New Year’s 2016: One Door Closes, Another Opens (Maybe)


This is our last post for 2015, so we’re looking back at the year that’s ending and forward to the year ahead – the former with profound sadness, the latter with perhaps unjustified hope.

The sadness of 2015 relates to the sudden death of Mayor Dave Schmidt on March 4.

Mayor Dave was a larger-than-life figure with an almost ferocious joie de vivre. He truly loved Park Ridge and being its mayor, whether it meant poring over draft ordinances at 1:00 a.m., attending his third or fourth charitable event of the week, cutting the ribbon for a new business, teaching a little City civics to 4th graders, or laughing at a giant inflatable rat with a “Time To Veto Dave Schmidt” sign in front of City Hall.

He was a man-child in the best sense of that term, able to throw a curled-lip glower or to crack an impish smile with equal ease. And he seemed as “at home” in a bare-knuckle political brawl as in his regular seat at Orchestra Hall listening to his beloved CSO.

More importantly, in his almost six years in the big chair at The Horseshoe he changed business-as-usual at City Hall – most definitely for the better, and hopefully for the long-term.

He won the office by articulating his philosophy of Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability (“HITA”); and by actually doing what his three predecessors (and so many other local elected officials) merely talked about: putting the taxpayers first..

That made him some enduring enemies – including those three predecessors and the few handfuls of former aldermen who also endorsed his last opponent, for whom “business as usual” pretty much maxed out both their interest level and abilities. But it made Mayor Dave even more friends and supporters – the proof of that being the increase in both his vote total (from 4,897 to 5,601) and his winning percentage (from 56.3% to 62.06%) from his 2009 election to his 2013 re-election, while at the same time generating a larger voter turnout.

Mayor Dave’s principled way of doing the City’s business also attracted a group of aldermen who shared his principles and his priorities. Consequently, his passing did not spark the petty partisan politicking, horse-trading and jockeying for position that followed Wietecha’s dark-of-night resignation in September 2003 and led to acting mayor Marous and his Uptown TIF boondoggle. Instead, these aldermen checked their egos at the door and unanimously chose Ald. Marty Maloney as acting mayor, an office Maloney accepted with the pledge to treat the next two years as “the rest of Mayor Dave’s term.”

And that’s the way it has been, a City government directed by principles and pragmatism instead of preening and profligacy.

So as the clock ticks down on 2015 we offer one last “ave atque vale” to Mayor Dave.

                  *                                    *                                    *

Looking ahead to 2016, the one thing we hope to see more of is HITA.

And nowhere is that more needed than from those two Star Chambers masquerading as Park Ridge-Niles Elementary School District 64 and Maine Township High School District 207.

That’s because while the City will continue to struggle valiantly to overcome the weight of the Uptown TIF debt and the difficulties of coming up with a cost-effective solution to the flooding problem, the last thing we need is for what passes as “leadership” at D-64 and D-207 to continue to fiddle while their schools’ objectively-measurable performance and rankings continue to slide in comparison to those other affluent suburbs competing with Park Ridge for long-term home-owning residents.

Superintendents Laurie Heinz and Ken Wallace, respectively, know that controlling the flow of information to the public is the single best way to: (a) end-run HITA; (b) dominate their feckless school boards; (c) manipulate the parents of their students; and (d) bamboozle the taxpayers while avoiding any accountability for their own highly-paid-but-mediocre performances. And if Heinz’s and Wallace’s own instincts in that regard aren’t quite up to the obfuscation tasks at hand, they both have taxpayer-paid propaganda ministers to assist them in Bernadette Tramm (D-64) and Dave Beery (D-207).

So GFL getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth out of those spinmeisters.

Too bad truth will be even more important, and less likely, in 2016 when it comes to D-64’s expected closed-session “negotiation” of a new contract with the Park Ridge Education Association (“PREA”), a/k/a, the teachers union.

Four years ago, then-board members John Heyde and Pat Fioretto hid in secretive closed sessions while giving the PREA a sweetheart deal that included “step” (longevity) and “lane” (continuing education) increases unrelated to either individual teacher performance or student performance. That put the taxpayers on the hook for starting salaries that increased over the contract’s four-year term from $45,780 to $48,582 for total out-of-the-box newbies, and from $101,374 to $107,579 for the most experienced. You can see the 2015 salaries for teachers, by name, by clicking here.

And remember: that’s just for 8-9 months of work, with no chance of D-64 packing up and relocating to Indiana, Wisconsin, or Mexico.

And also remember that it comes with those constitutionally-guaranteed pensions that can kick in as early as age 55, with annual COLA increases that carry the possibility of generating more income for teachers in retirement than they made while actually teaching.

See how your Social Security and 401(k) compare to that!

Unfortunately, the current D-64 Board is only marginally better than the one that gave away that sweetheart deal four years ago: Hang a bell around Heinz’s neck and president Tony Borrelli, vice-president Scott Zimmerman, Secretary Vickie Lee, and Bob Johnson would follow her anywhere, with little more than an occasional “moo.”

