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Points to Ponder About District 113

Thoughts about the community in light of the high school board's community meetings.

Our community is comprised of individuals who differ on many issues. We stand united in our desire for safety, excellent education for our children, and the numerous attributes of our neighborhoods.

As homeowners, we realize the high taxes we pay for the above. We also realize that we want, and expect quality for those dollars. We are stakeholders.

I recently attended the sponsored by the Board of Education regarding capital expenditures for our two high schools. There are costly improvements that must be done.

I am in favor of spending money on our schools, but have reservations on how this money is spent.

It seems apparent that routine maintenance - for whatever reason - has been woefully neglected.  When we see for ourselves or are informed about stair treads in heavy traffic areas, either missing or in disrepair; when banisters and stair railings are loose and insecure; when toilets do not function for long periods of time; no excuses are acceptable.

For a district that has over 35% of our budget in reserves (approximately $35 million), a dual question looms. Who are the individuals deemed responsible for the buildings, and what are their qualifications? Why haven't the buildings been maintained over the years?

We have two schools, representing less than 3800 students, with an operating budget of over $90 million. This exceeds the operating budget of the ENTIRE City of Highland Park, with 30,000 residents. The City's budget is responsible for all streets, sewers, snow removal, police departments, fire departments, and a multitude of other services. Something is wrong with this picture.

The consensus of well-respected and documented demographic studies project a DECLINE of 15%-20% in student enrollment over the next 10-15 years.  This fact must be acknowledged and incorporated into any "Master Plan."  Why do the "powers that be" seemingly ignore the credibility of this data?

Last year, after a failed referendum, many people stayed closely involved in the next steps for the schools, because we care. To date, over $300,000 of taxpayer money has been spent on a combination of failed plans, PR firms, market research groups, and hiring new firms. All of this money designed to make a new plan.

The same Board of Education that pushed for the referendum now takes the position that we should forget about the first price tag of $133 million, which was said to be absolutely necessary:  Let’s try again.

The District-sponsored market research committee found that the community at large had credibility issues with what the Board of Education was saying. A community-wide survey was issued to all households, and there were even hard copies available at libraries. As citizens, we were given a recap of what the community said, but were never given access to the data from the responses. The Board provided several various excuses for not disclosing the raw data, including that the general public was not educated enough to understand it, all the way to finger-pointing over who actually had the data.

The Board of Education missed a good opportunity to restore their tarnished reputation. Sadly, now it is too late. Any creditability factor has vanished, even if the data still exists.

We all have heard numerous times about the 100 or so people who served on the committees, all their hours invested, and their findings. On paper, all of this sounds great, but when looking past the statements, the working groups were heavily weighted by Board of Education members, paid employees, vendors who work for the District, and then finally some well-intentioned community members. The deck was stacked from the start.

An oversight committee, which became a steering committee, and then became a cheering committee, was supposed to sort through all the input.

Within the past month, parents and guardians of Highland Park High School students received a letter notifying them that they had the option to transfer students to Deerfield High School due to No Child Left Behind. HPHS has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for FIVE years, and is being forced to plan a school restructuring as a result. In the SIXTH year, the restructuring must be implemented.

Why wasn't this important piece of information given to the community at large when it affects our schools? Where is the transparency here? The public relations department at District 113 has certainly been active publicizing the study groups and presentations. The lack of disclosure on NCLB casts doubt on what the Board of Education is sending out.

We pay tremendous salaries to those in charge ….. some of the highest in the country, and deserve the top notch service our high property taxes reflect. Yet last Tuesday evening, at the community presentation from Perkins + Will, the new architectural firm, hired for $120,000, our expectations were again let down.

At this presentation, paid for by us the taxpayers, and sponsored by the Board of Education, no one expected that forms would be handed out for questions or that two people, volunteers from the Leadership committee would glance at the questions and statements in a five-minute break, and then, at their discretion, decide what to read and answer giving their own views. WHERE were the decision makers, and why weren't they answering the hard questions?  This Board would NOT answer our questions.  It was an insult to the community. 

The germane issue here is that we the taxpayers will likely again be asked to pay for a multi-million dollar referendum, and the Board of Education has not yet given us answers.

