Monday, May 26, 2014

Published Facilities Survey Results Evidence More Lack of Transparency That Raise Concerns About the Safety of Our Children

In the May 23, 2014 D181 Family E-Newsletter, the Director of Communications made the following announcement:

"Staff Facilities Survey Results Online
We have posted on our website ( > Board > Surveys) the school-specific results of a recent staff facilities survey. The survey was designed to help guide our District Facilities Committee in supporting the planning of long-term facility needs over the next several years by gathering feedback from staff about each school in the District. The survey addressed a variety of building components, ranging from green space and classroom size to visitor parking and safety. Facilities Committee members will be reviewing the data and working with administration to provide suggested action steps in concert with the Buildings and Grounds staff."

For those of you who were unaware, following the mold fiasco at Hinsdale Middle School in January and February and the unfortunate expenditure of millions of dollars (that by the way, have driven the district budget into a nearly $1.5 million deficit*), a Facilities Committee was formed that includes some incredibly intelligent, dedicated, hard working and extremely thorough parents, community members and D181 teachers.  The Facilities Committee was tasked with developing a long term master facilities plan for all of the schools, as well as making recommendations on HMS's more pressing needs.  One of their suggestions was to conduct a district wide facilities survey to identify issues at each of D181's nine schools in order to help in the development of a master's facilities list.

At the April 28, 2014 board meeting, an HMS teacher on the committee presented a preliminary report on the results of the HMS survey.  The preliminary results showed that teachers at HMS are very dissatisfied with the facility.  Now, the final survey results have been made available on the D181 website.  Click on the following links to open the survey results for each of the 9 individual schools:

We applaud all of the D181 teachers and staff who participated in the survey and who took the time to thoughtfully identify and discuss their concerns.  We encourage everyone to read the posted results in order to learn what problems exist in the opinion of the teachers and staff. You will quickly realize that HMS had the most issues identified by the responders, however, every school had one or more issues that should be addressed by the BOE and administration over the next five years.  

While we appreciate that the administration posted the survey results, we were disappointed that the results were heavily redacted.  We fail to understand the need to do so.  Teachers and staff answered the survey knowing full well that the Facilities Committee and the community would eventually see the results.  We find it hard to believe that so many comments were deemed inappropriate for publication by the administration.  Some of the redactions are of names of staff that the responders are commending.  Why would the D181 administration want to hide the identify of those hard working staff?  

The lack of transparency seems particularly egregious in the redactions to the question on security which asked: "If you feel there are significant security issues at your school related to facilities, please explain here." As one of our readers commented earlier today about the redactions to this question found on the Oak survey results,

"[T]here are about 10 comments. All are redacted. Why is this? I can understand editing out specific names, but ENTIRE COMMENTS?!? If there are security concerns at a building, I'd like to know them! If we're letting our children, our most prized possessions, go to these schools, and have friends and family work there, we have a right to know about any security problems. And I seriously doubt that the teachers and staff members would be unprofessional enough to use foul language on these surveys."

We agree 100% with this comment.  How dare the D181 administration hide this information from parents of students in these buildings?  We send our children to these schools every day with the expectation that they will be safe.  Tax payer dollars have been spent to supposedly secure the entrances of the schools and to enhance the phone systems, all with the stated intent of making the buildings safe.

If security concerns remain despite these efforts, we have a right to know what they are.  We also have a right to expect the administration and BOE to have a public discussion on how these safety issues will be immediately addressed.

This is yet another example of why the administrative leadership must change hands permanently effective May 27 when Dr. White begins working in D181 full time.  We have lost trust in the current administration for the multitude of issues we have discussed over the last year.  But this lack of transparency takes the cake.  We must not stand for the administration hiding from us the safety concerns raised by the teachers and staff, especially if the perceived issues compromise the safety of our  children.

We ask that Dr. White add this concern to the growing list of issues we hope he will address as soon as he is "allowed" to assume full responsibility as the SOLE superintendent of D181.  

*Click here to open May 12, 2014 Memo on the Fiscal Year 2013-2014 Tentative Amended Budget that discloses the deficit caused by the HMS fiasco. 


Anonymous said...

