Thursday, February 22, 2018

Breaking News: Six Day Notice Posted. Dr. Hector Garcia to be Approved as New Superintendent on 2/26/18

The Six Day notice was published yesterday, can be accessed at the following link and identifies Dr. Hector Garcia as the candidate who will be approved by the BOE at the February 26, 2018 Regular Board Meeting:  Six Day Notice.  

The notice provides Dr. Garcia's proposed salary and benefits for the next 3 years (which we will comment on below). In addition, Dr. Garcia's Resume can be accessed at the following link: Dr. Garcia's Resume. We found the notice within the Salary/Benefits Tab within the Financial Reports Tab within the Department of Business and Operations tab. Not easily found, but at least it was posted. We assume it must have been posted late Monday night following the Special Board Meeting.

So what is our initial impression of Dr. Garcia's candidacy?  We begin by saying BRAVO to the BOE!  

In order to write this post, we reviewed Dr. Garcia's resume and conducted some online due diligence. As we conducted our research, our optimism and excitement surrounding Dr. Garcia grew. We are impressed with Dr. Garcia's background,  credentials, work experience and reputation in the communities he has worked.  It is our hopeful opinion that with his knowledge base Dr. Garcia may be exactly what D181 needs right now to steer the district back on course.

We, the bloggers, have always taken the position that D181 is not a starter district for administrators. We believe that administrators, especially those in the central office, must come to our district with wide-ranging experience and not have to learn how to do their job after arriving here. We hoped the BOE would identify and hire a superintendent with a background and experience in Curriculum, especially after years of curriculum turmoil in our district. We hoped the person would have high school experience, in order to be able to understand the importance of articulation with the high school D181's chidren will attend. We also hoped that the new superintenent would have experience in finance and human resources, in order to be able to jump right in to tackle the fiscal problems D181 is currently facing and assist the BOE in negotiating a fiscally responsible teachers' contract.  Finally we hoped that the new superintendent would have work experience in high achieving districts similar to D181.

In Dr. Garcia, the BOE may have hit a home run.  

He has over 22 years of educational experience in grades K through Grade 12. He has systematically worked his way to the top job in the central office -- a superintendent -- after working as a teacher. Assistant Dean of Students, Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, Director of Educational Services, Principal, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services (Teaching and Learning), and the last 5 1/2 years as a superintendent. 

Dr. Garcia is currently the superintendent of a diverse (both racially and socio-economically) K-12 district -- Plano District 88 in Illinois -- with approximately 2400 students.  Dr. Garcia was approved as the Plano Superintendent in 2012 and in 2016 his contract was extended for an additional 5 years.  With a much smaller budget that D181's in Plano, it appears Dr. Garcia has worn many hats.  Unlike D181 which has many levels of Assistant Superintendents for various departments, Plano, does not have Assistant Superintendent positions, rather only has a Director for Teaching and Learning and a Director of Assessment. Dr. Garcia appears to be in charge of the finance department and human resource department, and he is currently completing a CSBO endorsement (Chief School Business Official).  (Sources: Plano District 88 2016 State Report CardPlano District 88 websiteDr. Garcia's Resume,  3/17/16 Kendall County Now article.

Prior to his hire as Plano's superintendent, Dr. Garcia worked in high achieving districts and schools such as Glen Ellyn District 87 and Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in particular as a curriculum administrator.  (Source:  Dr. Garcia's Resume.) 

As one news article stated:  "His educational experiences range from working in a predominantly low-income, minority setting to one of the most affluent and high-performing schools, Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire."  (Source:  1/30/12 ValleyLife Press article.)

One gets a sense of who Dr. Garcia is in reading his Superintendent's message on the Plano District 88 website, which states in part:

"My passion for education stems from not only my work in schools for over two decades but also witnessing firsthand how difficult it is to raise kids in a challenging era. As a husband and father of four young children, I too know how challenging it is to raise kids with various strengths and weaknesses in school even with two educators at home! ...
As an educator, I have had the privilege to see and experience the power of school systems that work as a collaborative team and have student learning as their essential mission and goal. During my time in schools, I have been a teacher, high school principal and a district administrator in struggling as well as highly successful school districts. I have had the honor of leading and contributing to the work of outstanding educators as we developed a school system that has been recognized at the local, state, and national level.
I look forward to building upon the great work that has been done throughout the district in the past. I am always available to speak with parents and students and gain insight and perspective on the recent accomplishments, as well as the challenges that we face in the future. Please call me ..., so we can find a common time to meet and sit down for a cup of coffee.
The ultimate goal of our work together is to continue to foster greater levels of collaboration for the benefit of our students. Thank you for your support!"  (Source:  Plano District 88 website.)
Turning next to Dr. Garcia's compensation package, according to the Six Day Notice, he will have a 3 year contract and his starting base salary will be $235,000.  In years 2 and 3 of his contract, he will get a raise, the equivalent  CPI up to a maximum of 3%.  This means at most his base salary in Years 2 and 3 will be $242,050 and $249 311.50.  In addition, each year, he is incentivized to meet his performance goals in order to annual bonuses of up to $15,000.  
While these numbers seem high, we compared them to what Dr. Garcia is currently making in Plano, a much less affluent and smaller district than D181.  Under the terms of his contract in Plano, Dr. Garcia will earn $196,070 in 2017-2018; $205,873 in 2018-2019; $216,166 in 2019-2020; and $226,974 in 2020-2021. (Source:  3/18/2016 WSPY news article,)
Comparing Dr. Garcia's base salary to Dr. White's current contract, Dr. White's base salary for the 2016-2017 school year was $239,527.31 with the same annual guaranteed increase in base salary as Dr. Garcia will receive. (Source:  Dr. White's Current Contract.)  So Dr. Garcia's guaranteed base income is less than Dr. White's was 1 years ago.  
While some may criticize Dr. Garcia's salary as being high, the question we must all ask ourselves is"did we really think D181 could get an experienced, well rounded, yet cheap superintendent to come in and fix the district's mess,"  especially one with experience and working knowledge in all the different departments he will be overseeing and who currently has a five year contract?  
The answer to that question is an obvious NO.  D181 is currently in a mess.  It will be a challenge for any new superintendent to come in and fix the mess.  In order to attract a highly qualified and experienced superintendent and expect him to leave a job where he was given a 5 year extension requires paying top dollar.  We may not like it, but that is the reality of the situation D181 finds itself in.
We are excited at the prospect that maybe this time the BOE has gotten it right.  We are encouraged by the fact that Dr. Garcia is experienced, especially in the area of curriculum, and obviously has been successful in his current district, gaining the trust of a board that has awarded him with a 5 year contract extension.  We have never heard of any superintendent getting that length of an extension.  
We are looking forward to Dr. Garcia being formally approved on February 26. We hope the BOE will invite the community to a reception at which we can all meet him.  Dr. Garcia will face many challenges in getting D181 back on track.The first will be working with the BOE to hire an Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum. We think there are also a couple principals retiring this year so Dr. Garcia will have to work with the BOE to hire their replacements. He will also have to help solve the fiscal problems D181 is facing and assist the BOE in negotiating a fiscally responsible teachers' contract . We hope he will be welcomed by all in our community -- staff, parents, community members, students -- and allowed some time to sort through the mess and create a plan to address the curriculum issues, special education issues, capital needs issues and financial issues. 
Of course, time will tell how successful Dr Garcia is as D181's superintendent.  For the sake of all of our children's education, we truly hope he will be and we sincerely wish Dr. Garcia good luck as D181's next superintendent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Part 2 of Series on how Delusional and Self-Serving Behavior Will Not Help Solve D181's Budget Crisis Caused by Years of Administrative Neglect -- How to Erase the Deficit

