D64 Candidate Forum: No Hard Questions, No Hard Answers


Guest Post by Steve Schildwachter

This past Monday (March 16) evening I went to the District 64 school board candidate forum sponsored by the PREA teachers’ union, the Parent Teacher Organization and the Elementary Learning Foundation.  (I had to look up the latter organization, which appears to be a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that awards “grants to teachers and staff who are committed to excellence in education” and is governed by a group of parents.)

The candidate line-up was different than I expected.  Tony Borrelli, an incumbent, was there, along with newbies Greg Bublitz and Tom Sotos, but Mark Eggemann was at work and sent a statement that was read by the moderator. Bob Johnson was there even though he is running unopposed to fill out the term to which he was appointed when a former board member resigned his seat last summer.

This post won’t attempt to be a strict account of the evening, just my impressions based on the public and private remarks of the candidates.  The newspaper article previewing the event promised that “members of the community will be invited to ask questions,” which turned out to be wrong. But I was able to squeeze in some informal questions when people were milling around afterwards.

My biggest impression:  None of the candidates made one.  It would have been hard for any voter to walk out of the forum ready to support any of the candidates – because none of them expressed any clear, specific points of view.

For example, a common refrain during the event was “for the children.” As in: “We’ll do what’s right for the children,” and other variations on that theme.  Look, it’s clear to me that everyone involved has the best of intentions and wants District 64 schools to be the best they possibly can.  No one needs to prove that.  But this phrase doesn’t translate into any firm point of view.

So, please, Messrs. Borrelli, Bublitz, Eggemann, Johnson and Sotos:  Can we please retire this rhetorical crutch?

The second most-used phrase of the evening was “do more with less,” a reference to the supposed tightness of D64 budgets which actually increase every year.  To that point, the candidates who said they’d “do more with less” never said how they’d achieve this.  There were some questions from the moderator about how candidates would manage spending and whether or not they’d raise taxes, but nobody committed to any positions beyond saying that if a ceiling was falling apart, “we should fix it.”

With the exception of Tony Borrelli, who’s been on the board for four years, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge of how the budget actually works.  For example, Sotos — who told me he’s reading “a big stack” of research — hadn’t even heard of the “step and lane” system by which teachers get annual pay increases according to their years of service (steps) and level of education (lanes).  Stated another way:  The 2% annual pay increase given to the teachers in 2012 is over and above these “lane and step” increases, meaning that they effectively get an average increase of +3.6% per year.

Although Tony can definitely claim he was only one of two “no” votes against the +2% pay increase of 2012, I was left wondering how serious he would be about controlling costs in his second term.  In December — just three months ago — Borrelli, Johnson and four others voted for a +4.6% budget increase, above the legal limit, because “we have to ask for more so Cook County will approve the maximum allowable.” The maximum allowable?  This does not sound like cost control to me.

In public comments Monday night Borrelli said the school board should let administrators do their job and only provide “oversight to ensure policies and procedures are being followed,” which didn’t suggest a willingness to hold administrators accountable.  I was waiting to hear a candidate say they would instruct the superintendent to prepare multiple budget options, e.g., one that cuts spending by 2%, one that keeps spending flat, and one that takes the fully-allowed-by-law increase (which is what they vote for every year).

To be sure, managing a big budget like this one is a tough task, and elected representatives aren’t paid to do it.  But these candidates were there willingly and perhaps should at least ask the hard questions.

Can we cut administrative positions?  Freeze administrators’ salaries?  Which of our expenses is rising faster than the CPI and which are rising more slowly?  If we cut the budget by 2% and didn’t cut teachers’ salaries, what would we cut? Maybe these questions are being discussed; but if so, no such discussions occurred Monday night.

The only outright gaffe of the evening was Bob Johnson’s statement that “the community doesn’t want a teachers’ strike,” accompanied by a colorful listing of all the negative consequences; e.g., Park Ridge on the 10 p.m. news (but, curiously, no concern for children not being able to attend class).  I’d venture to say that it’s true, the community would rather not have a strike.

But Bob was answering a question about how to handle the upcoming teachers’ contract negotiations. PREA teachers’ union president Andy Duerkop was sitting right in the front row and now knows at least one board member will be a pushover at the bargaining table.