I imagine it would be a huge safety risk to publish on the internet the safety soft spots at each school. I would be uncomfortable with that.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with anonymous at 6:57

Anonymous said...

I certainly understand the temptation to keep "security" concerns secret but four reasons compel disclosure.

First, this amounts to nothing more than "trust us" but if the building as substantial security concerns, why should we be trusting. Think of the mold issue-blind trust has consequences.

Second, either the security concerns are fixable or not fixable. If they are fixable, nothing will compel a fix faster than disclosure. If they are not fixable, then we should know that now not later. Sure, I can imagine a situation where a fix is in progress but the answer then is to explain that a fix is in the works and a full report is forthcoming.

Third, the idea of secrecy is only secrecy from parents and kids. If multiple people know of the issues, how secret can they be.

Fourth, these concerns have never before been withheld.

Bottom line, total secrecy is not defensible. A modified disclosure that provides the core information might be. At this point, it is just another bureaucratic stonewall. Disclosure would force action and protect our kids. Secrecy is asking for another mold debacle. As for me, I would rather know and protect my kids rather than hope and pray that it makes it's way to the top of the pile.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the 3rd comment. If you have concerns talk privately with the principal. But don't compromise the safety of students by posting soft spots. Not everything should be transparent

Anonymous said...

I both agree and disagree with the last comment. Yes, posting "soft spots" is probably not a good idea. But how do you know that this the only thing that was redacted? And if there are that many soft spots in each of our district buildings that required identification by staff in a survey that was only conducted after the Facilities Committee suggested one, then what does that tell you about the current administration? It tells you that they haven't been vigilant on their own and not only identified these soft spots but then fixed them. Had they done so, the staff wouldn't be disclosing them now, would they? The fact that the staff has running lists of security issues that now the administration has blacked out for the rest of the community -- students and parents -- to see is not right. A discussion of the survey is not even listed on the board agenda for Tuesday's meeting or the next couple listed on the superintendent's report. Shouldn't the board be discussing the survey, including the security issues? Even if the soft spots shouldn't be publicly disclosed, there needs to be an immediate discussion for the community to learn what steps the administration is going to take to address them. And none is scheduled any time soon. That is simply outrageous.

Anonymous said...

I think the district should not tell the entire world about these soft spots, but maybe e-mail the parents & staff the concerns. Since we're the ones that have to deal with it, it would help for us to know which areas at which we should take more caution.

I also wonder why admin didn't take the survey? They might not directly educate our kids, but their working conditions affect the decisions they make about our kids. Sure, the administrators can talk amongst themselves and would know about some of the facility issues, but what about the support staff? Can they adequately do their jobs in the facilities provided? As some people have said in other posts, there's definitely a fear of retaliation among staff, and the support staff might not feel comfortable speaking up without it being anonymous.

Anonymous said...

All D181 support staff, custodians, teachers, and building-level administrators were encouraged to take the anonymous survey for the building/s in which they work. Links to the survey and computers (if technology was not available for staff to take the survey from home) were provided to all.

Anonymous said...

To the person who commented at 1:52: the question was that all the schools had a survey, but there wasn't one for the central admin building (i.e. Schuster, Schneider, Russell, et al plus the support staff in the admin building).

Anonymous said...

I had my four points above, and I never said to post "soft spots". That is precisely the type of illogic that government loves to use to keep people in the dark. Sure, don't give criminals a road map. But the idea that we could actually have security issues and not be told, no thanks. Multiple people had concerns. Candor is the best security. I don't blindly trust anyone for my kids safety. Don't buy secrecy arguments, they are almost always flawed.

Anonymous said...

Bottom line: If we had an adminstration that we could trust, this would all be a non-issue. The trust was broken, so in order to make sure it gets done, we feel that we need full disclosure.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the poster at 5:12. When the safety of children and teachers are concerned, there needs to be transparency. Parents can not make educated decisions or advocate for their children's safety of we don't what the issues are.

John Norton said...

Hi folks,

This is John Norton, I'm on the Facilities Committee. All of the parent members of the Committee agreed with the teacher representative that we redact the security softspot information. That teacher representative to the board is Kelly Sledz by the way. This was NOT a "top-down" decision. Please rest assured that 1) we completely agreed with this decision, and 2) we parents are very forthright with our concerns that we raise in Committee meetings.