If 113 wants the support of this community, they need to be more forthright, and answer questions directly. Accountability and transparency are powerful words, concepts that must have meaning, and held true to their definition. The members of this Board of Education asked for the stewardship of our schools. One-third of our tax bills go to these schools, we must have a voice, along with the elected officials, as to where that money is spent going forward.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dan Jenks September 19, 2012 at 10:41 PM
When Ashley says “the deck was stacked from the start,” she means the process (that you, David, participated in) is illegitimate and, by implication, anything coming out of the process is “fatally tarnished” (my words) and shouldn’t be accepted by the voters. I don’t know if a future referendum will pass or not but Ashley (and others like her) are establishing a story line for voting no – regardless of the future referendum’s merit. Beyond the message “Chevy not Cadillac,” what did the Survey really tell us? Not much. Is the Survey going to directly and materially affect the parameters of final recommendation? No. The Survey (specifically the way it was conducted and the non-disclosure of the raw data) has largely become a way for certain folks to attack the good intentions of other well-meaning folks who simply want to fix our schools. If just to quell the conspiracy theorists out there, I agree that the Survey raw data should be released.
Jesse L September 20, 2012 at 01:10 AM
It is laughable that people who were pushing a referendum for $133 Million, warning that the sky would fall if it did not pass calls the author for saying yes we should question this BOE and regarding different issues. Where was the BOE at the last meeting tht I gave up my time to attend/ that was ridiculous. Walter, you say on the 12 bog that that district ha too many administrators...and isnt run well. Yet the # of admin. people at 113 w/ those bloated salaries is ok?? How sophomoric of you to say "she" because you think you know who it is. Are you starting a witch hunt here? He/she/it/ wrote a fine piece that stands on the issues. I didn't notice you asking D'skidoc who or what that person is...especially after calling those who disagree "jerks". Talk about a double standard. Stop playing wag the dog.
David Greenberg September 20, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Dan, I totally understand what Ashley meant by "stacked from the start" - but at least in the Study Group I was in, what resulted wasn't "stacked" or "tarnished". There were many, many opposing viewpoints that were brought out for lots of very long discussions, and while everyone didn't agree with everyone else all the time (it might have happened once that I recall) - we were able to reach a middle ground that gave us a consensus on the rankings. Even after that - we were given the opportunity to tell the Architects anything we wanted - whether it was the 'consensus' finding or not - so they'd have even more info to work with. As anyone who knows me will attest - I'll be the first to complain about something done wrong or to compliment when done right. I don't have a thing to complain about how the meetings were conducted in the Study Group I participated in. In fact, I've publicly stated that once this whole process is done - we ought to condense it into a Case Study and provide the knowledge to other Governmental Entities wrestling with similar issues. The only dim point in the whole process as I see it is the lack of transparency with the Survey Results. Claiming that no one else can evaluate the data because they're not "marketers" is laughable at best. Many of us out here (myself included) have the statistical analysis and/or marketing skills to make sense of the data and would welcome the opportunity to do so.
Sheldon Langer September 20, 2012 at 02:38 AM
We have the highest salaried educators in the State of Illinois. A 20 % salary cut across the board beginning with the Superintendent. This would free up approx. $18 Million which could be used to upgrade & improve the facilities. We can easily replace those who don't accept the cuts in our current employment environment. There are loads of very talented, qualified individual who would happily replace them. Welcome to the real world.. No new taxes. Property owners are taxed enough already. The School Districts have to live within their Budgets, & not using the bulk of the dollars towards inflated, outrageous salaries...
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 20, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Oh, you know better, Richard. According to these goofs, accountability is only a one-way street. The district can present facts in triplicate and it's still not acceptable. In the meantime, when you ask for any accountability on any stats or - let's say - a complete 30+ page plan, the general answer is, "Huh?"
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 20, 2012 at 03:17 AM
And isn't that much of the point, David? There were more than 100 people participating in this whole thing. Maybe Ashley should consider for a moment whether more people would speak out if the deck was truly stacked. If those people didn't speak out, that's one h*ll of a coverup. In the meantime, I've only known of one person with this complaint throughout the whole process, and I"m sure many of us know who it is.