Part 2 of this series will now address How To Erase the Deficit.

Before we begin, we want to point out a new development that took place since the 2/12 board meeting that may make the district's financial crisis even worse than what was projected. In an attempt to deal with Illinois' fiscal crisis, Governor Rauner has proposed shifting teacher pension costs to suburban school districts. This might save the state money, but will it would increase expenditures for districts such as D181 by millions of dollars.  (Source:

Over the last several years the D181 BOE has discussed the possibility of this happening, however, each time, the administration kicked the can down the road and failed to take any proactive steps to "save for this rainy day" by levying to the maximum allowed by law and growing our reserves.  Case in point: back in February 2016, when the BOE was discussing the proposed $65 million HMS referendum, a couple of board members voiced concerns that we wrote about in our 2/8/16 Blog Post.  Despite the concerns raised about possible future liabilities, the majority of the board charged ahead to build an expensive new school without including funds for improvements needed at other schools.  We now know that the board was kept in the dark about the true conditions of the other buildings in D181 and the $10+ million that needs to be spent over the next five years. If Rauner's pension reform goes through and it finally does "rain," D181 is not prepared to handle the increased budget deficit.

In light of the state of the district, and the possibility that State legislation will make the deficit worse, what should be done to balance the budget? The following are our opinions. We encourage ALL readers to sound off and make your opinions known to the Board of Education before they cast their deciding votes on what to slash and what to keep.

To begin, we are not going to opine on the specifics of the cuts that the BOE has already indicated it supports. Rather, we are going to focus on the possible cuts the administration is still discussing and has asked the adminsitration for more information on. Per the Board Meeting Summary, the board already agreed to trim the deficit by correcting inefficiencies, and were supportive of eliminating the SELAS consultant and middle school Content Leaders, reducing summertime professional development, eliminating the Central Offic reception position, eliminating one TOSA (Teacher on assignment), reducing the cost of the Community Relations position, changing hiring practices in an effort to improve the balance of new graduates and veteran teachers, managing art teachers' time more efficiently, starting orchestra in 5th grade rather than 4th and finding a new location for the District office.  (Source: Summary of 2/12/18 board meeting.)

Unfortunately, these combined cost reductions will not erase the deficit.

The board asked for more information and will continue discussion on the following possible cuts:
-- Reduction of PE classes to 3 times per week from 5 times per week
-- changing the school times in order to achieve transporation efficiencies
-- increasing transporation eligibility to 1/5 miles (from the current 1.0 miles)
-- an administartive salary freeze
-- a teacher salary freeze.
(Source:   (Source: Summary of 2/12/18 board meeting.)

As discuss below, in our opinion, the board should only pay for things that are legally required and approve these cuts and freezes. This will position the district to permanently erase the budget deficit, allow the disrtrict to pay the $10 million in needed capital iimprovements at 8 schools over the next five years, as well as absorb a possible shift in pension liability from the state to the district.


1.  $690,000 of the deficit will be erased with the "efficiencies" that Mr. Dada has identified, none of which impact our students. (Source:  2/8/18 proposed cut list.) The BOE has already agreed to those cuts.  One can only wonder why these efficiencies were not identified sooner, and how much smaller the deficit would be if they had been implemented three years ago.  Remember, Mr. Surma was hired into a brand new position, created especially for him by Dr. White.  Dr. White identified what Surma's role would be when he told the press:

"White added that Surma will also be looking for ways to save the district money.  His duties could include bidding out contracts to find less expensive alternative business, or finding ways to save on transportation costs, according to White.  He will also analyze technology purchases inside and outside of the classrooms, as well as facility needs.  White said the goal is for Surma to improve the district all areas." (Source:  7/15/14 Suburban Life Article.)

Excuse us while we cry FOUL!!!!  Did any of these promised things actually take place?  We think not and would urge all community members to storm the next board meeting and ASK WHITE WHY NOT!

2. Since correcting the inefficiencies and making the cuts that the full board has agreed to will not wipe out the deficit, in our opinion, the next thing to keep in mind is that D181 is a PUBLIC school district.  Expenditures are paid for primarily with tax dollars and tax dollars are dependent on the tax levy rates set each December for the following year.  Public schools are regulated by state laws that define specific programs that must be provided.  If required, the public schools must pay for those programs.  If they are not required, then public schools need only offer what they can afford.  Continuing to pay for wants that are not required by law should be suspended if to continue them will drive the district into financial ruin.