On the same topic, I asked Greg Bublitz if he would recuse himself from teacher contract negotiations, but he didn’t really answer yes or no.  Would his experience as a District 63 teacher and administrator help inform the discussions, or make him sympathize with the union, or both?  What about the fact that his wife is a District 64 teacher?  My point was that he owed voters an answer before Election Day, not after.

All of this comes back to the budget.

When I moved to Park Ridge ten years ago my property tax bill was $9,880, and by last year it had doubled to $19,549.  I’ve since negotiated down my assessment, so my tax bill is “only” $16,836. But what that really means is only that I succeeded in shifting part of my tax burden to my neighbors.  Nevertheless, District 64’s portion of my tax bill has jumped from 37.3% ten years ago to 42.5% this year, which shows how fast the budget has increased.

When I explained this to one of the candidates, he retorted that I should be complaining about the City of Park Ridge’s planned +22% increase.  This really made me mad because, when I ask the Park Board for some fiscal responsibility, they blame the school districts. Yet now here’s the school district blaming the City.  Which is rich because a big chunk of the city’s increase stems from the Uptown TIF — and money it must pay to Districts 64 and 207 under the City’s TIF agreements with those districts.

We should be able to demand fiscal responsibility from all our local taxing bodies, all the more so because they are composed of our friends and neighbors — people we live and work with.  Which leads to my last point.

It seemed to me that none of the candidates were willing to stand up for a position on anything because they were too afraid to offend, alternately, the teachers, the administrators, or their neighbors.  It’s as if they must keep saying “for the children” as much as “do more with less” so they can’t be accused of being anti-child, anti-teacher or anti-tax increase.

I’m all for comity and friendship.  In fact, I genuinely enjoyed meeting Andy Duerkop, and we have some important, personal things in common.

But the candidates weren’t supposed to be there to make friends. They were there asking to be elected to a local body that decides how much money will be demanded from you, me and every single one of our neighbors. The least they could have done was tell us what they would do if elected.

To read or post comments, click on title.

29 comments so far

Thanks for the recap. I don’t like what you heard and what you didn’t hear, but I sure appreciate you taking time to attend and make thoughtful observations. And thanks PW for the guest post.

Wonderful. We’ll be going into teacher negotiations with a board that has let the union know that it will roll over to avoid a strike. And Borrelli, who PW said was the real deal, wants to let administrators do whatever they want. What kind of crap is that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s – as Mr. Schildwachter has pointed out – too many elected officials who weren’t “willing to stand up for a position on anything because they were too afraid to offend, alternately, the teachers, the administrators, or their neighbors.” So they keep on selling out the taxpayers, because taxpayers are the easiest constituency to sell out.

First of all, thank you for your essay. You clearly put some time into it and, while I was not at the meeting, I share your frustration.

I do have to say, however, I am not shocked or surprised in any way at all. The sentence that jumped out the most to me is “… nobody committed to any positions….”.

This is a snap shot of what politics and running for office has become. I guess to some degree it has always been this way, especially for an incumbent but we have really gone over the edge. Just look at all the mailers and money spent in the last election for state office (Moylan v. Thillens) and the complete lack of commitment substance. It’s blame the other guy and hide the money!!

Unfortunately for the voter, it is not as if you can pick the one who does commit because none of the due!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Let’s not tar all “politics and running for office” with that same brush.

Mayor Dave’s elections v. incumbent mayor Frimark and challenger Ryles were major pitched battles for the hearts and minds of the voters based on sharply conflicting positions on issues and philosophy. The same could be said for some Park Board races over the years.

Only the two School Boards have historically been little more than popularity contests among candidates who are parents their school district’s students – and whose campaigns were primarily spent trying to prove how much more they would pander to teachers and administrators than their opponents would.

11:46 pm, I’m not sure the entire board would roll over to prevent a strike; the point of my post was that we really don’t know. (Also keep in mind that it’s the union that decides whether to strike, not the board.)

Mr. Borrelli did not say “let administrators do whatever they want”, so let’s be careful about paraphrasing.

