Monday, October 19, 2015

10/19/15 BOE Meeting -- HMS Architecture Firm Selected and more.....SOUND OFF!

A little while ago we received the following comment:

Anonymous said...
Bloggers: Can you create a free standing post to address matters discussed during tonight's (10/19/150 BOE meeting? And can you move the comments you have received so far regarding the board docs to that post?
Everyone should check out board questions - wow
Anonymous said...
So let me get this straight. Earlier this summer Dr. White split Dr. Schneider's job as Asst Sup. of the entire Dept. of Learning back into 2 positions. Dr. Schneider got a raise while also losing some of his job responsibilities -- his new title became Asst. Sup. of Dept. of Learning PPS (which everyone understood to mean he would be running the Special Education department). The rest of the Dept. of Learning -- curriculum and instruction -- was to be supervised by the newly re-created Asst. Sup of Dept. Of Learning - Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Tornatore was hired as the interim Asst. Sup. to oversee the Dept. of Learning Curriculum and Instruction. There were, however, references to Dr. Schneider working alongside Dr. Tornatore in the Dept. of Learning and this was very troubling to many parents in our community.

I and other parents, have spoken to parents who brought met with Dr. White at the end of the summer to discuss serious concerns related to information uncovered in FOIA responses they received from D181 and the University of Wisconsin dealing Dr. Schneider's use of personal emails to conduct D181 business and other accusations and provocative statements made in these emails. During this meeting, Dr. White stated that Dr. Schneider was no longer going to deal with general or advanced learning curriculum matters. Yet today in the board member question and answers posted on board docs, Dr. White reveals that Dr Schneider is going to evaluate the performance of Dr. Larson and Dr. Benaitis, both whose positions are supposed to report to the Asst. Sup. of Curriculum and Instruction, and not report to Dr. Schneider. What is going on with Dr. White that he would flip flop on what he clearly told the concerned parents? Why isn't he going to conduct these evaluations himself if Dr. Tornatore may not be here at the time of the evaluations? I sincerely hope that the BOE members get to the bottom of this and demand an explanation from Dr. White. He certainly is paid enough to handle the evaluation of two of his central office administrators.


Anonymous said...

Did anyone listen to the meeting last night? What happened?

Anonymous said...

I listened. Here is my take away: I do not understand why Dr. White keeps moaning that his administrators are too overworked and can't do things like hold meetings or answer questions. He claims they spend too much time preparing for meetings. How ironic because there were hardly any reports from the administration. All the leg work and research came from the board members themselves. They prepared the strategic planning report, they researched construction manager and architect fees, they navigated the referendum process. There wasn't even a monthly financial report presentation. I'm really confused about all of this.

Elm Parent said...

Part !: I listened to the 3 1/2 hour meeting last night and I want to start by saying it was quite an eye opener. Most of the meeting was spent on the selection of an architecture firm to design a new HMS so that's what I'll address. After a very long discussion, the board selected Cordogan, Clark and Associates, but only after (in my opinion) manipulative tactics by certain board members to sway the vote to Wight and Company. Each board member was tasked with ranking each of the three firms, 1, 2 and 3 with 1 being their top choice. A firm would get 1 point for each board member vote ranking them first, 2 points if ranked second and 3 points if ranked third. After each member ranked the firms, each firm was assigned a point total and the firm with the lowest point total would be declared the winner and selected to move onto phase two, negotiations of their architectural fees, after which the BOE will vote on whether or not to go to referendum in March 2016 (to be done at a future meeting).

The vote totals at the end of a very long discussion (which I will summarize next) were as follows: Cordogan 11 points, Wight 12 points and Legat 19 points.