3.  The third thing to keep in mind is that taxing laws allow taxing bodies to increase taxes annually to a MAXIMUM amount -- the lesser of CPI or 5%.  D181 has had years where the tax increase was virtually flat due to very lower CPI rates.  However, as we pointed out, for several years, the BOE has also not levied to the maximum allowed by law and as a result, revenues that could have lowered a future deficit were never collected (and now cannot be recouped).  It is, in our opinion, unconscionable that the administration didn't do the work needed to properly identify the capital needs (to the tune of over $10 million) and build those expenses into the recommended tax levy rates.   But once the truth was told, it was the obligation of the Board to levy the maximum amount in order to allow the district's programs to be funded and not put in jeopardy.

4.  Last December 18th, after the Chief Financial Officer finally did the work that had been neglected and explained the true state of the district's budget, 6 members voted to finally LEVY to the MAX for the upcoming year.  One did not  -- Marty Turek.  (Source:  See roll call vote summary at bottom of Agenda page describing 2017 Tax Levy resolution on Board Docs for 12/18/17 BOE meeting.)

5.  We were shocked then at Mr. Turek's blatant act of irresponsibility in voting NO -- a vote that reflected a complete disregard of the NEEDS facing D181, but we were even more shocked to listen to the delusional suggestions he made at the 2/12/18 Board Meeting.  Rather than acknowledging that perhaps his vote had been a mistake last December, he continued ignoring the District's NEEDS and financial condition.  He suggested that the Capital NEEDS at 8 of our schools that Mr. Dada said were critical and must be addressed immediately should be DELAYED.  That's right folks -- delayed.

6.  In our opinion, until the deficit is erased, the BOE must levy to the maximum allowed by law EVERY YEAR going forward.  The community may not like it, but if anyone leaves money on the table they are hypocrites to also suggest NOT cutting programs or other budget line items that the district cannot afford any longer and ignore capital needs.  If Mr. Turek is unwilling to raise taxes to fund NEEDS, then he should resign!  And anyone unwilling to levy to the max to help erase the deficit should not consider running for the BOE in the next election cycle.

7.  As if Mr. Turek's refusal to levy to the max last December wasn't bad enough, at the 2/12/18 BOE meeting, he suggested that the deficit be handled by dipping into reserves.  He claimed that he was concurring with Board Member Giltner's suggestion about using reserves. Take the time to listen to the Podcast because you will first hear Mr. Dada's explanation of why the district CANNOT AFFORD to use ANY of the district's reserves to lower the deficit.  Then you will hear Mr. Giltner AGREE with Mr. Dada.  Next you will hear Mr. Turek -- who either wasn't listening or doesn't have the mental capacity to comprehend what the grown ups at the board table were discussing -- claim to "agree" with Mr. Giltner and then suggest that the deficit be handled with reserves.  If you listen to this part of the discussion, you may conclude, as we have, that Mr. Turek is delusional.  (Fortunately Mr. Giltner was quick to correct him and inform "smarty" Marty (our words not his) that he had said the exact opposite of what Turek was representing.

8.  In our opinion Mr. Turek was pandering to the crowd of teachers who attended the 2/12 meeting since during public comment they also suggested that reserves be spent down.  We are baffled by Mr. Turek's conduct, since his suggestion is not in the long term interests of the taxpayers and district.

9. We believe that anyone who suggests that reserves should be used to offset the deficit should be criticized as irresponsible and unwilling to face REALITY! Even Dr. White publicly acknowledged that the deficit cannot be fixed by spending reserves.  He said so during the meeting. In light of his unwillingess to be fully transparent in the past, the situation must be really bad if he felt the need to actually be candid and open about this reality. As reported in the Doing's article: 

"Several teachers, including Maura Fagan, a teacher at Monroe School and president of the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers Association, suggested the district use its reserves to help offset the deficit.

If this was just a one-time occurrence, the district might consider using reserves, Superintendent Don White said. But an architect identified needed improvements that will cost $2 million to $2.5 million in each of the next five years.  And the district should allocate about that much for the next 10 years to properly maintain its facilities."  (Source:  2/13/18 Doings Article.)

Further, as reported in the Hinsdalean's article, "Superintendent Don White said using the district’s reserve funds as a remedy would be a short-sighted approach for a long-range issue.
“These are recurring costs that we know we are facing, so we’re going to have to take action now to balance the budget,” said White, who also pointed out numerous state-level unknowns that could adversely affect funding the district receives from the state." (Source:  See Page 5 of 2/15/18 Hinsdalean.)

10.  We actually agree with Dr. White and in our opinion, the deficit cannot and must not be reduced by spending any of the district's reserves.

11.  Before the BOE approves cutting any programs that impact our students, it must first stop the self-serving behavior of the administration and teachers.  If you take the time to listen to the Podcast of the 2/6 Finance Committee or review the cut list presented to them for discussion, you will realize that the initial cut list prepared by the administration failed to include any suggestion of an Administrator or Teacher salary freeze. (Source:  2/2/18 Draft Cut List.)  During the finance meeting, it was finally disclosed that almost $1,000,000 can be saved by freezing salaries for just one year and those amounts have been added to the draft cut list presented to the full board on 2/12/18.  (Source:   2/8/18 proposed cut list.)  So why wasn't the suggestion of freezing salaries on the list of ways to reduce the deficit?  In our opinion, freezing salaries is a MUST before any cuts are made that will impact the classrooms and our students, especially, if as discussed below, teachers are unwilling to support cutting programs that are no longer required by law.  The BOE must immediately begin discussions with the administrators and union leaders of both the teachers and support staff and get a commitment from them to reduce or freeze their salaries for one year in their next contract, if not sooner.