Even among “veteran” Dathan Paterno and newcomers Mark Eggemann and Tom Sotos, only Eggemann has regularly displayed any measurable HITA – voting against most of the unnecessary closed sessions and being the only vote against the recently-increased tax levy that will enable D-64 to continue to spend about as much to educate 4,500 kids as the City of Park Ridge spends to run the whole city of 37,000+ people: approximately $70 million.

With creatures of the dark Borrelli and Zimmerman reportedly heading the D-64 negotiating team, you should bet the “over” for what kind of contract the PREA will be able to wheedle out of them in the…wait for it…closed-session negotiations. After all, it was in closed sessions that Borrelli and Zimmerman hashed out the one-year, $250,000 contract extension and raise for Heinz – based on allegedly outstanding mid-year and year-end “reviews” that not only weren’t published to the taxpayers before the deal was cooked, but which we understand weren’t even given to Eggemann or Sotos before they were asked to approve the deal.

And which still can’t be found anywhere in the public domain as best as we can tell.

With D-64 and D-207 grabbing almost 70% of our property tax bills, versus the City’s roughly 10%, we’re hoping taxpayers in 2016 finally will start figuring out where more of their limited attention should be paid, and where the most basic HITA is so sorely lacking.

Here’s hoping that situation can be substantially corrected in the coming year.

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

On target and laser focused as usual, PW.

Mayor Dave will be missed for all the many reasons you listed, and more, but I am optimistic that this city council will continue with HITA and Mayor Dave’s agenda.

And pointing out how crucial it is for taxpayers to pay more attention to our schools is the slam dunk issue of 2016. We can’t afford to waste more money on mediocrity, or elect school board members who are more concerned about spending whatever they can on their own kids’ education while not rocking the boat for the teachers and the admins.

Anyone know the approximate timeline for teacher contract negotiations?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The D-64 Board, at its Oct. 26 meeting, reported that Borrelli and Zimmerman would comprise the District’s “Negotiations Committee.” We’ll consider that Heyde & Fioretto Redux, at best.

And at its November 30 meeting, Borrelli announced that the Board would meet in…you know what’s coming next…CLOSED SESSION on December 14, January 9 and January 26 “to provide background information in preparation for upcoming collective bargaining with teachers.” So one might assume that negotiations will not commence until after January 26.

And if you want to get a sense of how devious, or incompetent, the D-64 Board is when it comes to running into and hiding in closed session, listen to the first few minutes of the 12/14 meeting video and you will hear Borrelli – “on advice of counsel” – lump into one closed-session motion both a discussion of the upcoming negotiations (which CAN BE but DOESN’T HAVE TO BE in closed session) with a discussion of student special ed. placement (which, according to Borrelli) MUST BE in closed session because “federal and state law mandate” it.

Not surprisingly, no Board member ask him to separate that combined motion into two separate ones – althought that could simply mean that no other Board members cared about separating them because they intended to rubber-stamp both closed sessions anyway.

“On target and laser focused.” Lol. More like slanted and full of crap. As usual.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ouch! You anonymous cowards really cut to the quick with your insightful critiques.

The schools are Teflon coated. If you criticize them you are labeled anti-education and/or anti-child.

Thanks for at least raising issues that nobody else raises.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s what we get when we keep electing go-along-to-get-along, rubber-stamping Gumbys to our school boards – many of whom have kids in the schools and who, therefore, are happy to spend money on anything that might possibly benefit their own kids.

For those of us who sent their kids to parochial schools and did nothing but pay money to the public schools without using them, we have an interest (I won’t call it a “right” because I don’t think it rises to that level) in those schools providing quality commensurate with the money we are paying for them, and which adds to or at least preserves our property values. From everything I have seen and read over the last several years (since PW began pointing it out), we aren’t getting that value.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The lack of value has been the point of criticism. Frankly, if D-64 or D-207 could demonstrate value, we’d be willing to consider endorsing higher taxes and spending.

But since they have raised taxes for what appears to be declining performance, they have made it next to impossible to set any reasonable baseline. But, then again, the schools don’t care about providing value to the taxpayers.

You have always preferred the anonymous suck up.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, we “have always preferred” non-anonymous comments, and continually re-visit the issue of whether we should require comments identified via FB identies. But if allowing anonymity reduces the amount of such insipid commentary as “I miss my dog. We had great memories” and “If done properly you can fit six cars in the bank drive thru area [at the NW Hwy. Starbucks]” that one of the FB page “blogs” entertains, we’ll put up with the anonymous cranks.

But if we’re going to put up with anonymous comments at all, OF COURSE we’d prefer “the anonymous suck up” over the anonymous moron.

Mayor Dave was the best and I would hope HITA continues to inspire at least the city council.