Board members ranked the firms as follows:

Garg: Cordogan, Legat, Wight
Burns: Cordogan, Wight, Legat
Vorobiev: Cordogan, Wight, Legat
Gray: Cordogan, Wight, Legat
Clarin: Wight, Legat, Cordogan
Turek: Wight, Cordogan, Legat
Giltner: Wight, Cordogan, Legat

The discussion that preceded the ranking votes was telling in that it showed a bias for Wight by Clarin, Turek and Giltner, the three men on the BOE, and a bias against Cordogan for reasons (in my opinion) that really don't make sense. Clarin, in particular, has worked as a subcontractor for Wight and Legat, but apparently never for Cordogan and if you listen to the meeting podcast, you will probably agree that he showed a particular bias against Cordogan. Right off the bat, Clarin, Giltner and Turek chose to minimize the design for HMS presented by Wight, a design that those who have been following the facilities committee and board discussions know was the least desirable of the three. This is quite disturbing because let's not forget that the selection process was touted as a DESIGN COMPETITION and other architectural firms did not even submit proposals because of the time and resources they were being asked to expend on their own time and dime to create detailed schematics with no assurance of being selected. Despite the fact that the three firms presented detailed schematics of a new HMS based in great part on information provided to them by D181 in the RFP, Clarin, Turek and Giltner chose to ignore the DESIGNS, claiming that Wight and Company could change its design.

They also chose to ignore the fact that Wight created a more expensive per foot proposal, suggesting (without any factual support) that somehow the more expensive estimate was more credible than Cordogan's lower cost projections. They also claimed that the "finances" of Wight, a larger company, should sway members to support them over Cordogan, even though this assertion was countered by board member Burns who essentially pointed out that just because Wight was a larger firm, smaller didn't mean Cordoogn wasn't financially stable. They also chose to argue that Wight should be selected because it has other projects closer to our geographic area, including (and I'm so sick of hearing this) the renovations/expansion project at New Trier, suggesting that Wight would be a better fit for our upscale and wealthy (my words, not theirs, but clearly implied) community. How pompous and arrogant! Frankly, I like the idea of a lesser known, yet reliable architecture firm coming in and getting the job. They will be hungry to please, already have presented schematics more closely aligned to what teachers and community members want in HMS and there is nothing that suggests that they are not qualified or up designing a new middle school that will meet the community's needs.

Elm Parent said...

Part 2: I have to say, however, that while Clarin's bias against Cordovan was evident, most likely (in my opinion) a result of his working relationships with Wight and Legat), and even though he refused to recuse himself from voting because of these relationships (which in my opinion creates at an appearance of impropriety and would no doubt have raised questions down the road if Wight was selected and a referendum question was put on the ballot), his bias was more understandable than Giltner's.

Giltner, in my opinion, while trying to explain that he had done his own research on how to select a firm, came off as a wannabe know it all, rude, condescending and arrogant. He claimed that he had spoken with some architects who had advised him on what to look for and how to select a firm and their advice led him to rank Wight first. The problem I have with Gilnter's process and declarations to his fellow board members, is that he didn't identify who these architects were. For him to expect his fellow board members to simply accept these unknown architect's advice was ludicrous. Great that Giltner wanted to do some independent research, but then why not share this information ahead of last night's meeting with the other board members and give them a chance to follow up with these unnamed architects if they had any questions.

As for Turek, who knows why he really ranked Wight ahead of Cordogan. He stated the same finance reasons and better fit reasons the other two mentioned, but at the end of the day, why did he really support Wight? Everyone knows Turek lives in Clarendon Hills and needed the support of CH voters to be reelected. Recently the C4CH political group published a newsletter for Clarendon Hills residents that clearly is not supportive of a new HMS, and calls out some of the financial decisions being made in D181. Why Turek would then support the most expensive firm is mind boggling. Could he be getting political pressure from other interest groups? Obviously he isn't going to say, but things don't add up.

Thankfully, at the end of the discussion, Jill Vorobiev, who didn't show her hand during the discussion, voted to rank Cordogan first. Thank you to Ms. Vorobiev for not playing into the obvious games being played.

Elm Parent said...