12.  Salary freezes are a no-brainer in a district that pays its teachers the second highest salaries in the states and that has been giving administrators raises at a ridiculously high rate.  More than 80% of the district's budget is used to pay salaries and benefits for the teachers and administrators.  If you look at Slide 10  of a Power Point presented to the Finance commimttee, you will see that D181 teachers are the second highest paid of all comporable districts in the state.  Their average salary is $30,000/year higher than neighboring Western Springs, and $14,000/year higher than Butler's district in Oak Brook. Teachers are fortunate to be locked into multi-year contracts that set their salaries and annual increases.  But in past crisis, both D181 administrators and teachers have agreed to SACRIFICE and lowered their salary expectations.  During the last national fiscal crisis almost 10 years ago, the administrators' salaries were frozen for one year (January 2010). (Source: Minutes of 1/11/2010 Board Meeting).  The teachers also agreed to a one year base salary freeze in a 3 year contract approved in October 2011.  (Source:  10/24/2011 Joint Statement.)

13.  Such sacrifices were applauded by our community and will be applauded if our highly paid employees agree to them again.  Teachers and Administrators cannot simply expect the community to support spending cuts that will impact our students, or call for spending down reserves that are needed for future unexpected expenses, without being willing to be part of the solution, especially when a one year salary freeze in combination with the $690k in "efficiencies" identified by Mr. Dada would wipe out the deficit.  If teachers are unwilling to agree to a freeze, we would urge them to consider lowering their salary increase expectations going into the next contract. The reality is that expenses have outpaced the revenues collected and since over 80% of the budget expenditures are for salaries and benefits, something has to give, especially if teachers' pension liability may be shifted to our district.

14. However, since it is unlikely that salary freezes or salary reductions will be agreed to before the next teachers' contract is negotiated, the BOE must still identify other means to lower the deficit.  The remaining "big ticket" items are: changing the start times of school in order to allow efficiencies in bus transportation to realize over $300k in savings, changing the bus pickup eligibility from 1 mile to 1.5 and reducing PE from 5 days to 3.

15.  Changing school start times.  In our opinion this is a no brainer if it will save $300,000 per year.  We are frustrated that the community will have to go through a second start time change in 2 years and once again cry FOUL against an administration that was tasked with finding ways to reduce expenditures but instead implemented a change that raised expenses.  To now have to reverse course does not seem fair to students, parents or teachers, but it is one change that will not have a direct impact on the services offered to students in the classroom.  

16.  Changing Bus Eligibilty.  By law, D181 is only required to provide free transportation to students who live 1 1/2 miles or more from their school and to those living less than 1 1/2 miles from school but who must cross a designated hazardous crossing.  It is our understanding that for years D181 has been offering free busing to students who live 1 mile or more from their school regardless of the hazardous crossing.  Thus, the administration has recommended, as a possible cut, complying with the letter of the law and only providing free busing to students who live at least 1 1/2 miles from their school or those who must cross a hazardous crossing.  This would generate $250k in savings.  Again, since the district must live within its means, if something isn't required of a public school district, it should, in our opinion, only be offered if it can be afforded.  Unless the district finds sufficient other cuts to erase the deficit, this transporation eligibility change will have less impact the on students and parents than cuts to classroom programs.  The alternative is to charge these parents fees, but since no one likes to pay more for what they've previously gotten for free, we predict that most families would find alternate means to get their kids to school.

17.  Reducing Daily PE to 3 days per week.  Finally, the administration has proposed reducing daily PE to only 3 days per week, an action that would save $450k per year.  Listening to public comments made at the 2/12 board meeting and following parent comments on social media, we understand that teachers and many parents are not supportive of this change.  Studies have shown that daily PE is good for students.  No one can dispute that.  The problem is that a public school district should only offer what it can afford or raise the money needed to pay for it.  Unfortunately, we now know that the district cannot afford to offer daily PE unless it finds other ways to erase the deficit.  Teachers who are opposed to reducing PE to 3 days per week cannot have their cake and eat it too.  In our opinion, if they really want to keep daily PE in place, they need to offer some concessions, such as reduction in their salaries or a future freeze in their salaries.

18. Some teachers and parents have suggested going to an operational referendum to raise moneys needed to balance the budget.  We doubt that the D181 taxpayers would approve such a referendum at this time, unless all other cost reduction options were implemented and the district still found itself in financial trouble.  With new federal tax laws no longer providing any property tax incentive beyond a $10,000/year deduction, school districts are going to have a much tougher road to travel in convincing people to raise their property taxes to bail out a district that has over extended itself.  In our opinion, operational referendums will fail and should not even be proposed unless pension liability is shifted to the district, resulting in massive deficits that will require more money to be raised to keep our district's legally required programs in place.

19. D181 is in financial trouble. After years of overspending and not identifying millions in needed capital improvements, the BOE must make cuts that will be painful for someone. To do nothing, spend down reserves or ignore possible future legislation that will increase the deficit, serves NO ONE.  There are districts that have dug such a big financial hole for themselves that the state must take over running them.  This is not a road we, or anyone, should want D181 to go down.  Corrective steps must be taken now that are permanent and will lead to a balanced budget that the district can afford to maintain.

20.  Finally, we have not always praised the board, but after reviewing all the budget materials, we have concluded that this fiscal mess is NOT the BOE's fault and that almost all of them recognize the seriousness of the situation.  They are our elected officials and as fiduciaries of our tax dollars, they are tasked with fixing the mess.

We wish the BOE luck in making their final decision on what will stay and what will go.  Our expectation is that once the BOE figures out how to get D181 out of this mess, the board will not allow future administrations to turn a blind eye to the true needs of the district, and will demand that the district live within its means.  It is unfair to provide "wants" when in the end,  "needs" are not paid for.  It is unfair for the public to be asked to simply bail out a district that has lived beyond its means by asking us to approve an operational referendum.  What has happened is WRONG and the Board of Education must find a way to make things RIGHT.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Part 1 of New Series on how Delusional and Self-Serving Behavior Will Not Help Solve D181's Budget Crisis Caused by Years of Administrative Neglect -- How Did We Get Into This Mess

Today we begin a 2 part series in which we opine on the budget reduction crisis facing D181.  Part 1 will address "How Did We Get Into This Mess."  The second part, to be posted soon, will address: "How to Erase the Deficit."