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 20, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Ashley, I love your point about the $300 K that has been spent since the referendum last year. Anybody that couldn't see that coming is pretty blind, not to mention the hidden costs of administrators spending hour after hour after hour babying this thing. You're right to ask about the board about these costs. I hope you're also asking organized groups such as EducationFirst about these costs. After all, this is EXACTLY what they wanted, and yet they didn't participate. Like your column, never-ending attempts to discredit these PROFESSIONALS without ANY solutions are an incredible waste of the community's time and money.
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 20, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Also, Ashley, you're just dead wrong to blame the school board for not involving the community. Taxpayers were more than invited to contribute for months at a time. Don't blame the school board because you were either: a) Late to the party and incredibly uninformed about the process; or B) (the more likely scenario) Chose not participate because you didn't have the skill to persuade large groups of your position.
Jesse L September 20, 2012 at 03:47 AM
Ah the day is complete ..BDB has come up from the muck to sprew his vitriolic venom again. Angry and spiteful you may be, but a mindreader..certainly not in your resume. you my misinformed little person are as usual completely wrong...but true to form...you sprew your anger...so sad
Jesse L September 20, 2012 at 03:53 AM
by the way, what have YOU ever done on a positive note besides criticize and accuse people of negative ideas. where have you EVER made any positive contribution except throw mud at Ed First. So sad to be so angry and accusatory when you have no proof of your mud slinging.
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 20, 2012 at 05:41 AM
LOL - ohhhhhhh, poor Ed1st. You're so, right, Mr. Above-It-All. They operate with such an honest integrity and upfront intentions. How could I dare to question their direction? Interesting how you didn't have a problem with the original editorial that does much of the same cheap, exaggerated mud-slinging. But, thank you for helping me see the light, Mr. Above-It-All. I must somehow be angry and just plain wrong to look for an open and honest process without the disgusting lies, exaggeration and hidden agenda. I must be crazy or something. I've said it before and I'll say it again. You'd never see another word from me if those who profess to demand an honest and open process operated by the same rules. I have no problem with my anger, Mr. Above-It-All. I'm very comfortable down here calling out the hypocritical scumballs when I see them. Since you seem to know a lot about me despite your first few hours of posting messages (hmmmmm?), you keep an eye on me, and keep that odd pity coming. I've got no problem with that. You call me out when I'm wrong. But you make sure you're doing the same for ALL parties. In the meantime, my positive vibes go out to the many people who have worked countless hours to actually discuss and work through this thing without stomping their feet. Whatever side of the discussion they are on, they have my complete trust and gratitude. Their efforts deserve more respect than many in the cheap seats want to give.
Walter (Tripp) Hainsfurther September 20, 2012 at 01:17 PM
Jesse: The Patch didn't bill D'skidoc's post as calling for transparancy. And for the record, I have consistantly complained about pseudonyms being used. I also agree that District 113 undoubtably should look at administrative costs as well. The BOE was at the last Community Presentation. They were scattered throughout the auditorium.
Dan Jenks September 20, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Jesse, I’ve tried to start a dialogue with Ashley above – so far, no response. I have no problem with challenging the BOE with a serious, thoughtful critique – in fact, I applaud it - unfortunately, most of Ashley’s points are specious and consist of throwing a lot of mud to see what sticks. The BOE went back to the drawing board to start over – as Ed1st and others wanted – and in return they get criticized by people like Ashley for spending money on consultants to explore alternatives. What chutzpah!
Steven N September 20, 2012 at 02:24 PM
So much is written with the authority borne of ignorance and fueled by misinformation and then it is taken as truth. Regardless of how the first process that led to the failed referendum was conducted, many things were learned from it. One of those was the formation of the community committees. I volunteered and was selected to serve on the Finance Committee. Speaking for myself, but I think on behalf of every other member of that committee, no one steered our team into anything but the recommendations that we made together. One of those, after much research and discussion regarded the absolute recommedation that the reserves of the district NOT be raided. They are the foundation of the credit rating that this district rightly holds dear. I will not diginify the comments about the districts compliance with No Child Left Behind with an further comment. I would strongly recommend that those that are really interested come to the remaining meetings, read the thousands of pages of documents that exist regarding the crying need for some infrastructure investment and hear the recommendations from all of the experts that were requested to be engaged. Then as a community lets evaluate the practicality, feasibility, financing and timing of those recommendations and decide how best to move forward. I for one will let my final decison be based on the best factual information I can find and I hope that is true for the community at large.