Part 3: Now the next step will be for the negotiations team (Clarin, Giltner and Surma) to negotiate the architectural fees with Cordogan and bring this information back to the BOE for approval. If they can't negotiate the fees to their satisfaction, they will ask the BOE to authorize then to negotiate with the second place firm - Wight. Let' hope there are no shenanigans played by the negotiations team to deep six the negotiations with Cordogan. Based on what I heard last night, I am worried. As for whether or not the district is going to referendum next March, no final decision was reached, but the board did agree to allow the administration to begin working on proposed language for a referendum to build a new HMS. That's fine, I guess, but it seems quite premature since we have no price tag yet on what the school will actually cost, no analysis on what the true cost to the taxpayer will be, and no decision on the structure on financing the bonds by either the finance committee or the BOE. Most importantly, as a former BOE member and current facilities committee member, Ann Mueller, pointed out during public comment, a citizen's committee supporting passage of a referendum is nonexistent as of last night and since the administration and BOE are prohibited by law from actively marketing FOR passage of the referendum, a citizen's committee is needed. To my knowledge, no one has stepped up in the community to run this committee. With a potential referendum less than five months away, I doubt there is really time to do all the leg work (both administrative and community based) needed to successfully pass a referendum or fund raising needed to finance the promotional materials that will need to blanket the community if f there is any chance at all of a referendum passing. If nothing else, it will be entertaining watching this all play out, waiting and watching if Citizen's committee FOR or AGAINST the referendum are formed and what the final outcome will be. Better than a sitcom if you ask me......

The Parents said...

11:07 -- We completely agree with you. The administration needs to stop their whining. Have they forgotten just how highly paid they are?

Dr. White -- you make $237,150/year plus benefits of more than $55,000/year for a total package (excluding all the extra contract perks such as vacation, professional organization memberships, etc) of $292,150.

Dr. Scheider makes $149,414.00/year plus benefits of more than $22,675/year (excluding all the extra contract perks) for a total of $172,089.

Dr. Benaitis makes $132,204/year plus benefits of more than $31,572.00/year (excluding all the extra contract perks) for a total of $163,776.

Mr. Surma makes $141,751/year plus benefits of more than $32,191/year (excluding all the extra contract perks) for a total of $173,942.

Mr. Munch makes $137,700/year plus benefits of more than $41,205/year for a total of $178,905. These are the central office administrators who have been working under White since he joined D181 (we are not including the new assessment person or interim Asst. Sup. of the Dept. of Learning).

Each of them also have 20 vacation days over and above all of the 10 federal holidays. In addition, they each have 20 sick days/per year. Each of them have assistants and lower level administrators who are doing much of the "heavy lifting."

These 5 administrators cost tax payers $980,862. Yes, we think they need to stop complaining that they are working too hard. We don't have any sympathy for school administrators with such lucrative packages.

Anonymous said...

I too listened to the podcast of last night's doozy of a meeting. Sadly, so much time was wasted on ranking the architecture firms that there was no time left to discuss the business of learning inside the classrooms. Thank you to Leslie Gray for calling the administration out on this point. While I am glad that a special board meeting will be called to discuss items pulled off the agenda due to time constraints last night -- Curriculum, MAP, future assessments, Science renewal, etc. -- the administration showed its true colors last night complaining about how conducting the business of running a district is too time consuming. I agree with the previous comments that it is time the administration stop their whining.

And while they are at it, how about they actually do their jobs in a competent fashion? I am very disappointed that no verbal financial report was presented last night by the Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations. It sounded to me that Mr. Turek and Ms. Garg were not pleased with the poor reporting that's been going on since he took over for Mr. Frisch. Finances come in close second to Curriculum/Learning as the priority for the district. How can taxpayers be asked to open up our wallets and give more via referenda, if the current administration can't keep current on presenting full monthly financial reports to the BOE during the monthly public BOE meetings?

Anonymous said...

Hey, I've seen a couple of references to some emails that were recently FOIA'd from D181 and also U of Wisconsin(?). Can someone who has copies find a way to post them on the blog? They sound intriguing. Can you send a link to the emails to the blog and ask them to run it?

