Election of Board Officers
First up on the agenda is the election of the Board President, Vice President and Secretary. Board Policy 2:110 sets forth the qualifications, term and duties of the board officers. (Click to open 2:110. We have also copied the text of the policy below.) The policy provides for one year terms, sets a limit of two terms for each position and spells out the administrative duties for each officer. The position of President is obviously the one with the most duties, the most important of which include presiding over all meetings, making all board committee appointments, calling special meetings and serving as the board's spokesperson with the media. The Vice President's main duty is to perform the President's duties when he is absent or unable to perform them.
The officer positions are currently held by President Marty Turek, Vice President Jill Vorobiev and Secretary Mridu Garg. Between April 2012 and April 2013, Michael Nelson was president and Glenn Yaeger was vice president. Anyone who has attended or listened to past board officer elections knows that "the fix is in" before the organizational meeting even starts. Typically, it is clear that there has been wheeling and dealing outside of board meetings amongst the seven board members that culminates in the nomination of a single candidate by a fellow board member. Then, after no discussion of any kind, a vote is immediately taken affirming the nomination. Rarely is a second board member nominated for a position, but when this has occurred, the candidates are not afforded an opportunity to state why they want to hold the position, before the votes are immediately cast. In such cases where there is a second nomination, you can tell from the body language and facial gestures of the majority of the board that they are just going through the motions of a "contested" election since "the fix is in" and the first vote results in the majority voting for the first candidate nominated, with the second candidate getting at most 2 votes --his/her own vote and that of the person who nominated him/her.
So what will happen on Monday night? We hope that this time around, there is a new process followed, whereby whoever wants to serve in an officer position will be nominated, allowed to state their reasons for wanting to be elected, followed by a discussion by the board on each nominee before the votes are cast.
Who should be elected to serve as the Board President? To answer that question we need to look at what we've learned about our board members in the last two years.
In our opinion, when Nelson was president, he served as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the administration. As soon as his presidential term expired, he became a regular "no-show" at board meetings. (Click to open Attendance Record.) In our opinion, he has been openly rude to people making public comments or filing FOIA requests with the district. Along with Mr. Turek, he has called for FOIA law reform that would restrict the community's access to public records and is counter to recent FOIA law reform.
During Mr. Turek's one year as President, in our opinion, he too has served at the whim of the administration, done Dr. Schuster's bidding, shown his true colors as a bully and hypocrite and missed important meetings. Mr. Turek has admitted to preparing for meetings while at his regular job -- on the same day as the board meetings and well after the deadline Schuster has set for submission of questions. He has accused fellow board members of "going down rat holes." He has repeatedly come to Schuster's rescue during board meetings and tried to deflect attention away from questions that fellow board members have asked.
In Turek's absence, Vice President Vorobiev has presided over the meetings. We have been impressed with her conduct, the respectful manner in which she has treated her fellow board members during discussions and community members during public comment. Similarly, on one occasion, Ms. Garg presided over a meeting when both Turek and Vorobiev were absent, and she too was respectful to everyone. Ms. Vorobiev and Garg, while only completing their first year as board members have both expressed concerns when warranted and not simply rubber stamped every recommendation made by Schuster. In our opinion, Vorobiev has become more self-confident and proactive during the public meetings. She has begun openly asking questions when concerns arise.
During the course of the last year, we have seen which board members come prepared for meetings, have submitted substantive questions to the administration following publication of Board Docs for purposes of preparing for the meetings, and engage regularly in active discussions during the board meetings before voting on business items. In our opinion, there are three board members who have fulfilled their obligations to serve our community as elected officials tasked with the responsibilities set forth in Board Policy 2:020. (Click to open Policy 2:020.) These three are Jill Vorobiev, Brendan Heneghan and Mridu Garg.
Sadly, Garg and Heneghan have been disrespected time and again by their fellow board members, other than Vorobiev. They have been disrespected by Schuster. Yet through all of these attacks, they have shown the backbone to stand by their principles. They have compromised only when they felt it was in the best interest of the district, even if it was clear that they did not necessarily agree with the issue they were voting to approve. They have always done the research and preparation needed to try and fully vet and understand each issue, have tried to make decisions that were data driven, even when the administration and Mr. Turek did everything possible to not answer their questions or provide the requested data.
Mr. Clarin has also just completed his first year as a school board member. He has been proactive outside of board meetings, but in our opinion, he has gone too far, seemingly authorizing himself -- since we have found no record of a public discussion by the board requesting (prior to his doing so) that he assume various roles -- to micromanage many issues that go beyond the scope of a board member's responsibilities. These have included the HMS facilities issues, both during the crisis and now as a member of the facilities committee. He has given interviews on more than one occasion to the media, despite the fact that only the board president is authorized to do so. He has not supported or defended community/parent committee representatives who have bravely come forward to call into question the disingenuous nature of superintendent committees he has served on. (Click to open 8/31/13 Post.) In our opinion, during the Donoroo fiasco, despite evidence to the contrary brought forward by D181 staff who bravely came forward to expose alleged improprieties, he quickly volunteered to serve as the board member investigator (rather than support an independent investigation) and concluded that nothing wrong had occurred. Now, as he has personally admitted to parents and community members, he is serving as one of the lead board member negotiators during the ongoing teacher contract negotiations, despite, in our opinion, the obvious conflict of interest that exists because his wife is currently a teacher in D181. He has gone to at least one school to observe and speak to teachers about curriculum issues, while such behavior would have been discouraged or forbidden if done by other board members, past and present. In the last six months, Mr. Clarin seems to have single-handedly achieved power and authority in D181 that has been unheard of for any prior board member. One can only imagine what his behavior might be if he is elected to be the board president in the same year that the new superintendent is hired. Who will really be running D181 if that is allowed to happen?