Tony Horwitz September 20, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Thank you Steven! We all need to treat this as a project that has awesome and long lasting importance and value, just as our predecessors did. The communities that built these two incredible institutions deserve that our attention be focused on the next half century, not on petty disagreements and personality conflicts. We may have differing opinions, but the FACTS are in the thousands of hours of work and the documentation thereof that is freely available to all on the district website. Let's stick to the discussion at hand (long range plan) and all work with an agreed upon set of facts. Example: FACT: The pools at both high schools have exceeded their design life and are in need of replacement. Opinions: We need two 10 lane pools. We could use one pool and bus the kids. Nonsense: Why do we need new pools? If it was fine in 1960 it ought to be fine now. FACT: The 1914 buildings at HP are dysfunctional, non ADA compliant, and in need of a complete rehab or replacement. Opinions: Tear down and rebuild. Rehab and repurpose. Just bring up to ADA standards Nonsense: Why can't they pay for this out of the maintainance budget?
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 20, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Dan, you should have learned by now: there's a segment of people who aren't really interested in a dialogue. If their lack of participation in the committees doesn't show that, I don't know what does. These people want their ideas to be the foundation of everything 113 does. Two of the many problems with that desire: a) they have no clue how to lead a large group of people to their position and; b) they can only communicate one way. But somehow, the community should roll over for them. Thanks to people like Tripp and others like him who stand up before the community, engage ALL ideas and have the skills, patience and passion to work through this properly.
Bryce Robertson September 20, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Out of everyone on the study groups, only a small number left before the process was finished. Three were published on Patch, and all three were Ed1st members who said the process was "useless" and "tainted". In my study group (Finance), along with those whose meetings I attended (T&L, Facilities, and the large advising group), we had many differing viewpoints, some who never could agree. The ideas we finally settled on were a mixture from both those who were in favor of the referendum previously and against it. To those who decided not to complete the process by saying it was worthless and a waste of time, you cannot now come back and say that your voice wasn't recognized or included, thus your point should be more important (or must be valid). Ashley here had the ability to provide her viewpoint during the study groups, yet, after reading all the minutes and attending as many meetings as was physically possible for me, I don't recall seeing her or hearing her once. We occasionally even had write-in/emailed notes that were read at our meetings - again, never heard her view. If you couldn't manage to come forward in the year we had meetings, then that's nobody's fault but your own. If you are hiding behind a pseudonym and did actually participate in the process, then let us know your real name so we can all have a mature discussion.
Bryce Robertson September 20, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Seconded! There was nothing but the utmost professionalism exhibited by all members of our committee, even those who didn't agree. And by the end, we had many divisive viewpoints coming together into final recommendations. The process worked.
David Greenberg September 20, 2012 at 06:39 PM
The costs seem high - but when you're talking about spending tens of millions, it's not much to spend to ensure we get this plan right, and have an efficient path to follow for the next 25-50 years. $300K out of the original $113M is only 0.265% Let's assume an $80M price tag (the past referendum was $70M, so let's add $10M for the purposes of discussion). $300K out of $80M is 0.375% Given all the money we poured into the past referendum ($70M) - and how it didn't seem to fix all the problems we were promised it would, spending $300K to get it right this time seems like a good risk. Is it a lot of money? Sure. $300K is a lot of money all day long - but in this case, I think it's the right investment to make. Along those same lines - we also told some members of the Board that we wanted to see a professional property manager or two hired so we could avoid a repeat of the current deferred maintenance situation. Their response was "Well, then someone's going to complain about the salaries!". Our response is "Sure, but so long as you can demonstrate that the person(s) hired saved us their salaries in actual or future costs - we'll have nothing to complain about. Hence the fact that they're planning on hiring a professional property manager as part of the proposed on-going maintenance plan. It'll save us money in the long run, so it's definitely the right way to go.
Dan Jenks September 20, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Good comment David - I hesitate to compliment you as I don't want you to lose your street cred with those with whom I don't see eye-to-eye.
David Greenberg September 20, 2012 at 06:58 PM
*grin*
Jesse L September 20, 2012 at 09:27 PM
