Public Watchdog.org

Tis The Season For D-64 Tax Increases…And PREA-Friendly Board Candidates (Updated)

12.15.14

Tonight the Board of Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 will hold what is called a “public hearing” on the proposed 4.6% hike to the District’s tax levy.

That means the hearing is open to the “public” even if, in reality, the true “public” rarely shows up.

One reason for the no-shows is that these tax levy hearings are always held less than two weeks before Christmas. According to the minutes of last year’s levy hearing, only “three members of the public” attended, none of whom were identified. For all we know, they might have been Danish foreign exchanges students earning meeting observation credits.

The other reason for the low attendance might be that the 60-70% of District taxpayers who have no children in D-64 schools and, therefore, no DIRECT stake in its product, seem to have given up hope that D-64 can curb its tax-borrow-and-spend ways, or that it will begin delivering an objectively-measurable, top-shelf education that might provide some measurable INDIRECT benefit to those taxpayers in the form of higher property values.

Such a lack of hope is understandable, given last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate article about the 4.6 levy (“District 64 poised to raise tax levy by 4.6 percent,” Dec. 10), which described one of the D-64 Board’s “Consensus Goals” for the 2013-2015 school years as:

“[T]ry to get as much tax revenue as it can collect without increasing tax rates to the point that [a] voter referendum would be needed to approve them.”

In other words, shake down the taxpayers for as much as you can without letting them vote on how much their pockets are being picked.

Referendums are anathema to most school boards because they increase taxpayer scrutiny, even if only for a few months. And taxpayer scrutiny is the last thing D-64 wants, given how well the “combine” of PREA-dominated teachers, complicit school administrators and PREA-friendly/owned Board members have mastered the art of avoiding any accountability for the modest educational achievement D-64 has been returning on all the money it wrings out of Park Ridge taxpayers.

Ask why not even one D-64 school is consistently listed among the annual ISAT-based rankings of the Top 50 Chicagoland elementary or middle schools by the Chicago Tribune or the Sun-Times, even though we pay some of the highest teacher and administrator salaries, and you get…nothing.  <Crickets>

Not even any official acknowledgement of those rankings, and our schools’ absence therefrom, from either those highly-paid administrators or our alleged “representatives” on the School Board.

And for those of you who view Schooldigger as a credible rating service, its latest rankings place no D-64 school among its Top 100 Illinois Elementary Schools, and no D-64 school among its Top 100 Illinois Middle Schools.

Fortunately, the proposed 4.6% levy increase that will pass tonight is likely to end up around 1.7% once the Cook County Assessor’s office applies the tax caps: at the November 17 Board meeting Allard admitted as much, stating her expectation that the actual increase would be only around 1.7%.

We still have to wonder, however, why D-64 is approving a 4.6% levy increase, or even shooting for a 1.7% increase, when it’s already sitting on around $61 million in “fixed investments” and money market funds, according to the first page of Allard’s 12.15.14 “Executive Summary”. That’s over 77% of D-64’s 2014-15 Tentative Budget with no reason to think D-64 won’t collect the money it will be taxing during 2015 and beyond.

And we can’t help but suspect that there’s something fishy about yet another levy increase when such a large fund balance exists, especially when we consider that there are four (4) School Board seats – a majority, for the mathematically impaired among us – subject to contestation in this April’s election: John Heyde’s, Dan Collins’ and Tony Borrelli’s 4-year seats; and the final 2 years of Terry Cameron’s seat now held by appointee Bob Johnson.

Could a 77% fund balance be part of some strategy for Board incumbents to tout their stewardship during their re-election campaigns?

Ironically, today also is the first day of the 1-week period (ending next Monday, December 22) during which candidates for those Board seats can file their nominating petitions (we understand a minimum of 50 signatures are needed) and required statements of economic interest. Two years ago only six candidates vied for four openings, and only 32% of eligible voters turned out – electing 3 of the 4 most PREA-friendly candidates on the ballot (Zimmerman, Lee and Cameron).

