Public Watchdog.org

Palling Around, Or Just A Clown-Car Ballet?

04.19.16

One sure sign that appointed or elected officials are way over their skis, or just haven’t done their homework, is when they ask “What are other communities doing?” – before they express their opinion on some difficult or controversial issue.

Implicit in such a question is not only the official’s cluelessness about the issue being debated but, also, the official’s foolish belief that other governmental bodies are doing things the right way AND that they have developed methodologies that can be successfully replicated elsewhere.

Look around Cook County and its collar county communities, however, and you’ll be hard pressed to find any local governments that are actually doing things “right,” much less doing them in a reproducible or transferable way.

But if another object lesson on that point is needed, it was provided in last Thursday’s Chicago Tribune editorial, “When a suburban Chicago school district loses its way — and its money” (April 14) about the under-the-radar waste and mismanagement at the Lincoln-Way High School District, a situation that should resonate with anybody who pays the lion’s share of their property taxes to support the schools.

The editorial noted how Lincoln-Way taxpayers either were kept in the dark or chose to remain oblivious about the overspending, sweetheart deals and outright corruption at the highest level of that district’s administration. But that all changed when a group of parents – upset by the closing of one of the schools – began some aggressive investigating and even filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the school board voted to close one school in order to keep Illinois State Board of Education officials from reviewing the district’s finances.

What they discovered was that the school superintendent was given a $368,148 annuity account (a/k/a, a slush fund?) above and beyond his generous salary. And that he wasted bundles of tax dollars on personal expenses.

Adding insult to injury was the fact that, having finally been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he retired to a pension of around $312,000 a year.

That’s right: a $312,000 pension…based on salary increases that seem totally unrelated to objectively-measurable school performance. And that pension will increase by 3% per year until its recipient finally takes his dirt nap.

Worse yet, all that overspending and corruption occurred right under the very noses of elected school board members, a gang of seven which the editorial board considered so lax and clueless it wrote the following:

“Really, you have to wonder if school board members read any agenda items before approving them. Perhaps a zombie checkup is in order.“

That’s because school boards, more than any other local governmental bodies, seem to attract the simple-minded “pleasers” – folks who see their main duty as keeping teachers and administrators happy while unquestioningly buying into whatever propaganda they are fed by those very same teachers and administrators.

Which is why the most trenchant observation made in that Tribune editorial is applicable to all public bodies, but especially school boards:

Too often, school board members don’t understand that their role is not to pal around with administrators but to serve as a check on these day-to-day executives.

We don’t know if D-64 Board members “pal around” with Supt. Laurie Heinz, Finance Czarina Luann Kolstad, or other top administrators, including school principals. But the timid, obsequious and servile ways in which those Board members deal with Heinz, et al. is reminiscent of the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion approaching the great and powerful Oz.

We wrote about their collective unctuousness and butt-smooching less than a year ago (in our 06.22.15 post) when, after an unremarkable first year by Heinz as superintendent, Board president Tony Borrelli choreographed a clown-car ballet of board members falling all over themselves to unanimously vote to extend Heinz’s original three-year contract an extra year as the first year of it expired. That’s a guaranteed $250K-plus reward for, as best as we can tell, no significant objectively-measurable improvement in student performance.

Only in professional sports and public employment can mediocre performance get you a contract extension.

And, even worse, virtually all of the discussions about her performance and the extension – including her allegedly glowing “evaluations” that still do not appear to have seen the light of day – were conducted in…wait for it…closed sessions.

Once again we remind our readers that closed sessions are NEVER REQUIRED under the Illinois Open Meetings Act, even though they have become a regular feature of D-64 Board meetings. So even when citizens attend meetings, or watch the meeting videos, much/most of the heavy lifting on important issues is often done by the Board after it goes into hiding.

And when Board members do emerge from hiding and attempt to create the appearance of transparency, citizens who address the Board more often than not receive a “talk to the hand” response, especially if they dare say things those officials don’t want to hear. See, e.g., the Board’s and administration’s response (Borrelli: “Anybody else?”) to Joan Sandrik’s spot-on comments at the 2:31:30 mark of the March 21, 2016 meeting video about not trusting anything the District’s architects, FGM, say.

Which might explain, at least in part, why handfuls-and-more of folks will show up at City Council meetings while most D-64 (and Maine Twp. High School District 207) Board meetings play to empty rooms – even though the D-64 Board spends about the same amount of money educating less than 5,000 kids as the Park Ridge City Council spends on running the whole City of 37,000-plus people.

Unfortunately, scarecrow Board members and empty meeting rooms are an invitation, if not a recipe, for Lincoln-Way style results.

Which seem to get discovered only after the superintendent qualifies for retirement.

And only after several of his enabler board members resign.

To read or post comments, click on title.

4 comments so far

What skeletons lurk in the D64 boardroom closet?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll never know – unless and until a majority of the Board votes to release closed session minutes, which this Board won’t do for anything controversial. And nobody on that Board has demonstrated a steely-enough spine to blow the whistle on what went on in those closes sessions – which whistleblowing is completely legal, as we leaned back in March 2008 when then-ald. Dave Schmidt publicly reported the hijinks then-mayor Howard Frimark and his alderpuppets were pulling in closed sessions.

And even if they do release the minutes, you can expect they will be sanitized so as to exclude any meaningful accounts, descriptions, or pronouncements of disputes, etc. that would be seen and heard if the meetings had been vdeotaped.

Board members shouldn’t be friends with administrators any more than parents should be friends with their kids. The problem with District 64 is that the board members are like the kids and the administrators are the parents, a totally inverted situation that is bound to fail.

I didn’t pay attention to how Heinz got her contract extension last year, but I will this year. And that is coming up, right? I will especially be looking to how your boy Eggemann votes this time around after going along to get along a year ago.

One thing you failed to mention is that union negotiations are going on but we are hearing nothing about them. After reading about how Palatine gave away the store in their negotiations, what other districts are doing could be bad news for District 64 taxpayers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last year’s secret evaluation and extension process for Heinz was despicable, banana-republic kind of stuff that apparently fooled and intimidated then-newbies Eggemann and Sotos. Fool them once, shame on Borrelli; fool them twice, shame on them.

The scarecrow,tinman and cowardly lion is a perfect analogy. Even though the school board technically and legally is Heinz’s boss, they act like they are second graders and she’s the schoolmarm. I have watched a few meeting videos and I’m waiting for her to “shush” Sotos.

EDITOR’S NOTE: And when she can’t “schoolmarm” somebody, Borrelli rushes in to grab hold of the reins and get her out of harm’s way.



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