Walter, I gave you more credit than this. you don't like what the author said..make a snide comment about who you think it is...so fess up. Who is it? You starred this spook hunt. Yet you excuse those others who cal people jerks, liars, idiots, etc. That is hypocritical. The fact that you would even try to validate the presence of BOe members "scattered in the audience" without the BOE answering questions...was just plain wrong. You know better than this
Jesse L September 20, 2012 at 11:12 PM
The Patch contains some worthwhile articles, and opinions. Yet the comments become so distorted, fueled by individuals who must be decent folk, but these same folk become enraged by other's views, and feel it is their right to exhibit self righteous behavior via name calling, labeling others as liars, assigning nasty values to people they have never met. And the final result? Our community is cast in a terrible, mean spirited light. Who would want to move here after reading some of these comments. There are always going to be issues to discuss that affect us as taxpayers, citizens, and neighbors. I don't care about the names adopted by people, but i DO care that this area can not discuss something without trying to be the meanest kid on the block. Knock it off now. It is a sad time if we would want our children to behave like this.It would be labeled bullying..not tolerated in schools, by our coworkers, and for our reputation..NOT tolerated here.
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 21, 2012 at 12:17 AM
A couple things you might consider ... 1) Cheap comments come from BOTH sides of the discussion. 2) More than 100 people came together to discuss and worked through this with great intentions. All of them gave a great amount time over several months and quite a bit of free professional consultation. Anybody who would focus on ridiculous message board squabbles instead of the effort of such a large segment of the community ... well, we'll just leave it at that.
Ed Brill September 21, 2012 at 01:22 AM
"I will not diginify the comments about the districts compliance with No Child Left Behind with an further comment." The district is in restructuring. They have acknowledged this. If the scores do not improve this year they will be forced into restructuring by law. I realize this has nothing to do with the space issues but I am kind of shocked that anyone could simply dismiss that as an issue?
Just Sayin September 21, 2012 at 02:22 AM
Jesse L. ... The fact of the matter is that it IS tolerated here. Your comments have a rather self righteous tone themselves ...therefore you are a part of the group you choose to scold. " Knock it off now"...you sound like an impatient parent or an aggrevated teacher.
Jesse L September 21, 2012 at 03:22 AM
just sayin..you are right. It is tolerated here, but we (and yes, I include myself here) need to stop thinking this is ok. I do sound like an angry parent/teacher, but I think it's wrong that we get so nasty when we disagree. don't you think it's a terrible message to our kids...ideas? Perhaps its the anonomity here but the messages are so nasty. You said it is tolerated here. Do you think it's ok?
Bringin' Down Briarwood September 21, 2012 at 02:49 PM
I hope you'll also consider the poor example set for the kids with the clear lies and obvious misleading statements of many. If I were to use this as an example with my kid, I would tell her the harmless name calling can be ignored. It's cheap, but in the end ... eh. People will always have different styles, and especially in the Internet age, it's something she will need to grow accustom to. However, the flat-out lies to sway large groups of people and the inability to follow up on promises would be far more concerning to me with her. On the other hand, there's also a great example for her on how sooooooo many people with so many ideas volunteered their time and came together for a great cause.
Jack Straw September 21, 2012 at 03:40 PM
This is the one of the best strings so far on this subject; this seems to be a good cross section of the opinions shared throughout the community. I know people that won’t vote yes no matter what is said, and I know the same amount that will vote yes on any school related referendum. It is nice to see David building some Consensus on this, now if you could stop being an expert on everything that would help your cause. What the pro builds should remember we are an ageing in place city with housing costs that exceed a first time buyers ability’s to meet. Additionally tax payers in general are fatigued and are struggling to meet the current tax bills. So your technical may be on solid ground your fundamentals are still week.
Just Sayin September 21, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Jesse L ... Personally I do not communicate with my friends, loved ones, business relationships or even strangers on the streets in a nasty or negative manner. My children have learned to communicate in a respectful manner by my example. I will in all honesty admit that I have vented a time or ten in formats such as this. We humans have the luxury of a wide range of emotions and communication styles. I do not stand in judgement of how or why people choose to express themselves in any given moment. I do think that in general people take themselves and their opinions too seriously. Life is too fleeting dwell in negativity and one would best maintain an open mind and heart. So...to answer your question, do I think it is ok...my answer would be yes. Humans will be humans...in all their beauty and ugliness. I would rather people vent their frustrations here than on the people close to them...or in road rage...or physical confrontations where someone might get hurt. One has only one person to look at in the mirror...and that is oneself.

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