As I recall, you led a tireless crusade to get rid of the caucus for school board 64 and 207 a few years ago, and finally succeeded in discrediting that star chamber enough that it petered out. Are you any happier with the independent-minded quality of the self-nominated school board candidates since then?

EDITOR’S NOTE:It wasn’t really “tireless,” nor was it much of a “crusade.” Just call it an effort that appears to have succeeded because taxpayers finally figured out that the Caucus was either a big mistake or a bad idea.

But while we are glad to be rid of that front for the PREA and administration and believe its disappearance has resulted in more contested elections than there were under the Caucus, the unfortunate aspect is that only Tony Borrelli (and, on some issues, Dan Collins) have been significant improvements on the succession of Caucus-elected empty suits at D-64; and D-207 remains a third-rate Politburo.


I do believe that Mayor Dave was more willing to commit to positions, whether in a campaign or otherwise, than his two opponents in those races.

As to them being “major pitched battles for the hearts and minds of the voters based on sharply conflicting positions on issues and philosophy” I do not think most PR voters saw it that way. You had a very supportive contingent for both candidates and a clear victor but most PR voters “voted” by staying home. I find it hard to define it as a battle for hearts and minds when the total sum of messages and positions on issues and philosophies (from both candidates)could not motivate 60-70% of eligible voters to even show up to vote.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of course you wouldn’t see it that way. You obviously weren’t a Schmidt supporter and can’t accept the fact that he rocked Frimark in 2009 and then rocked Frimark’s protege even worse in 2013 – despite Ryles having the unprecedented endorsement of the three former mayors and 25 former alderdopes who longed for the return of the irresponsible and custodial Old Park Ridge Ways.

Non-voting “voters” are an oxymoron – like jumbo shrimp and old news – so they really don’t count. But if turnout is on what you’re basing your attempt to diminish the message of Schmidt’s victories, the turnout for Schmidt v. Ryles was bigger than for any Park Ridge mayoral race in at least 20 years.

I’m glad Mr Schildwachter got a chance to personally meet Mr Duerkop and see what a thoughtful and intelligent guy he is. It’s so easy for some to demonize teachers as “enemies of the taxpayers” without ever meeting or talking to one to see how committed they are, yes, to the children. Some like Mr Duerkop even give up lucrative careers in the private sector because they know that teaching is indeed important and meaningful work. He’s far from the only one in d64 who gets what sadly so many do not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Holding teachers and administrators accountable is not demonizing them.

Mr. Duerkop might be a swell guy, but his job is basically to shake down the taxpayers for more compensation and better benefits for teachers without their having to do a lick more work or produce better results.


“The least they could have done was tell us what they would do if elected”.

From what I can tell it appears that no candidate intends to do this. Most of them do not even have web sites and those that do offer vague statements that do not really say what they would do.

You asked the following……….”Can we cut administrative positions? Freeze administrators’ salaries? Which of our expenses is rising faster than the CPI and which are rising more slowly? If we cut the budget by 2% and didn’t cut teachers’ salaries, what would we cut?”

It does not appear anyone wants to touch these questions prior to April 7th.

Excellent submission. The candidates are too fearful of standing up for anything because they are only interested in winning the election. So they stand for God, America and Apple Pie because who is against that. Not a good scenario.

8:37 a.m., yes, the candidates need to tell us what they want to do. I’m not sure if all of them really know what they want to do, which is almost as bad as hiding it. You observe that no one “wants to touch these questions before April 7th” — they may not want to touch them after April 7th, either, which would be equally bad.

On this same theme, I’m astounded that Mr. Bublitz continues to get a free pass on whether he’d recuse himself from teacher contract negotiations when his wife is on the D64 payroll. He needs to tell the voters in advance what he plans to do.

Ditto ^^^^^^ Same goes for the ward races

Although I understand the candidates’ forum was videotaped, I can’t find the video on the PREA, ELF or D-64 websites. What gives? Don’t those sponsors want the voters to see it?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Based on Mr. Schildwachter’s (and others’) report, we can see why those particular sponsors would not.

To the candidate who decried the city’s 22% tax increase, I would remind him that District 64 takes 42.5% of my tax bill, the city only (!) 9.89%. D64 needs to cut and slow their spending habits sooner than later. The well is rapidly running dry!