Anonymous said...

I listened to the meeting and after reading all these comments I have a few more observations:
1. I agree with the earlier comments.
2. Bravo to Mridu Garg for asking Mr. Clarin to recuse himself. It's too bad he didn't and refused to see why he should have. Of course, he didn't recuse himself from the teacher contract negotiations team either a couple of years ago, even though with his wife employed as a D181 teacher, his role created another appearance of impropriety. So his behavior last night came as no surprise.
3. Double Bravo to Ms. Garg for her ranking vote placing Legat second ahead of Wight. But for this smart move to counter Clarin's vote placing Cordogan third behind Legat, there would have been a tie between Cordogan and Wight, and even though Cordogan would have had 4 first place rankings, there would have been more discussion and probably pressure put on Vorobiev to change her first place vote. Ms. Garg showed her prowess and intelligence in realizing the game that was being played and not allowing Clarin and company to prevail in their manipulative tactics.

Anonymous said...

11:59: I live in Clarendon Hills. Here is a link for the blog's readers to the Fall 2015 Newsletter published and available online by the Citizens for Clarendon Hills group C4CH:

Page 3 of the newsletter is dedicated to D181 issues and the lead caption "The Honeymoon is over" is spot on.

Hopefully Dr. White will read it and quickly realize that all is not so rosy in D181land....

Anonymous said...

I really like that while the bloggers have "stood down," community members have continued to keep this blog alive. Now it seems that concerns raised on this blog have also been flagged by the C4CH membership in their newsletter. Are the blog critics now going to attack Clarendon Hills residents who are using that forum to raise awareness of the ongoing issues in D181? How many people need to speak out using different forums before the D181 administration wakes up and fixes the mess they have created. How many people need to speak out using different forums before the D181 BOE majority holds certain administrators accountable?

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the above. It was very obvious that "behind the scenes" collaboration about the vote had taken place between Turek, Clarin and Giltner. Their reasoning was flimsy and contrived. I'm disappointed in Rich Giltner whom I had hoped would be an independent and intelligent thinker, not just another member of the "good old boys club".

And, about the administrators inability to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. The problem is obvious. When you hire and promote people who have little to no experience doing the job for which you've hired them, it will take them many times longer to do what they are trying to do and there is significantly less chance of success. They are training on the job with no one to show them how it's done and no experience having done it before. None of our recent hires have had experience elsewhere in the same or similar position, none have had the appropriate educational background and none have been successful at most of what they've tried to accomplish over the last 4 years. Stop complaining Dr. White and hire people who know what they are doing. Our district pays top dollar and has/had a great reputation, there are many qualified people who would be thrilled to work here. We don't expect perfection, but we do expect better than average performance (not even getting that now) and competence. Hire the right people and most of the problems disappear.

Anonymous said...

I am very concerned about Dr. White's comments that his administration is over worked. They all need to get in the real world. What his comments definitely tell me is that he and his people are not prepared for what is required in a high performing district. D181 functioned extrememly well previously under Dr. Mary Curley with far fewer administrators who were paid less. Also, Dr. White absolutely needs to be the one to evaluate his cabinet members, not Dr. Schneider!!! This is the responsibility of the superintendent!! As a previous D181 Board Member, I am appauled by some of the things going on in the district. The curriculum is a disaster, there is no permament administrator in charge of the general curriculum, and test scores are going down.

Anonymous said...

If there was any accountability within the organization and the district was not in such a mess, people wouldn't feel overworked. When under qualified and poor performing staff are retained year after year and knowledgeable ones let go, of course every one is being overworked because there are too many holes to plug. It doesn't matter if they continue to shine the light on their successes.

While White's old district continues to experience new learning we seem to remain stagnant by focusing on equity and purchasing more mediocre materials. Isn't this district where he came from?