PREA-friendliness is even more significant this time around because the Board that results from April’s election will be in charge of negotiating the next PREA contract in 2016.

If you go back and read our 09.27.12 post and our 10.13.12 post, you will get a sense of how having a PREA friendly/owned Board majority enabled the PREA to negotiate in secret with D-64’s bargaining reps, Heyde and then-Board member/one-term wonder (and union attorney) Pat Fioretto.  Not surprisingly, those closed door sessions led to a four-year sweetheart contract for the PREA that appear to have made/kept our teachers among the highest paid in Illinois, albeit without producing commensurately high-ranked ISAT scores from their students.

And getting an even sweeter deal this time around is why the PREA has targeted this April’s election, according to PREA President Andy Duerkop’s “President’s Message” of 10.27.14: “A number of PREA members have been working to recruit candidates from the community….”

Of the four sitting Board members whose seats are up in April, only Borrelli – whom we endorsed (along with Collins) in 2011 – has voted against a PREA contract. Unfortunately, since then, the vast majority of his votes suggest that he has “drunk the Kool-Aid” (or, if you prefer, “gone native”); and although we would love to be proved wrong on this, it appears that he cannot currently be counted on to champion the taxpayers’ interests over the monetary interests of the PREA.

Will any candidates with the kind of iron will and overarching public spiritedness needed to overcome D-64’s culture of underperformance, and to demand both measurably better education for students and better value for Park Ridge taxpayers, step up to challenge the D-64 pay-for-underperformance status quo?

You can be sure the PREA is hoping that answer is “no”…if only for just the next seven days.

UPDATE (12.17.14)  The levy was approved by a vote of 6 – 1 (Paterno).  Only two members of the “public” showed up to address the Board on the levy, but that’s a 100% increase over last year.

To read or post comments, click on title.

15 comments so far

Hard to believe, the naked grab stated so frankly in the Consensus Goals. No wonder you are so suspicious of everyone in office. And here I thought you were just paranoid. Also hard to believe is that only 50 or so signatures are needed to get on the ballot. That can’t be correct.

To what do you ascribe Borelli’s change of heart/mind? This happens a lot, I’ve found; remember the police station go-arounds where every time, even the folks who were “anti” going in came out on the staff’s side. They’d probably say the closer you get to the situation the more factors you know about that influence a more accurate assessment. You’d probably say the officials’ natural social bonding thing kicks in and they change their values to fit in. It would be interesting to find out which is true. Or maybe it’s a little of both?

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Joseph Heller, “Catch 22.”

The 50 signatures comes from the State Board of Elections website.

We’ve found from years of personal involvement and direct observation that people who take public office without strong civic principles and a highly-developed philosophy of government – the “just want to give back to the community” types are almost ALWAYS this way – stand for little/nothing and, therefore, are most easily co-opted by the politicians, bureaucrats and special interests.

Nobody cares whether D-64 provides a good education so long as people think it is doing so. Perception is reality, even if perception is delusion. Tell the big lie loudly enough and long enough and you can drown out any questions while the refugees from Chicago, Elmwood Park, Norridge, and Harwood Heights are delighted to be here in the land of milk and honey, no questions asked.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “The land of milk and honey”?

Are you suggesting that the D-64 Board and administration are playing a version of the Great and Powerful Oz scam: “Pay no attention to those ISAT test score rankings” on the gullible?

6:43:

If you want another example of your theory (this happens a lot. I’ve found) just look on the same board at Dr. Paterno.

Actually, Dr. P jumped so fast it leads one to wonder if drank the Kool aide or was not completely upfront about is positions when he ran.

By the way, that is another part of the issue. Even in local elections with no real personal dollars attached, many people say what they think will get them elected, even if it contradicts how they will actually vote or their record in the past.