EDITOR’S NOTE: So…you’ve got a problem with D-64 spending roughly the same amount to educate 4,500 kids as the City spends to provide services to 37,000 residents?

12:30 here – If D64 were doing a very good job I probably wouldn’t mind the money being spent. But are they doing a very good job?

EDITOR’S NOTE: THEY would tell you they are, but they also would tell you there’s an Easter Bunny who hides chocolate eggs in your house and yard.

How could any responsible taxpayer vote for Bublitz, a former teacher/now administrator who was recruited to run by the PREA? The PREA must think taxpayers are stupid enough to count the signs and assume that Bublitz is the “People’s Choice.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sure the PREA thinks just that, so the question is whether the PREA will be right.


You ask the question are they (D64) doing a very good job? Below is a quote from a D64 alum who has had his children attend D64 schools.

“There is no question that D64 offers students some of the very best teachers around. I’ve shared with many in the community that a D64 teacher changed my life by helping me to realize my full potential. Two of my boys have had that same experience in D64″……Mark Eggemann. I do not want to put words in his mouth but it appears he was thrilled with the experience he had in the district as well as that of his two sons.

I did not grow up in PR so I cannot claim to be an alum but having experienced D64 as a parent I would agree with Mark’s comments. I would also tell you that many other parents and alumni would tell you similar stories.

As to whether that translates into “a very good job”, depends on whether you are relying on individual experience of test data, and what your definition of excellent job is.

I would love to hear more from all the candidates on this topic about what they think is good/bad and what needs to be improved along with the budget issues outlined by Mr. Schildwachter. Again, it does not appear that that will happen prior to April 7th.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nobody – including this blog – has ever said D-64 schools are bad, only that they seem to be underperforming for the price, and compared to the schools in communities that Park Ridge arguably competes with for upscale residents.

Since D-64 provides educational services to around 4,000 (out of approximately 14,000) households at any one time, if a Park Ridge resident pays, say, $4,000/year in taxes to D-64 and gets $14,000 of education for 1 child in a D-64 school, that $10,000 delta enjoyed by those 4,000 households likely engenders a certain amount of satisfaction/tolerance that taxpayers in those other 10,000 households not enjoying that same delta for their $4,000 tax bill might not share.

I speak openly of my husband’s, Bill Cline’s, career. He is a structural engineer for one of the largest engineering firms that does infrastructure improvements in the country. In his spare time, he is a real estate broker and has represented the buyer on two properties in Park Ridge, both within the Uptown TIF district, the townhouses west of Trader Joe’s and FFC. Contrary to the rumors that are being spread, we have no further involvement in either development, but think personally that both are good for the City, and clearly the City does too. The sales for these properties closed before I ever decided to run for first ward alderwoman.

I would obviously recuse myself in a situation where there is a possibility of a conflict of interest. I have not seen my opponent address this question and am curious to see how he would respond since he has a local business and it is likely that his clients would come before the council in one respect or another.

Thank you for recapping the meeting with an unbiased pen stroke. I’m trying to get more information on the candidates and a search led me to your article. I moved to Park Ridge a year and a half ago. My wife and I had no idea of the TIF and other financial issues that we will bare the burden of as long as we live here. It frustrates me to no end that politicians walk on egg shells trying not to offend people. There is a right, left and middle so to not speak their opinions, in fear of losing votes, leads me to believe that they will do what they want not what the “majority” of the community wants. None of us want higher taxes, teachers have it made (oops I probably just offended a teacher) working 9 months out of the year and receiving 3.6% raises on top of that. I wish I got a 3.6% raise even one year. Is there a website that has all of the candidates and their bios out there? I can’t find one anywhere.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, there is no one-stop shopping website that has all the candidate bios. But if you Google the candidates you shouldn’t have that much trouble getting a read on them and their positions – assuming you can see through the smoke on some of them.

Anon 3.23.15 @ 9:23 – 1:50 here. I didn’t ask if they’re doing an “excellent” job, but rather, a “very good” job. My kids went thru D64, but it was over 20 years ago. At that time if asked I would have said that one child had an “ok” experience, one had a “good” experience. I’m probably old fashioned, but I wonder if there is such a thing as too much technology and not enough basics? And at the elementary level, to my mind, there have to be basics. Are the children getting those basics? I can’t answer that.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s the problem with anecdotal “evidence” – it depends almost entirely on the subjective viewpoint of the witness.