Most people I have talked to have said their property assessments have gone up this year. I'm tired of paying more, not just for my children but also for the education of other children and getting the same education we could receive in a neighboring district. Why do people move here and why do real estate agents in this community tell buyers that we have award winning schools. This is a thing of the past. It means nothing until we see the value for our high property taxes. Yes we need a new middle school but I can't support it without knowing these people really know what they are doing and are really interested in addressing the needs of all students and that they respect the community at large for the support, business and tax base that they provide. It may be easier at this point to move next year and avoid a tax increase for a school that won't benefit my children or an education.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the D181 administrative spin machine is running at full speed. I don't know what meeting the director of communications was listening to, but it sure wasn't the one I wasted 3 hours listening to on Monday! Spotlighted in her board summary that was just emailed to D181 parents was the headline: "Board Plans to Move Forward with March 2016 Referendum for HMS New Construction..." Well that's news to me! Yes, the board authorized the administration to begin drafting POSSIBLE referendum language but it was quite clear from the discussion that some board members voiced concerns about how such language could even be drafted before negotiations are completed with the architecture firm selected on Monday and without a more detailed cost analysis done of the true costs of the middle school which would be necessary to craft the proposed referendum language for the ballot. For those of you who haven't voted on a referendum in the past, the ballot language must specify the additional LEVY amount that is being sought and the impact to the taxpayer. Until the negotiations are completed and more accurate numbers are crunched (and we shouldn't assume this will be done in a timely manner, since afterall the administration seems unable to even complete and present timely monthly financial reports to the BOE), the board cannot and must not VOTE on whether to place a referendum question on the ballot. For the director of communications to suggest that it is a done deal is really going too far.

In fact, why in god's name are we paying this person $90,846/year plus benefits of at least $31,340 plus 20 vacation days, 10 federal holidays off and 20 sick days/year? Oh, let me guess, to spin, spin, spin...Disgusting.

And by the way, why doesn't her report say more about the pretty extensive discussion held about how CURRICULUM should be the PRIORITY in the district, not just building one school! That's the reason why all of the CURRICULUM and INSTRUCTION stuff had to be moved to a special meeting, which for the sake of the 4000+ kids in D181 I hope takes place BEFORE the next Business Meeting scheduled on November 9 (per the director of communication's report). How long to our children and parents have to wait to hear the "analysis" (hahahaha) of the MAP spring data and an explanation once and for all by the administration on how the "Raise the floor to Raise the Ceiling" social justice mantra of the last four years has been an utter failure for the district's top performers and how they plan to fix this curriculum mess?

I'm with 1:03 that no one should support the building of a new middle school until the D181 administration convinces the voters that they really know what they are doing and are really interested in addressing the needs of all students AND that they respect the community at large for the support, business and tax base that they provide.

Finally, THANK YOU to the C4CH group for pointing out how top heavy the administration has become all while the student population has decreased. Time to cut some administrative FAT before you ask me for any additional tax dollars!

Anonymous said...

It was clearly a very close vote between Cordogan and Wight, both by the board and the facilities committee. And from the information above, 5 of the 7 board members had Wight and Cordogan either one or two, with the other two putting one or the other one first. It looked to be a choice between larger size and recent similar experience (Wight) versus smaller size and design (Cordogan). It depends on what you think is most important and I think a valid case could be made for either one.

One observation on design, If you look at the score sheets on board docs, design is only one of seven or eight criteria. So even if it appeared to be a design competition by the way it was presented to the community, it does not look like that is what it really was. Design was one of many criteria.

I understand why one could think Clarin might have an interest in one firm over another, but what do the six others gain from choosing a certain firm over another. I believe it is possible that every board member was just trying to do what they thought was best given the information they had, although I will probably be labeled naive. I'm not sure where the conspiracy, collusion and manipulation is. From what I heard on the recording each member stated why they thought the way they did and voted that way.

Anonymous said...

3:18: You are either naive or you are one of the men on the boe. Either way, you need to connect the dots. It isn't a conspiracy. It's an old boys network. Start watching, listening and paying attention and you too will figure it out.