The security information could allow easy intrusion into school buildings by people with nefarious intent. It would be appalling to post this data in public forum. As I understand, the district is working to address these security issues. We are meeting again tonight and I will confirm their effort.

I hope this provides some clarification on this issue. :)

Please take care and enjoy the wonderful weather we are having!

Best regards,

- John

jay_wick said...

Dr. Norton:

Thanks for sharing the info regarding why parts of the report where redacted. Glad to know that some folks can stay on top of these things but still troubling that security issues are not resolved in a more expedited manner...

It is of course logical to keep information about potential security issues out of public documents but given the fact the district has had numerous past projects that involved security upgrades one wonders if this, like the indoor air quality issues you are well acquainted with, is yet another incidence of failure to maintain the facilities in an appropriate way.

Since there has been no major appropriation for heavy construction and these things are currently being worked on it is very likely that the deficiencies brought to light in the survey will be addressed through things like ensuring doors actually lock, hydraulic door closers are operational and malfunctioning security intercoms / buzzers are repaired.

In a better run district a true professional facilities staff would NOT need to hear about these things from teachers, they'd be proactively checking the integrity of such vital perimeter security. Of course given the low bar for performance that seems to exist in too many areas that the district should be leading in this is less a surprise than it is simply on par with the kinds of decision making the district demonstrates ...

Anonymous said...

Well said Mr. Wick, well said.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. Norton for the insight. While I agree it would be foolish to publish security concerns to the anyone and everyone, I would feel feel more comfortable if the district let the staff and possibly the parents know the concerns. Just so they know where these areas are and could make appropriate changes to their routines. Some might realize how insecure a certain place is and not take the necessary precautions.

John Norton said...

Mr. Jay Wick and Anonymous,

Complete agreement with your thoughts. One interesting aspect we have found out in the past few weeks regarding facilities management was significant issues with PROCESS. Many of the aspects the faculty and staff identified in the survey could have been quickly remedied via a work order system. Most of the teachers (who are even aware of the system) do not use the work order system because it requires submitting paper requests, in duplicate, etc. Not a very well organized system.

Well... the punch line is that the district actually HAS an excellent school facilities software in place called "SchoolDude" that, if used, would solve a huge number of these generation, prioritization, resolution issues, and which is used in other districts to feed directly into their larger scale facilities planning efforts. But, for unknown reasons, it's not currently being used. Several of us on the committee (including several members of D181 staff) are working to understand the log-jam.

By the way, if the members of this blog have chance to interact or provide encouragement, please take a moment to give support to Julie Bryant for her efforts on the committee. She has done outstanding work with hundreds of hours of effort developing presentations, guidance pieces, and most recently a very detailed (35 + pages!!!) outline for performing and delivering a facility master plan for all the D181 properties.

Kinds regards,

- John Norton

John Norton said...

One quick note from last night's facility meeting, two other components of data were redacted: 1) numerous traveling teachers had to store their purses and personal items in unsecured locations, and 2) in some instances the phone and/or intercom systems had loopholes which students could use for pranks.

The Parents said...

Mr. Norton: Thank you for sharing this additional information!

jay_wick said...

Very disheartening to hear that the district has spent funds on software to manage these sorts of concerns and has not utilized the tools it has paid for.

In all honestly the attitude of far too many folks on the BOE that came into office with an apparent "eye to root out waste" have done NOTHING to improve the inexcusable lack of attention to such obviously easy to fix problems. THERE NEEDS TO BE A STRONG POLICY OF FOLLOWING UP ON EVERY APPROVED EXPENDITURE TO EVALUATE ITS EFFECTIVENESS!

Equally troubling in a district that quite literally spends MILLIONS for a large district level staff to allow problems to not just "slip through the cracks" but that so many facilities issues fall into a abyss of neglect is borderline criminal.

Believe me I am not one to encourage lawsuits against public bodies but should some kind of 'incident' lead to the harm of any child of staff member the revelations of such glaring mismanagement would have aggressive litigators turning our district into a smoking ruin...

One can only hope that these matters receive the kind of attention they should have and hopefully the appropriate staff changes will be made to make an example of what sorts of expectations there are going forward!