Before weighing in, we, the bloggers, decided to do our homework.  We have spent over 20 hours
-- reviewing all available materials,
-- including listening to past podcasts including the BOE's and Administration's discussion on the proposed budget cuts at the February 12th meeting and the Finance Committee's discussion on Febuary 6,
--monitoring our readers' comments on this blog,
-- monitoring comments posted by D181 parents on other social media websites,
--reviewing all budget materials and minutes of past board meetings at which tax levies and budgets have been addressed and
-- reviewing the D181 staff's' survey comments that are now available on BoardDocs.

We do not suggest that our opinions and conclusions that follow are the only right ones, but we do believe they are logical.  As always, we encourage continuing debate by our readers. We invite our readers to SOUND OFF on our opinions and conclusions, but suggest that you first take the time to:

-- Review the Proposed Cut List:  2/8/18 proposed cut list
-- Read the District's summary of the 2/12 BOE meeting: 2/12/18 Meeting Summary
-- Read the Doing's article summarizing the 2/12 meeting: 2/13/18 Doings Article
-- Read the Hinsdalean's article summarizing the 2/12 meeting:See Page 5 of 2/15/18 Hinsdalean
-- Read the Staff Survey comments:Staff Comments on Proposed Budget Cuts
-- Listen to the Podcast of the 2/12 BOE Meeting (yes, it is long, but you owe it to your children):
-- Listen to the Podcastof the 2/6 Finance Committee Meeting:



1.  For at least the last 3 1/2 years on Don White's watch as superintendent and Ken Surma's as Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations,  D181 has been living beyond it's means. (Note:  Following Surma's "resignation" last year, he was replaced by Moshin Dada, whose title is Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer).  Despite the BOE repeatedly asking the administration to identify and inform the board of actual District NEEDS that required annual funding, and that would drive the annual tax levy determination, prior to Dada's hire,  the administration failed to do so.  As a result of White and Surma's not informing the BOE of the District's true NEEDS, until last December the BOE had not "levied to the max" for several years.  It "left money on the table" -- revenues that were actually needed to pay for capital needs -- and that can NEVER be recouped.

2.  During Board discussions leading up to the levy rate determinations over the last four years, the BOE told the adminsitration it would always find a way to pay for NEEDS, but the adminstration would have to identify them. Instead of identifying actual needs, the adminstration came to the BOE with "wants."  The administration ignored the capital needs of all the schools other than Hinsdale Middle School.  It failed to develop and present to the BOE a Facilities Master Plan.  It failed to develop a 5 year budget and its monthly budget reports were repeatedly late and often based simply on projections and not actuals.  During the HMS referendum process, critics pointed this out and demanded that a Facilities Master plan be finalized before "bells and whistles" were incorporated into the very expensive new middle school project.  Yet as we sit here writing this post, no plan has been presented or approved by the BOE.  Some board members also recommended that the HMS Referendum include monies to spend on needed capital improvements at the other schools, but the administration did not recommend this and with no Facilities Master Plan to back up this suggestion, the majority of the board did not vote to include anything for the other schools in the referendum. (Note:  We are aware that work on finalizing a Facilities Master Plan has been done since Dada's hire to develop a Facilities Master Plan, but until it is actually BOE approved, there is no final road map for the district to follow.)

3.  One example of White and Surma asking the BOE to approve wants instead of needs was that instead of identifying millions in needed capital expenditures at ALL the schools, the BOE was asked to shift monies away from a needed roof replacement at Elm School to pay for a fancy paver driveway at Monroe.  Fortunately the BOE realized before it was too late that this would be totally inappropriate.

4.   Not until last fall, after the BOE hired Moshin Dada to replace Ken Surma and run the business department, was the board finally informed of the millions of dollars in capital needs that had been ignored.  (Source:  5/22/17 Personnel Consent Agenda) Mr. Dada threw himself into the job of figuring out the true state of the district's finances and what he discovered was shocking to all of us.  He is the first administrator in years to realize that the district is in financial trouble and that the administration acted in a completely irresponsible manner (our words, not his) by blindly recommending unnecessary luxury facilities' improvements and curriculum, technology and transportation expenditures that it could not really afford.

5.  For example, the administration recommended the BOE approve 1 to 1 technology, create many new positions such as multiple Teachers on Assignment and Middle School Content Specialists, and increase full time teachers by not following class size guidelines. Further to appease certain board members' concerns about students "lack of sleep," the administration recommended changes to the school start times, which had the effect of driving transportation costs up by over $300,000.  All of these expenditures drove the budget into deficit -- but a deficit that was hidden in the shadows because the administration had failed to budget for the needed capital expenditures at 8 of our schools.  But worse yet, all the while the budget was growing, the administration failed to identify $690,000 in "inefficiencies" --until Mr. Dada finally did so.

6.  One can only wonder how the district's finances could have been ignored for so long on White and Surma's watch, but if you do your research, you will discover that White created a new position for Surma when he started at D181.  Surma worked for White at his old district, but not as a financial administrator and when he started in D181 White created a brand new position for him called Assistant Superintendent of Information Services and Operations. After a vacancy was created when the existing Assistant Superintendnt of Business and Operations retired (rumors indicate he was run out for no good reason and he is now working --  not retired -- in another state), White promoted Surma.  No "search" was conducted to hire an experienced or seasoned financial officer.  (Sources: Personnel Consent Agenda5/18/2015 Personnel Consent Agenda)

7.  Since his hire, Mr. Dada has shown no fear in telling it like it is.  The district deficit must be erased this year because if not, it will only get worse.  He has clearly informed the board that the cuts will not be easy but that they are necessary.  He has also been quite candid in explaining why the deficit must not be handled by spending down the district's reserves and that to do so would be fiscally irresponsible.