So who should be elected as the next board president? We have chosen not to publicly endorse a particular board member for any of the officer positions, since we believe each one of you should come to your own conclusion. We do believe, however, that it is pretty obvious that there are four board members who have proven that they should NOT be elected to lead the board. Only three board members should be considered and whoever is nominated should state publicly why they want the job and what they hope to accomplish if elected. Will such a process be followed? We doubt it, but are hoping to be proved wrong. We'll let you know what happen once the votes are cast.
Facilities Committee Report on Hinsdale Middle School Needs
On Monday night, the BOE will also hear a presentation from the Superintendent's Facilities Committee on what work they recommend be done at HMS to address the roof leak and soffit issues. Mr. Frisch, the Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations, has submitted 2 board reports on these issues. (Click to open Roof Report, click to open Soffit Report.) During the meeting, the Board will only be asked to vote to approve the low bid for soffit work, in the amount of $312,523.00. Mr. Frisch's report is silent on whether the Committee recommends moving ahead with this work at this time.
With regards to the roof issue, Mr. Frisch's report candidly sets out 2 options that are being presented to the board for discussion purposes only. The vote on the options is not scheduled until April 28. The committee has been meeting regularly to discuss the HMS issues since the January 27 Board meeting. We encourage everyone to read the detailed report, which also sets out a historical timeline of HMS facilities work that has occurred since 1976, the year it opened. The report explains that "The majority of committee members prefer the option referred to as “Short-Term Solution for Long-Term Planning.” Some committee members prefer the option referred to as “Full Replacement.”"
The two options are described as follows:
Short-Term Solution for Long-Term Planning Recommendation: This option will cost $328,000 + $15,000 annually (service calls).
Per the report, "in this option, it is recommended that the Board take action on a short-term (approx. five-year) roof solution with the intent of the District then completing research to determine the community’s interest in various long-term options for HMS. If the community research shows support for only maintaining the building and/or renovation of the current facility and/or an addition onto the current facility, the Board could plan for a full roof replacement at that time. If the community research shows there would be support for new construction, the District would not want to invest $2.33 million in a new roof.
Further, the roof replacement would solve only one of the school’s facility challenges, and even that solution does not guarantee a leak free environment. There are still roof drain issues and drain pipes running through the building that have caused leaks. Short- Term Solution for Long-Term Planning would address between 50-55% of the leaks coming from the roof.
Information from community research would allow the Board to take informed, research-based action that has long-term solutions in mind. This would also allow time for the new District superintendent to be involved in the process.
Investigating the possibilities for HMS could lead to creative and innovative facilities solutions. This planning is a critical factor in providing school structure that complements and harmonizes with the educational system of tomorrow. It is prudent to address known areas of water infiltration with a minimal repair approach to allow the community an opportunity to voice their questions, concerns, ideas and vision for the future." (Report, page 3.)
Full Replacement Recommendation: This option will cost $2.33 million.**
Per the report, "in this option, it is recommended that the Board take action on a full roof replacement (of the metal portion of the roof.) This solution would solve the major issues with the current roof, including water infiltration from the ice damming and the leaks arising from the vertical panels. According to Mr. Mulvihill, this would be a 99% solution. If the roof is only patched and repaired, it is likely we will continue to experience leaks, which could in turn negatively affect the infrastructure (walls, beams, etc.). Additionally, continued leaks increase the potential of future mold growth. Valuable staff time would be used to investigate leaks, replace ceiling tiles and drywall, clean, and control water. This work could disrupt the educational process, and there is limited space where staff and students can relocate.
Repair costs are unknown; the cost of repairs could add up quickly, as would the associated staff time in managing these issues. Further, one of the challenges of roof repairs is timing due to weather. Different conditions create different types of roof problems (i.e. freeze/thaw). We may not know if a repair has been successful until a problem is identified. Further, some repairs may not be able to be completed in certain weather conditions.
The Short-Term Solution for Long-Term Planning recommendation would need to last no less than five years because even if the community supports construction of a new school, current students and staff must learn and work in a safe, healthy environment during the construction period, which can last three years following a successful vote. The future of HMS is unknown. The District should protect the building with a long-lasting solution no matter what decision is made in the future." (Report, p. 4.)