EDITOR’S NOTE: When we endorsed Paterno in April 2013, we wrote about his “refreshing willingness to address tough issues” and his interest in more “funding referendums…that ‘would afford voters/taxpayers a greater awareness of the financial woes of the district and the policies that contributed to those woes.'” By either of those measures, his first 1-1/2 years in office have been a disappointment.

On the other hand, as pointed out in our posts of 05.08.13, 10.31.13, 06.22.14, 07.21.14 and 11.28.14, he has said and done a few things right – which distinguishes him from fellow Board members Heyde, Zimmerman and Lee (and the expatriated Cameron), whose such rare instances of sound decision-making suggest that the proverbial blind squirrel is their role model.

Has the administration scared board members into voting for more money out of fear they will otherwise be seen as anti-education, anti-child and anti-community?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s not kid ourselves here: most of these Board members, like their predecessors, come to the Board predisposed to rubber-stamp anything “the educators” tell them. In fact, we would hazard a guess that many Board members who either already have kids in the schools (or will shortly have them there) are on the Board primarily to look out for the interests of their kids and not for the interests of the avearage taxpayer.

Nevertheless, when it comes to a battle of the shameless versus the spineless, the shameless always win. And “the educators” have been utterly shameless over the years in using “the kids” as pawns in their efforts to line their own pockets while escaping any accountability when measurable student performance doesn’t match educator compensation.

Which is why Supt. Heinz “signs” her missives under the complimentary close “For Your Children” instead of “For My $240K/Yr.”

In an effort to curry favor with taxpayers who do not have children in D64 schools, will Dr. Heinz start signing her missives “For The Community”?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Probably not…it’s hard to claim what you’re doing is “For The Community” when your premium-priced product/service is producing sub-prime results, at least as measured by the most commonly accepted objective benchmarks.

I’ve been reading this blog for a few years and my observation is that you generally get a lot less comments about D-64 posts than about City of Park Ridge posts. Is that the result of a conspiracy of silence?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We doubt it’s a “conspiracy,” but it is puzzling.

Your theory about people who “just want to give back” makes sense, but Paterno et al don’t really fit in that category. They are definitely NOT lacking in strong views of what government should be. So how do you explain their change of mind/heart? Not trying to be difficult but I vividly recall Borelli’s charmingly assertive speechifying a few years back, and I think he was sincere. We need to figure out what changes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Paterno was the only anti-levy increase vote Monday night, which passed 6-1.

Nice speeches without uncompromising principles are just cheap words.

School digger when it averages the rank of each individual elementary and middle school ranks d64in top 50. Then if you look at Maine south it’s in top 50

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5754656

EDITOR’S NOTE: Which is why, in our post, we question Schooldigger’s rankings. How can a district have no individual schools ranked in the Top 100, but then rank the entire District in the Top 50? Also, it appears Schooldigger relies on factors other than ISAT scores – because D-64 ranks 39th with an 82% ISAT score while Libertyville D-70 ranks 50th with an 84% ISAT – although we cannot tell what they are and how they are weighted.

I was one of the two residents who took the time out from helping my kids with their homework to see if I could hold back a tax increase and invest more savings in my kids’ college funds.

The school board may have listened if more people showed up, but I got the sense that the hearing was only being done because it’s required by law. The vote was pre-ordained.

The main rationale seemed to be that the school board is playing a game of chicken with Cook County; i.e., “we must vote for 4.6% so they eventually give us 1.7%”.

To be fair to the board, they’ve economized on various expenditures and made some smart moves. I appreciate the time and personal sacrifice many make to serve the community.

But the fact is that they also have a habit of grabbing what they can and that’s why my tax bill has doubled over the past ten years.

In fact, the D64 staff person who introduced the hearing explicitly stated that they are attempting to “maximize revenue”. That’s a direct quote. “Maximize revenue” means minimizing my ability to save for my children’s futures.

I don’t doubt that operating costs increase. I serve on the boards of two non-profits and understand budget pressures very well. But if we didn’t give away so much to teachers and administrators then we wouldn’t have to squeeze the taxpayers.