8.  Thank you to Mr. Dada for finally telling the community what the true state of the district's budget is.  It is disheartening to realize that Don White failed to do so and will now waltz out of the fiscal mess his administration created, leaving it to the new superintendent to deal with.

Now that the community (or most of us) have finally woken up to the truth, hard choices must be made by the BOE to erase the deficit.  We are finalizing our commentary on the cuts that we believe should be made and will post Part 2 of this Series shortly.  Until then, SOUND OFF!  We'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Breaking News: Is New Superintendent Announcement Imminent?

We have been closely monitoring the D181 website to see when, and if, the 6 day notice will be posted informing the community of the name of the proposed superintendent hire and related compensation package.  So far, no 6 day notice has been posted, but today we saw an agenda for a Special Meeting has posted on BoardDocs.

The board is scheduled to meet in executive session -- again -- on Tuesday, February 20, at 8 pm.  (Source:  The only substantive item on the Agenda is a Personnel Discussion.  (Source:

Since no 6 day notice has been posted, we do not believe the BOE will be voting to approve any new hires at this meeting. But since there haven't been any more series of closely held meetings, perhaps this means that all the BOE has left to do is hammer out a new contract for the incoming Superintendent.  

We hope the BOE has something to publicly announce by its next regularly scheduled meeting, which per the online calendar will take place on Monday, February 26. (Source: Board Meeting Calendar). By our count, to do so will require the BOE to post the 6 day announcement no later than Tuesday night, February 20. (Source:  5 ILCS 120/7.3(b))

We will check the district website again on February 20 and notify our readers of any announcement. Until then, stay tuned!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Proposed Budget Cuts Could Hurt D181's At Risk Population

Tonight we received the following comment asking that we create a free standing post dealing with the impact the D181 proposed budget cuts may have on Special Education. After reading the comment, we have agreed to run it as a free standing post.  As always, SOUND OFF!

"Frustrated said...
Please create a free-standing post for Special Ed.
Under Don White, Special Ed interventions have almost disappeared, and this at-risk population continues to fall further behind. The suggested budget cuts will remove almost all the specialized instruction these at-risk students receive; they already lost writing lab. What's left if they remove academic strategies, reading lab, and math lab?

Statistically, only 15% HMS and 13% CHMS Special Education students are prepared for the next step.
Almost all neighboring districts do significantly better.
• Hinsdale Central Feeders: Butler 29%, Westview 18%, and Gower 15%.
• LT feeders: Highland 33%, McClure 23%, Park 25%
• Westmont 25%
Why are these districts doing to help these at-risk students reach success?
The Board of Education needs to know the true state of Special Ed in D181, and recognize that our special ed students need more, not less, to close the gap.

Does your child have an IEP or a 504? Do you feel part of your child’s IEP team? Do you feel supported?
Are your child’s needs are being met at school? Do you use private tutors and therapists?
Have you resorted to alternative education to help your child close the gap?
Have you hired an advocate? Have you hired an attorney? 
February 10, 2018 at 11:34 AM

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New Superintendent Won't be Approved by BOE on February 12th

We have just checked the D181 website and Board Docs.  With no Six Day Compensation Package posting anywhere on the D181 website or Board Docs and no reference to a posting at the District Administration Center, we have concluded that the D181 Board of Education WILL NOT be approving a new superintendent at the February 12, 2018 meeting. No other Special Meetings are posted on Board Docs.

What does this mean? Hopefully, just that the BOE is negotiating the terms of a contract with the incoming Superintendent and the timing just didn't work out for the Six Day posting in time for next week's meeting.

For the sake of the district, and because the BOE must turn its attention next to hiring Department of Learning administrators to take over for the interims, let's hope the BOE can wrap up the superintendent hire soon. He/she should be involved in hiring his/her central office team, so every day matters.

Perhaps the BOE will know by February 12 who they will be hiring and will make an announcement during the meeting!

So stay tuned, and as always, SOUND OFF!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Breaking News: Draft Budget CUT list now Available for Viewing!

As everyone knows, D181 is facing a multimillion dollar deficit over the next 5 years.  The administration was tasked with drafting a "cut list" for discussion by the Board of Education, with the goal of balancing the $1.35+ million deficit projected for the 2018-2019 school year. In checking BoardDocs today to see if the SIX DAY posting had been published announcing a new superintendent's compensation package, we found a new notice for a meeting of the D181 Finance Committee.  The meeting is scheduled for February 6 at 5 pm at the Administration Center.  Agenda item 3B is titled "Budget Deficit Reduction Discussion."  The finance committee will be the first group to "vet" this list before it is presented to the BOE.

There are three documents under this agenda item tab, and we encourage our readers to review them (click to open):

2018-2019 Budget Deficit Reduction Executive Summary

2/6/2018 Powerpoint for Finance Committee called Budget Deficit Reduction

DRAFT - D181 Budget Reductions/Revenue Considerations

We have not yet had an opportunity to review these documents in great detail, other than to see if the Adminstration has come up with a big enough cut list to balance the budget. According to these documents, D181 faces a 2018-2019 projected deficit in the amount of $1,355,994.  The goal was to identify at least $1.5 million in cuts in order to balance the budget and create a surplus that can carry over into future years.  The DRAFT - D181 Budget Reductions/Revenue Considerations identifies over $1.6 million in proposed cuts for 2018-2019 and an addional list of possible future cuts totalling over $2.1 million.

But will these cuts impact the classroom?  Are they fair and responsible suggestions?  Are they self-serving in any way for the administration? We will be closely reviewing the documents over the next day or so and will post our opinion on the proposed cuts.  In the meantime, we encourage our readers to do the same!

Stay Tuned and SOUND OFF!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Is the "SIX DAY" Announcement on the New Superintendent Imminent?

