent needs to go back to school; the rate of idiotic misspellings was appalling.

By the time I got to the end, however, I realized that this one parent had done more investigation than at least 90% of his or her fellow taxpayers. Learning that 17 administrators and 144 teachers all make more than $100k per year — sorry, per nine months — was equally appalling.

Are those salaries too high? I believe salaries are a matter of negotiation between employer and employee. The problem here is that the employers — the school board — don’t negotiate, they capitulate.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And by “capitulate,” we trust you mean the ankle-grabbing kind.

6:48:

Sorry if you do not like my tone but I could not let your comment on Dr. P simply pass by. Some people seem to feel it was OK to look past some of his “nutbag” comments (or perhaps they agree) because he was going to be a fiscal conservative. He was going to be another Borelli so they said.

Well if that is how you want to measure he has been abysmal. For you to give him Kudos in a post in light his overall performance is a joke.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t give a tinker’s damn about Paterno’s view of national issues like gun control or abortion – unless he proposes concealed carry for 6th graders or hanging posters of aborted babies in the school hallways.

But while he hasn’t yet produced the kind of fiscal conservatism, transparency and accountability we expected when we endorsed his candidacy in April 2013, he’s still been head (if not shoulders) above everybody else on that Board except Borrelli. And THAT’s the saddest “joke” that D-64 keeps playing on the taxpayers AND the students.

” I was merely commenting that he was the only one to email me back on this particular issue which is costing the district and the taxpayers and the parents a heck of a lot of money. A heck of a lot of money for s second rate computer that may not provide a better educational experience and for which out very old school buildings may not be able to handle the technology related demands of”.

As a follow up, why don’t you ask Dr. P his thoughts on this matter. If I am not mistaken, he rubber stamped a test of the Chromebook that had virtually no parameters or definition of success. This test was for 675 Chromebooks, even though Borrelli (who he was compared too) wanted 157. If you need to refresh your memory, PD had a very nice post about this dated 07.10.13…https://publicwatchdog.org/?s=chromebook&submit=Go.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You are not mistaken, anon, which is why we boxed his ears, figuratively, in response to his commment to our 07.10.13 post about the Chromebook decision – which we suggested seemed to be the product of “intellectual laziness and a lemming-like mentality.”

But despite his weaknesses, we reiterate that he still seems a whole lot sharper and more demanding than Heyde, Zimmerman, Collins, Cameron and Lee – although we admit they set a bar that’s pretty tough to limbo under.

PD:

You always give the same pathetic defense of Paterno…..better that everybody else. That reminds me of the old one about the best hockey player in Ecuador. It is also like our schools defending their performance by comparing themselves to districts that are worse that they are.

You do not judge his performance against a bunch of people that you clearly think suck. You judge him against what your expectations were based on what he said he would do and the campaign he ran. By that measure he is abysmal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not a “defense” but an observation, which excludes Borrelli because Paterno is definitely not better than him. Has Paterno performed in the way that we had hoped, and in the way he indicated he would when he was campaigning for that office back in 2013? No.

But for someone who deems Paterno’s performance “abysmal,” you’re amazingly silent about the other 5 dwarfs. Which suggests that thou doth protest too much…for reasons other than Paterno’s under-realized fiscal conservatism.

No, let me explain what it “suggests”. It suggests that a poster offered Kudos to Paterno when it actually was Paterno who has played a major roll in the very thing(s) they were complaining about. It suggests that I found that to be amazing and thought it worth pointing out.

If you do not like the word abysmal from now on I will simply say what you said. Paterno has not….”performed in the way he indicated he would when he was campaigning for that office back in 2013″.

To me, an elected official who does not perform or do what he said he was going to do when he campaigned is, in fact, abysmal, but I guess I am splitting hairs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, you’re just playing anti-Paterno games under the guise of “policy” concerns – presumably so that you can avoid having to address how D-64’s high-priced, mediocre performance is far more the fault of Heyde (7 years on the Board), Zimmerman (almost 4 years on the Board) and Collins (3 years on the Board) than it is of Paterno, who just completed his first year on the Board.