Anonymous said...

I think I can guess which BOE member wrote 3:18. Sounds just like him.....

Anonymous said...

Are you freaking kidding me that taxpayers pay $1,103,048 in salaries and benefits to only 6 central office administrators (White, Schneider, Benaitis, Surma, Munch and Benaitis) and that on top of that they get 50 days off a year (20 vacation, 10 federal holidays, 20 sick days, AND let's now forget weekends?!?! All the while they are whining about working too hard? This is a public school district people! Wake up! None of these people directly teach our kids. They just pull the strings and set the vision for the teachers to follow. I agree with the other comments that they are paid way too much to complain about long work hours, especially when there is no data that proves that any of their experiments on our kids have worked or are benefiting all learners.

Anonymous said...

Who is running the ANTI referendum committee? I want to sign up!

Anonymous said...

To believe that somehow a new HMS will suddenly turn our administrators into qualified, competent leaders is ridiculous. Building a multi million dollar school is not going to suddenly make our children understand their new math books better. Nor will it explain why our kids's test scores are falling while the amount of time they spend on homework is rising. The vision and priorities of the superintendent are off course. The BOE needs to immediately halt their plans for a new school and instead:

1) Address academic, student, and curricular needs of students and teachers.

The Department of Learning is failing miserably. Test scores and confusion in the classrooms prove it.

2) Cut the administrative fat that is draining the largest piece of our financial pie: salaries, benefits, and pensions.

Our neighbors, Western Springs, have higher test scores. Obviously their leadership did a better job of preparing the teachers for common core than our district did. While our administration was focusing on experimental math pilots and the elimination of flexible grouping, WS district focused on teaching students what they needed to know in order to be better prepared for the new standardized testing. Why was WS able to do this so quickly without the struggles that our administrators seem to be having? Address academic and student needs, and demand results before administrators ever utter another word about building a new HMS. The only exception to this is improving the facility for immediate safety concerns.

3) Address Safely Issues.

Fix the Drop off lane at HMS. Immediately widen the parent drop off area at HMS to accommodate parents to stop and drop off children, while another lane of parents can drive by. The back up onto Garfield is dangerous and causes a great deal of traffic congestion during the early morning commute. Commuters are rushing to catch the train and are not concerned about driving slowly and cautiously to watch out for 11 and 12 year olds. Lock the back door of HMS that is on the north side of the building. Downtown Hinsdale.

Anonymous said...


4) Help teachers learn how to communicate with parents better.

Last week, HMS parents were only given information about a field trip on the same day that the field trip began. It arrived after kids were already in school. Recently, all HMS parents were emailed information about a teacher, but what the administration didn't tell all parents was that that same week Police and ambulance were called to HMS for a safety issue related only to student behavior that required an entire classroom of students to be evacuated. A new school will not correct the the information stream to parents.

5) Correct the bully D181 culture in which teachers and administrator's opinions carry more weight than those of parents, students, and taxpayers.
Parents trusted the district 5 - 20 years ago because the results were better and the costs were lower. Private schools and tutors were cheaper. Kids weren't always stressed out from homework and testing. Children went to middle school and high school prepared. Now, the expenses are through the roof, and the scores are lower than ever. Yet admin has the nerve to ask us for more money to build a $65 million school? And they call our children privileged? Dr. White sounded like a whiny kid complaining about his chores. The secret to earning parent trust is honesty, follow through, and most importantly, successful results. We don't need a brand new school, but it becoming obvious that we need brand new administrators. We expect our money to be spent on education, not buildings. The biggest problem facing our district is not facilities - it is The Department of Learning. Before we waste any more time, money, and energy on a new school, figure out how to fix the learning environment going on inside of it. Right now, all I see is a bully district who steamrolls its way over all of us in order to earn generous salaries that they have not earned and distract us from the real issues. Building a fancy new school will not improve our children's educations.