It has now been 3 months since the D181 Board of Education approved the Agreement to Mutually Terminate Dr. White's Employment Contract.  (Source: 10/30/17 Termination Agreement)  Since October 30, 2017, the BOE has hired a search firm to conduct a search for Dr. White's replacement.  The search firm has conducted focus groups with various constituency groups and circulated a survey to the community in order to develop a Superintendent's Profile.  

At the January 16, 2018 BOE meeting, the search firm presented the results of their research to the BOE. Two documents were presented to the BOE:  Superintendent Survey Results and Superintendent Profile. The survey results and profile are intended to guide the BOE's decision on who to interview and ultimately hire to lead D181.

According to page 12 of the Superintendent Profile, on January 21 the BOE was to conduct a first round of interviews, followed by a second round on January 27 and 28, culminating in a February announcement of who the new Superintendent will be.  BoardDocs confirms that the BOE met for "Special Meetings" on January 21, 27 and 28, so we assume that they conducted interviews on those dates.  On January 29, the BOE had a Regular Business Meeting and during Executive Session (Agenda Item 2A) discussed personnel.  Again, we assume that they continued their discussions on who to hire.  

No announcement was made at the January 29 meeting, which is not surprising, since as we recently learned from the announcement Dr. White's future district published on its website, under Illinois Law, 5 ILCS 120/7.3(b), 6 days prior to approving a compensation package of an employee that exceeds $150,000 the compensation package must be publicly posted, and none was for the 1/29 meeting. (Posting on Mokena website re Dr. White's compensation package.)

Specifically, 5ILCS 120/7.3(b) states:

(b) At least 6 days before an employer participating in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund approves an employee's total compensation package that is equal to or in excess of $150,000 per year, the employer must post on its website the total compensation package for that employee. If the employer does not maintain a website, the employer shall post a physical copy of this information at the principal office of the employer. If an employer maintains a website, it may choose to post a physical copy of this information at the principal office of the employer in lieu of posting the information directly on the website; however, the employer must post directions on the website on how to access that information. (Source: P.A. 97-609, eff. 1-1-12.)(Source:

Further, 5ILCS 120/7.3(c) specifies the information that must be published:

(c) For the purposes of this Section, "total compensation package" means payment by the employer to the employee for salary, health insurance, a housing allowance, a vehicle allowance, a clothing allowance, bonuses, loans, vacation days granted, and sick days granted. (Source:

We cannot imagine a scenario in which D181 will hire a superintendent whose compensation package is valued at less than $150,000 since there are lower level employees in D181 making more than that. This means that no later than 6 days BEFORE the BOE votes to approve the new superintendent, it must either publicly post on the D181 website details of the new superintendent's compensation package, or post this information at the District office and so inform the community of the building posting on the D181 website. Either way, the community will know, almost one full week before the BOE approves the new superintendent, who he/she is and how much he/she will be paid.

Currently, the next BOE meeting is scheduled for February 12, 2018 (Source:Board Meeting Calendar). If the BOE has already picked the next superintendent, by no later than February 7 it must publish information on the compensation package. Unless it buries the information on the website (which would be very NON-transparent), the community will have plenty of time to do their own due diligence on the candidate and write to the BOE if they have compliments or concerns to voice ahead of the vote.

We have reviewed all sections of the D181 website where we believe the BOE might publish the compensation package (Main Page, News, Business Department, Board Docs) and it does not appear to be available yet.  We will continue to monitor the district website and inform our readers as soon as the identity and compensation package is published.

In the meantime, we encourage our readers to review the Survey Results and Superintendent Profile the search firm presented to the BOE.  The results are not surprising in light of the events leading to Dr. White's leaving the district.  Below is a copy of Page 7 of the Survey Results which identifies the qualifications the respondents want the new superintendent to have:

(Source:  P. 7 of Survey Results)

In addition, below is a copy of Pages 5 and 6 from the Survey which identify the most important characteristics respondents want the new Superintendent to have:

We eagerly await the "SIX DAY ANNOUNCEMENT" and identification of who D181's next leader will be.  Let's hope that THIS TIME, the BOE gets it right!

Until then, we'd love to hear from our readers what they think of the Survey Results and what their expectations are of our elected officials.  So SOUND OFF!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Upcoming Administrator's Departure Provides a "No Brainer" Opportunity for D181 to Reduce the Budget Deficit by $118,000

Today parents and community members were emailed the latest "Community Connections," D181's Newsletter.  It included the following announcement:

"Administrator News from the Director of Communications:  Director of Communications Bridgett McGuiggan has announced that she will be leaving the district, with her last day in D181 being February 2, 2018, pending the Board's approval of her resignation as part of the Personnel Agenda at the January 29, 2018 Board meeting.  Please watch for a statement following the Board Meeting regarding Ms. McGuiggan's future plans and information on how the vacancy will be addressed."

We have decided to weigh in on how the Board should fill this vacancy.  IT SHOULD NOT!

With a confirmed $1.5 million budget deficit, that could potentially be $500,000 larger due to the new HMS budget not including line items for needed technology and to move the District Wide Technology Hub to the new HMS, the district can ill afford a Director of Communications.

Let us remind our readers that Ms. McGuiggan's current annual BASE salary is $96,370 (excluding insurance and retirement benefits).  Source:  4/17/17 Personnel Agenda.   The district website has not posted the 2017-2018 comprehensive Salary and Benefits report, so we cannot report what her current total compensation package is.  However, the district website has posted the 2016-2017 Salary and Benefits report which shows her BASE salary as $92,663, and insurance and retirement benefits as  $21,631 for a total compensation package (excluding the "value" of 20 sick days and 20 vacations days (over and above national holidays off) of $114,294.  (Source:

Assuming her insurance and retirement benefits have not gone down this year, her current compensation package is worth AT LEAST $118,001.

That's right, $118,001!