So either you’re hung up on Paterno’s “social” agenda, or you’re a fan of the irresponsible tax-and-spending of Heyde, Zimmerman and Collins but want to misdirect around it by hammering Paterno for not being the fiscal conservative he claimed to be during his campaign. But either way, it’s clear that you’re not legit.

Anti-Paterno??? By your own description this is a man who said one thing and did another. Why would I be anti-Paterno??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Plenty of reasons, starting with the fact that even his profligacy has limits well below those of the Five Dwarfs. Nor is he likely to be the kind of pushover for the PREA that they will be, come contract time. Or that you don’t like his social conservatism, even if it appears to be irrelevant to his role as a D-64 Board member.

At the very least, having a transparent open interview is a step in the right direction. Now it is up to residents to watch it and give feedback to Borrelli and the voting board before they go into closed session and vote!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, it’s better than it was back in September 2010 when Heyde, with the help of then-new Supt. Phil Bender, orchestrated the selection of departing Board member Russ Gentile. But will the applications and resumes of all the candidates be published on the D-64 website for public review at least several days before the interviews?

And as we pointed out in our 09.16.10 post, when candidates are being considered for a seat on the Board without even having to run for the position, the entire process should be fully open to public scrutiny – including the Board’s deliberations on its choice of candidate. So what is it about those deliberations that the Board feels the need to hide from the public by ducking into closed session?

“Nor is he likely to be the kind of pushover for the PREA that they will be, come contract time”.

This from a guy who endorsed him and (I am sure) did not think he would likely be a pushover for the hand out bonuses or the Chromebook test…..yet he turnout to be just that.

By the way, tell me why it is that when you call someone on their crap it is some how a noble crusade yet when someone else does it is because of some “shady” motive you ascribe? I have no more interest in a pushover for the PREA than you do.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we’ve said before, we call ’em as we see ’em – after having closely watched what goes on with the four main branches of Park Ridge government for the past 25 years; and also informed by observing Illinois and national government/politics for more than 25 years prior to that.

But we have been wrong from time to time, such as in certain respects about the “Independent” aldermanic candidates in 2003. So far, Paterno has been a bit of a disappointment, yet he’s still a darn sight better than the Five Dwarfs. Sometimes incremental improvement is the best available.

Our “motives” are policy-centric and their consistency can be judged from the hundreds of posts and Editor’s Notes on this blog. Yours are “ad hominem,” as is obvious from your singling out Paterno while tacitly exculpating his inferiors.

I know how much a $13,000 education cost, but how much is it worth?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Somewhere between 0 and $13,000. But let us know when you can measure its worth as accurately as we can its cost.

7:50

The price of everything and the value of nothing? Then answer Watchdog’s question and put a dollar value on a D-64 education.

As a taxpayer who sent his kids to Catholic schools which SAVED the taxpayers money because I paid and didn’t use, I have no problem with paying for public education so long as the kids get a hundred cents on the dollar worth of education, and the taxpayers get the same.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Interesting point: if you send your kid to SPC, the tuition is $4,125/child/year – or less that 1/3 what D-64 spends. And if you have 3 or more children in the school, your total bill is $10,000 v. $39,000 for D-64.

Let the inferences begin.

@ 5:38 – I was asking, how much is 1 year of grammar school worth?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s a foolish question because there is no objectively measurable answer to it.

One D-64 graduate we know of (Emerson Class of 2001) became the valedictorian at St. Ignatius, graduated from Yale and Brown Med School, and is now a doctor in residence at Northwestern Memorial. Another from that same Emerson class is working as a grocery stockboy in another Chicago suburb. Think 1 year of grammar school was worth the same to each of them?

I liked your question, do others?

“So what is it about those deliberations that the Board feels the need to hide from the public by ducking into closed session?”

What is the school board’s answer to this?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Given D-64’s tradition of secrecy and arrogance, there may not even be one.

But if they offer one, we’re betting it’s along the lines of: “A closed session eliminates the possibility of embarrassing any applicant by talking candidly about his/her qualifications in a public forum, while at the same time fostering the greatest degree of candor by Board members in discussing those qualifications.”

Of course, were these same applicants for appointment running for the post, they would be subject to months of those same kinds of questions, and months of critical commentary, from their opponents, the press and the public. But those kinds of arguments tend to get lost on people who would rather hide from than face the public.



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