For example, we know of a D-64 (Field/Emerson) grad (Class of 2001) who went on to become the valedictorian of St. Ignatius, graduated from Yale and then Brown medical school. Obviously, D-64 worked just fine for him – but that was one kid and 14 years ago.

Take all candidate info with several pounds of salt. They craft the information to get votes an don’t mention the rest. It is hysterical the facts that some of them completely exclude from their websites!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: So you’re saying…don’t vote for anybody because they all lie?

Right. And I know a Park Ridge public school alum who never held a decent job and was later killed in a drug deal gone bad. As you said anecdotes don’t tell the story.

I’m getting sick of not making lists like these because our stats don’t measure up.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, lists like that don’t matter – just ask the boards and administrations at D-207 and D-64. They don’t teach to tests – they teach to “the whole child,” remember.

Where did I say to not vote for anybody?? Is that anywhere in my post. What I am saying is that one has to use their own internal filter to weed through the crap and make the best decision possible. I have voted in every election since reaching the legal age.

By the way, you used the word lie, not me (although some of them clearly do lie). I said they craft the information to get votes and don’t mention the rest. Are you saying that is not so?? Are you saying that candidates do not avoid even mentioning beliefs or things about their lives they feel may alienate potential voters?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t claim to speak for, or about, “all” candidates – you did that. And when you inflate the “grain of salt” metaphor to “several pounds of salt,” we’d equate the latter with outright lying.

As for your unsubstantiated – and unsubstantiatable, given your anonymity – claim that you have “voted in every election since reaching the legal age”…yeah, right.

Both the Herald-Advocate and the Park Ridge Journal have interviewed candidates and/or requested they submit responses to a list of questions. You will probably see the round-up in this week’s papers.

Here is some entertainment. Social Media and politics! Posting on March 21 at 10:50am

One more comment about the always-increasing D64 budget.

A constant rationale for budget increases has been “we have to keep up with the Consumer Price Index (CPI)”. In the past couple of years the CPI has increased about 1-2%, so we really shouldn’t be seeing any budget increases at all. There never seems to be an analysis of which costs are increasing at rates more or less than the CPI, so the CPI reigns supreme in the minds of bureaucrats.

Well, check out the government’s latest data at It’s updated monthly, but currently and at least until April 17th it shows the CPI is ZERO for the 12 months ending February 2015. ZERO.

What do we think are the chances that D64 will increase its next budget by zero per cent?


Keeping up with the CPI – through COLAs and other inflation-related, non-performance based increases – is the scam by which public sector workers and retirees avoid the realities of inflation that plague the rest of us whose compensation is based on productivity. Call it “insuring their purchasing power” because that’s what it’s intended to do, on the taxpayers’ tab of course.

And that’s one of the adverse (for the taxpayers, that is) consequences of these multi-year public employee contracts with built-in increases the unions demand and our spineless elected officials concede.

You’re not being quite fair: when the CPI does increase, not to adjust retirement benefits and wages is effectively a wage/benefit decrease. The fact that the private sector screws with people until the last hurrah makes it very tempting to turn around and inflict the same suffering on the next level down, but it is not the way to fix the increasingly miserable situation. The voters who are shareholders in these private concerns need to make themselves heard.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What brilliant economic policy: fighting inflation with matching inflation of public sector wages and pensions. With that kind of Nobel Prize thinking, how can you let yourself make these comments anonymously?

10:31, not sure what point you’re making but it’s just as poorly informed as the candidates. Fact is, Illinois law mandates a 3% annual COLA (increase), regardless of the CPI, for all retired teachers in the almost bankrupt TRS Do your homework.

Just call me Alaina Greenspan: Fatally wrong, universally lauded.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Well, you’ve got the first part down.

Thanks, 5th Ward Taxpayer. Interesting that this law indicates some awareness that there are more income-eroding cost-of-living pressures (no, not due to indolence) than just the consumer price index. I guess it’s just a choice everybody has to make: Get mad at your wife and kick the cat, or insist that the fantasy world end for the few.

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