When Ms. McGuiggan was hired on February 27, 2012, her base salary was $82,500. (Source:  2/27/2012 Personnel Agenda.  This means that in 5 years, her base salary increased by $13,870, on average, more than 3.4% per year.

It seems to us that now that the HMS referendum has been approved and the district's taxpayers are no longer getting bombarded with fliers and mailings marketing the bait and switch project, there is really no reason to employ such a highly compensated Director of Communications.  The Board of Education is about to be tasked with approving over $1.5 million in BUDGET CUTS.  The decisions on what to cut will be tough. The Board should now ask what exactly Ms. McGuiggan's current job responsibilities include that cannot be performed by other existing administrators, assistants to administrators and administrative secretaries?

In our opinion, at a minimum,  the BOE should make the short term decision to NOT FILL THIS VACANCY and then further explore the real need for a Director of Communications with whoever is hired as the new Superintendent.

Once the new superintendent is hired, he or she must work with the Board to eliminate the $1.5 million plus budget deficit.  As parents, former D181 parents and district taxpayers, our expectation is that not one penny should be cut that will have a direct impact on our students UNLESS that cut is absolutely needed to balance the deficit and NO OTHER CUTS are available. We expect that whoever the Board hires as the next superintendent will not only agree with us, but will find a creative way to COMMUNICATE with parents and taxpayers WITHOUT employing a Director of Communications!

Eliminating $118,001 from the deficit by not hiring a new director of communications is a NO BRAINER!

Now the only question is whether the 7 seven board members (or at least 4 of them) will use their very intelligent brains and come to this same conclusion!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Breaking News: HMS Construction Budget Doesn't Include Over $530,000 in Needed Technology Funding

Tuesday night we listened to the 1/16/18 Board Meeting Live Podcast.  We hadn't done this in a while, but after glancing at Board Docs, we were troubled to read two documents that seemed to suggest that the $53 million dollar budget for the new Hinsdale Middle School does not include over $530,000 in needed Technology Funding.  This UNDERFUNDING is not just technology funding for HMS, but funding needed to move the current Fiber Optic Cabling and Hub for the entire district from the old HMS to the new HMS.  Without this hook up, the entire district will be negatively impacted.

We urge our readers to do 3 things:

2.  Listen to the Podcast starting at Counter 1:18:11: Click to Open 1/16/18 Meeting Podcast.

3.  Write letters to Dr. White and the Board of Education DEMANDING accountability for this latest fiasco.

The following is a very brief summary of this latest mess.  We are disgusted by this information, but even more disgusted to see that the local paper so many residents rely upon for "news" -- the Hinsdalean -- didn't publish a story exposing this (at least not as of the writing of this post).  We have decided that it is not our job to spell out all the details for the entire D181 community.  Rather, we are only going to provide a framework and links to allow our readers to gather the facts on their own. If our readers choose not to do so, then so be it.

What we learned is that over $530,000 in NEEDED technology was NOT budgeted into the $53 million HMS referendum.  This technology includes $180,000 needed to move the DISTRICT INTERNET HUB (our words to describe the Fiber Optic Cabling that runs from HMS to all 9 schools) from the OLD HMS to the NEW HMS. In addition, $285,000 is not included in the budget for Network Equipment and Installation and approximately another $60,000 is not included for needed technology equipment.  

During the board meeting, the 6 members who attended (once again Marty Turek was a no-show), all expressed concern about this underfunding of the HMS budget and asked many tough questions about how it was possible that the new building budget excluded the technology that is needed to run the entire district.  Some board members rightfully pointed out that taxpayers ASSUMED when they voted for the new HMS that it was an "all in" project and that at a minimum, the new HMS would contain the same services and items that the old HMS has.  Further, other board members pointed out that it is troubling that as the project has rolled out, the Board has been asked to ADD things to the budget, such as a fitness center and larger basement, and have been asked (but didn't approve) "extras" such as adding back the running track and using expensive tile flooring.  

We should all recall that the original Cordogan Clark (the architect's) design budget was $47 million, but when costed out was over $70 million.  The board then directed them to come back with a cheaper design, and things like the running track, auditorium and turf field were eliminated to bring the cost down.  At that time, the community was not aware that in addition to these items, operable windows were also eliminated and the HVAC system was downgraded.  After the project started, some of these items were identified as being needed and were added back. To our knowledge, at no time was the BOE or community told that the budget would not cover NEEDED TECHNOLOGY.  It remains unclear whether this was not budgeted in the first place, or was stripped out during the attempt by Cordogan Clark to lower the cost of the building.

In a nutshell, and in our opinion, there may have been another HUGE BAIT AND SWITCH tactic perpetrated on District 181 taxpayers.  The first questions that need to be answered are WHO IS AT FAULT and WHO NEEDS TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE?  

Additional questions that need to be answered are:

1.  Did the HMS design budget EVER include the NEEDED technology?
2.  If not, why not?
3.  If yes, when was it stripped out, who authorized it and who in the District knew about it?
4.  Why was the BOE not told about this until NOW?

The most important question, of course, is HOW WILL THESE TECHNOLOGY NEEDS BE PAID FOR?  By now everyone knows that due to capital needs at the other 8 schools not having been budgeted for in the last few years, the district will now face a $1.5 million deficit and CUTS ARE COMING that may impact our children's education.  The latest on this can be found at 1/16/18 Superintendent's Report.

It is clear from the comments made by some board members, that the district CANNOT AFFORD to pay for the HMS TECHNOLOGY NEEDS from the district budget, since this would grow the projected deficit and increase the cut list by another $530,000.  So something will have to be cut from the HMS budget.  Will it be NEW furniture? Will it be HIGH END FINISHES?  We don't know and neither does the Board at this point.

What we do know is that SOMEONE needs to pay for this underfunding and the BOE needs to conduct an immediate investigation to determine who is responsible. 

We hope the BOE will report their findings to the community at the next Board Meeting. 

Until then, SOUND OFF here and by writing the BOE and Dr. White letters expressing your opinion on this issue.