The schools, sad to say, have never been very transparent in their operations and aren’t noticeably better today than they were 20 years ago (although their performance and rankings were better back then). In view of how much of our tax money goes to them, I hope you can make 2016 the Year of the Schools and keep shining a spotlight on what they are doing over there, especially at D-64 because I believe (as do most educators) that without a good elementary school foundation kids will not do as well in high school.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll do our best, but with their many closed sessions and the lack (so far) of any D-64 or D-207 Board member brave enough to pull a Mayor Dave (actually, an “Ald. Dave”) and blow the whistle on what went on in those closed sessions, we’re stuck operating in pretty much the same darkness as the average taxpayer.

You slam anonymous commenters who disagree with you for lacking insight but all these words you write aren’t exactly insightful either. Trotting out the same old “demonize the school boards, administration and teachers” rants enough times isn’t going to make them true. How about looking into the many factors that go into school rankings, for example. Or maybe you don’t want to dig too deep because you’ll find that the really good schools actually have the support of the taxpayers. The simple fact is you are part of the problem.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, we generally “slam anonymous commentators who disagree with” us only when they offer nothing more substantive than the equivalent of “you suck.”

Kind of like you’ve just done with this comment and many/most of your others.

If you’re so convinced that “the many factors that go into the school rankings” will somehow exonerate or even exalt D-64 or D-207, please identify those factors and produce whatever such supporting data exists. We’ll gladly post that information because we’d love to be able to write something positive about D-64’s and D-207’s objectively-measurable performance…other than our school administrators’ lame cheer that our students are performing at “better than the state average.” Or their attempts to spin our kids’ ISAT and PARCC test results from relative dross into gold.

Maybe you missed it while blowing smoke up your own kilt, but our schools DO “have the support of the taxpayers. In many instances they have significantly MORE “support” from our taxpayers – in the form of expenditures per pupil and average/median teacher and administrator compensation– than districts whose performance regularly and substantially exceeds that of our schools.

But if we’re truly “part of the problem,” then why don’t YOU do our community a big favor by identifying yourself and dazzling us with all of YOUR solutions – or are you a D-64 or D-207 board member or administrator who has already amply demonstrated his/her ineptitude and lack of solutions?

Have either D64 or D207 ever addressed, officially, the rankings or made their own comparisons with schools in other upper-level communities with whom Park Ridge does or should be competing for upper-level residents?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not that we are aware of – other than the “we don’t teach to the test” alibi they used to trot out whenever somebody pointed out the absence of our schools from those Top 50 and Top 100 lists that the Chicago newspapers used to compile.

My kids went through D-64 more than 10 years ago, so I have not been paying attention to the district’s recent performance. And I agree with PW that I may not ever be able to make up the “free” education my kids received even if I were to live here, and pay property taxes, for another 20 years. But as a homeowner, if I keep getting hit with higher and higher property taxes for education that doesn’t compare favorably with the Glenviews, Northbrooks, Palatines, Elmhursts, Wilmettes, Buffalo Groves, etc., then I need to be concerned that my property value might not grow at the rate that I would hope for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s a legitimate concern, especially because if/when you sell your home it likely will be bought by somebody with kids who will turn your current net-payer status into a big-time net-user status – thereby requiring even higher taxes on the non-user net-payers.

It’s just math.

D207 ranked number22 in Illinois?

New trier number 21 – Maine south 24? What are comparable taxes in new trier for those 3 extra ranking points?
9 out of 10? I want to crappy schools but I think that is about 90% right? 🙂
One of the 10 best cities with a reference to the wonderful blogger the town has…oh actually it mentions the “excellent schools” …sounds like a property value booster you should be happy about if your greed/self interest could allow you to be

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, if the D-207 Board wants to publicize that District’s “Niche” rankings that have D-207 ranked 20 places lower than Glenbrook D-225, 17 places lower than Highland Park D-113, 13 places lower than Elmhurst D-205, or…sdding insult to injury…11 places lower than Niles D-219?, by all means let them do it.

That would mean what you really should be asking is: “What are comparable taxes in [Niles D-219] for those [11 FEWER] ranking points” Maine South is giving up to Niles West?”

But that won’t happen because you sound like one of those dunderhead school board members, presumably with a kid or two or three sucking $15-30-45K (if D-64) or $18-36-54K (if D-207) a year of “free” education out of the public trough while paying a whopping $5K/year in taxes to the applicable school district.

Some eye-opening numbers in your teacher salary embed, especially when you consider the 8-9 month work year and the pensions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Especially in light of the December 9, 2015 column in the Daily Herald about how teachers get paid more in retirement than those lofty salary numbers you’re talking about:


The only way these numbers are eye opening is to someone who has not been paying any attention at all. Teacher salaries/pensions have been a topic trotted out at least yearly by PD and thousands of other bloggers and media outlets in Illinois. Good lord there was a supreme ct case about it!! These numbers have been available (by district and teacher name) on line for years. Where the hell have you been??

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not quite.

For example, anyone looking for the document described by its title, “EIS Administrator and Teacher Salary and Benefits Report – School Year 2015,” would have to somehow guess that it exists. Then you’d have to go to the D-207 website, click on “About Us,” and then click on “Public Act 97-0609 Compliance Report.” Because, of course, that’s the first place the average citizen would look for teacher and administrator salaries.

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