Personally, I think we should cut back expenditures on the administrators. They get paid a lot and there are too many of them. Better to protect the teachers.

That said, the prospect of another teacher contract negotiation scares the crap out of me. During the ten years that my property tax bill has doubled, my confidence in the ability and/or willingness of school boards to negotiate has dwindled.

These are just the thoughts of a taxpayer who believes in public education and fiscal responsibility. D64 doesn’t have a budget problem; it has a spending problem. It won’t get under control unless more people take the time to show up and be heard. The board and the administration aren’t afraid — or concerned — with just one or two people.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you for stepping up to the plate on this, Mr. Schildwachter.

You’re right about needing more taxpayers to show up at meetings, like the PREA members show up in matching t-shirts when an issue near and dear to them is on the agenda and arguably facing ANY opposition.

Was the other person attending Mel Thillens??

On his Facebook page he called it “bad policy” and said “we should all attend”.

Steve at 9:31 am-thank you for going to the board meeting to give a reasonable taxpayer point of view. I agree that some of the school board members have been trying to economize on certain aspects of the spending-unfortunately not a majority of the board falls into that category.

Having gone to school board meetings in the past to speak up on various issues, it is frustrating the lip service that a taxpayer speaking out often gets from the board (this is true of the PRPD board as well). It’s this lip service that stops taxpayers from speaking out or questioning the board on important issues at a meeting. This is probably the goal of some board members-stop the taxpayers from questioning their actions.

You are right on though when you say that D64- with the approval of the board- spends way too much on administrators. Last count there were 17 administrative positions making over $100,000 with salary and benefits (2013 numbers). For a school district with 4300 students? These administrators are the ones providing input and making decisions on curriculum, contracts, finances, fees etc. Where have these decisions gotten D64 over the years? Overpaid superintendents, an overpaid finance administrator, more than a dozen highly paid administrators who have added value how? Certainly not higher test scores and rankings.

Thank you, Anon at 1:45 p.m. Happy to speak out.

You’re right about lip service. I’ve never sensed the board and the superintendent to be an audience receptive to taxpayers. I don’t think that’s what keeps taxpayers away, however, because so few taxpayers have experienced talking to the hand(s).

I think it’s a lack of knowledge. Most taxpayers still think the city makes up the majority of their property taxes. The ones who consider the schools at all have a gracious attitude about taking care of children, as do I. There is still the lingering misperception that teachers are underpaid, which in Park Ridge is not true at all. Very few people realize that teachers get automatic lane-and-step salary increases just for coming back every year, and that’s before counting base salary increases.

If/when people realize these things, we’ll get more people showing up. And if the board continues ignoring or patronizing them, the taxpayers won’t stay away. They’ll keep coming back.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And let’s not forget those 8-9 month work years, and the taxpayer-guaranteed pensions that allow teachers and administrators to recoup virtually their entire career-length pension contributions in the very first year (or two, at most) of retirement…at age 58-60.

So they have 77% of next year’s budget already in reserve and they are raising taxes for next year even higher. How much is enough, if there is such a thing with this Board?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have never heard this D-64 Board, or ANY OTHER D-64 board, say “Enough!” when it comes to tax dollars.

Back in 1997 when D-64 hornswoggled the taxpayers for a new Emerson (to replace the existing Emerson which, at that time, was the newest building in the District), the million dollars or so of referendum funding that was not needed for the new building was not abated to the taxpayers but, instead, just added to the pot to be spent.

“So they have 77% of next year’s budget already in reserve and they are raising taxes for next year even higher. How much is enough, if there is such a thing with this Board?”

It’s called “maximizing revenue” as someone quoted above.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And maybe creating a slush fund?

Apparently the Field project came in under budget by over $1 million. I’m sure they’ll give that back to the taxpayers.

Enjoy the laugh.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We did. And now we’ll cry.



Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>