Several questions emerge from this report that we hope the BOE will explore and discuss at Monday's meeting:
1. Who on the committee comprises the "majority" that supports Option 1?
2. Who on the committee comprises the "minority" that supports Option 2?
3. What reasons does the "majority" of the committee have to reject Option 2?
4. What impact would spending a total of at least $3.5 million of taxpayer money this year (mold remediation, leak repairs and new roof) have on the community's future support of a referendum to raise at least $25 million more in taxpayer dollars for construction of a new middle school?
Every other school in D181 has undergone a complete rebuild or major renovation and improvements in the last 10 years. It is now Hinsdale Middle School's turn. Should a new school be built? Should millions be spent now on a new roof, when it may be the community's desire to tear the building down and start over? The community and taxpayers have not been asked what we think. It is time to do so before any decision is made by the BOE on which option to approve. As Mr. Frisch stated at the last meeting, the work done from January through the beginning of April remediated 20 years of mold. If the district could wait that long to address a pervasive problem, it seems appropriate to take the time now -- over the next three to six months -- to find out what the community wants, not just what a "majority" of a committee or "some" of a committee feel is the right decision.
We can only speak for ourselves, but if the majority of the community wants a new school, then we don't want another $2.33 million of our hard earned tax dollars being spent on a new roof that will be demolished in the next two to three years. The first step that the Board should take before committing millions of additional dollars towards long term solutions at HMS is to conduct an informational referendum or a survey that goes out to every taxpayer in D181. What is your opinion? Please sound off.
We hope the BOE acts in a responsible manner on Monday night and doesn't simply "rubber stamp" Option 2 should it turn out that the "some" on the committee who support this option are the administrators and perhaps Board Member Clarin, while the majority who support Option 1 are the parents, community members, current and retired teachers.
Dr. Moon's Report
The third major agenda item that will be discussed during Monday's meeting is the administration's response to Dr. Moon's follow up report prepared after her return visit to D181 two months ago. (Click here to open Moon's report.) Dr. Moon's report was published on Board Docs for the March 10 meeting, but it has taken nearly 1 1/2 additional months to schedule a discussion on what the administration thinks of this report. Now, at long last, the Department of Learning has prepared a report addressing Dr. Moon's "Considerations" (a word that could mean "concerns....") The Department of Learning has responded to the Considerations by describing "Action Steps" it will take for each one. (Click to open Board Report.)
The BOE's discussion of the administrative report is the very last item on the agenda. Monday's meeting could prove to be another long one, due to the complex nature of the items on the agenda. We, therefore, begin by expressing our disappointment that Schuster and Turek (who set the agendas for each meeting) have put this long awaited report at the tail end of the meeting agenda. In our opinion, such action sends a clear message to the community that the Board hopes few people are left in attendance or listening to the live stream of the meeting by the time discussion on this item rolls around.
More importantly, however, we hope that all seven board members read all of Dr. Moon's report, the Department of Learning's Board Report and then thoughtfully consider the administration's response and "Action Steps." We read through the report several times and came away angry and frustrated, because while the Department of Learning's board report is chalk full of mantra's such as "professional development," "classroom observation," reconvening task forces, forming new committees and holding more lectures for parents to attend, and more training for teachers, to address Dr. Moon's considerations, it is devoid of any mention of DELVING DEEP INTO an ANALYSIS of student performance data. All of the action steps listed will be subjective in nature, leaving no room to confirm if the steps the Department of Learning has or will take in the future are backed up with DATA.
Will any BOE member push the Department of Learning administrators -- all four of them -- to explain why Data Analysis is not at the top of the Actions Steps list? The four Department of Learning Administrators who put their name on the Board Report -- Russell, Schneider, Igoe and Benaitis -- have a combined annual income of over $521,000. (Click to open Administrator's salary chart.) Will any BOE member strip away and demand more detail and information on the, in our opinion, seemingly slapped together list of actions these four highly paid administrators put together -- a list made up of actions that are already taking place in the district? We certainly hope the Board demands some answers and accountability, but frankly, at this point in the school year, we doubt that the majority will.
We will report back on Tuesday or Wednesday after we have had time to listen to the 4/21 board meeting. We end by continuing to encourage all parents and D181 taxpayers to attend or listen to the Board meetings. The next board election is just 11 months away -- on April 7, 2015 -- and it is never too early to start planning a campaign to replace some of the board members that might choose to run for reelection.
*It appears that the location of the April 18 and 19 meetings was not changed, as no changes were made to the agendas for those 2 meetings. It is disappointing that the BOE failed to recognize the inappropriateness of conducting what was noticed up as a public meeting at a members only facility, Ruth Lake Country Club. We posed questions in our last post about the manner in which payment for the facilities/food/beverage charges will be accounted for by Ruth Lake. Will all payments made be booked as charges incurred by club member Marty Turek. In the interest of transparency and full accountability, the Board of Education should set the record straight about this during the April 21 public meeting.
**To date, the Mold Remediation and Roof Leak work done at HMS has already cost over $1.2 million. Adding the cost of a roof replacement will bring the total spent to over $3.5 million of taxpayer money.
Text of Board Policy 2:110 on Qualifications, Term and Duties of Board Officers: