Monday, February 29, 2016

Comment of the Day: Citizens for Clarendon Hills Newsletter Calls for a Strong NO Vote on D181's $65 Million Referendum

This evening we received the following comment from a Clarendon Hills Resident.  It speaks for itself.  We have decided to publish it as a Comment of the Day because we think it is important for the community to hear what other organizations have to say about the upcoming $65 million Hinsdale Middle School referendum on the March 15 ballot.  While not everyone lives in Clarendon Hills, over half of D181's students attend the schools in Clarendon Hills (Prospect, Walker and Clarendon Hills Middle School) and therefore C4CH's opinion on this important issue is relevant and worthy of consideration.**

As always, SOUND OFF!


Clarendon Hills Resident said...
Bloggers: I live in Clarendon Hills and received the latest C4CH (Citizens for Clarendon Hills) Newsletter in the mail today. It covers various topics of interest to CH, but also a section on D181's HMS Referendum. I have typed up the text from the newsletter on the referendum and would ask you to publish it as a free standing post. Everyone should read the C4CH perspective on this project. Thanks you.

Text from C4CH Newsletter:
Vote “NO” to the $65 M Hinsdale Middle School Project Press the Reset Button and Start Over with a $30M Project

C4CH would like to see a project at Hinsdale Middle School (HMS) but there is no way to rationalize the massive $65M cost (which will end up being closer to $90M with interest). We recommend a strong “NO” vote. We have much sympathy for the staff, parents and students at HMS due to management mistakes with both the frozen pipes and mold growing unchecked for years. Those issues were fixed at a cost of $3M only one year ago, with taxpayer (your) money. Even though we want the best for our children, it;s hard to justify a $65M project at $400/square foot (with average costs for middle schools less than $250/square foot).

There was NOT an exhaustive approach to reduce the costs and size. Other reasonable scenarios were NOT dutifully considered. Is it unreasonable for taxpayers to ask for a careful, analytic, and financially prudent plan led by parties interested in capping the spending at $30-$35M? It may not be common knowledge, but the architect and others receive a percentage of the project cost as their fee, so it makes sense for them to grow the project spending, not reduce it. These are primary points in which C4CH questions the validity and leadership in the process. Bigger and more spending does not result in smarter students or higher property values.

We have concluded that several reasonable scenarios have NOT been explored that upgrade HMS at a significantly lower cost. The $65M price tag for HMS with 780 students (only 20% more students at HMS than CHMS) is unbalanced relative to the 650 students and $17M spent on the very successful Clarendon Hills Middle School (CHMS). Construction costs have increased, but spending $400 or even $300 per square foot seems unreasonably high when the average is $232/square foot.

On a separate but meaningful note, we feel obligated to mention that Don White, the Superintendent of D181 recently released the seemingly confidential names and contact information of parents and students to a private lobbying group advocating for the $65M project. This maneuver by Superintendent White, without formal Board approval, seems to be unethical. This act alone taints the process and questions the Superintendent’s ethics as well as those involved.

Here are some unanswered questions to explore in depth;

1. Can a new addition be built adjacent to an upgraded HMS structure while utilizing the existing building?

2. The current HMS gym is nearly double the gym at CHMS with only 20% more students so why isn’t the HMS gym good enough?

3. Can’t the existing cafeteria space and most every other space be used?

4. Can the fa├žade of the existing building be improved to fix the cosmetic issues and match a new 50,000 square foot classroom expansion?

5. Wouldn’t moving D181 admin offices to the existing HMS building save $?

6. Could the community privately raise funds for a new HMS auditorium if community demand exists for the auditorium?

7. What is the total financial liability D181 has accumulated for taxpayers? Include debt, interest payments, pension liabilities, health care liabilities, and routine capital repairs.

8. What actions are underway to reduce operating costs and debt levels of D181?
February 29, 2016 at 10:58 PM

**  Note:  We will try and obtain a hard copy of the newsletter and then publish an image on the blog, so stay tuned.

Comment of the Day: Past Referenda Supporter Who Will Vote NO This Time

Moments ago we received the following comment which we have decided to publish as the Comment of the Day.  We thank the reader for their past support of D181 referenda and for their willingness to submit this candid comment.  We think it should make each one of us ask the question:   Just how much can a public school district really expect its taxpayers to pay for capital improvements and new construction?  We sincerely hope that the VOTE YES supporters do not tar and feather this parent for putting themselves out there with their personal revelations and conclusions.  As each of us decide how to vote on March 15, we should all remember that everyone's personal financial circumstances justifiably influence how they will vote and past supporters have every right to choose to vote NO this time around without being run out of town.  Out of respect (and to encourage other readers to SOUND OFF) we will NOT publish any comments that attack the anonymous author of this comment. We will publish counter-arguments, but only if they are written in a respectful manner.

So as always, SOUND OFF!


Past Referenda Supporter Who Will Vote NO This Time said...
Today I decided to figure out what I've paid to D181 in property taxes over the last 15 years for past approved capital referenda (which I voted YES on), what I've gotten (personally for my kids) out of the past approved referenda and what the new referendum will really mean for my family. I started by looking at the "Debt Service and Homeowner Impact Analysis" that D181 recently published and can be found at:

I am rounding down very slightly, but for purposes of this exercise, I am stating that I live in a $1 million home in Burr Ridge. Most of my children have all graduated from Elm and HMS and Hinsdale Central High School. I will have one more graduating from HMS BEFORE the new school is built (if the referendum passes). I have lived in Elm's boundary area since 2000 and voted YES on the referenda that resulted in the new Prospect, new Walker, large addition to Madison and renovations to the other schools (other than HMS). By the time I moved here, CHMS was already built and the bonds to fund that were built into my property tax bill. For all of the other projects I voted yes on, my tax bill went up after I moved here. In the 16 years I have lived here, the ONLY physical improvement my children personally received as a result of the past referenda passing was a new multi-purpose room at Elm (and I believe air conditioning at Elm), and for a couple of them, the space they gained at Elm with the multi-purpose room addition was eliminated when the administration took over an entire wing of Elm School, leading to over crowding until this fall when the administration finally moved out.

So what did I pay over time? According to the chart on the D181 website, before the March 2016 HMS referendum, I CURRENTLY pay $1147 for the debt service on the previously approved referenda. Between now and 2025, according to the bar graph, that debt service will gradually increase, however, for purposes of this exercise, I will hold the $1147 flat. This means that over 10 years, I will pay $11,470 in property taxes JUST for the capital projects built as a result of the previously approved referenda. And all my kids will have ever benefited from those past YES votes will have been ONE SINGLE MULTIPURPOSE room and perhaps air conditioning at Elm School.

And what about the first 15 years of this debt service? The chart does't show me what I have personally paid, but assuming that the bar graph on the current debt service has gradually increased over time, (although I believe some of the debt service was refinanced and so it was already lowered a couple of times), but even assuming that it has gradually grown, I would bet that over the last 15 years, I have at least paid what I will pay over the next 10 years -- so at least another $11,470. This means that by the time the existing debt service is paid off in 2025 for the past approved capital referenda, I will have personally paid $22,940 in property taxes to fund new schools and improvements to the other D181 schools, and the ONLY physical benefits MY children will have seen was using one single Multipurpose room at Elm School and air conditioning.

Yet now, D181 is asking me to jump on the band wagon again and pay for a brand new middle school that will add $90 million in debt service to the backs of D181's taxpayers? And MY children won't benefit at all? That $90 million additional debt service will add an additional $537 dollars per year to my existing tax bill starting in 2019 -- an additional $3,222 between 2019 and 2024. And then once the OLD debt service is paid down, I will continue to pay $903/year to finish paying off the new HMS for another 12 years, for a total of $10,836. So between 2019 and 2036, I will personally pay $14,058 in property taxes to pay for ONE middle school, that NONE of my kids will ever attend.

Adding it all up, between 2001and 2036, I will have paid $36,998 in property taxes to pay for work done to either build new D181 schools or renovate and put multi-purposes on the elementary schools. And MY children will only have gotten the benefit of one single multi-purpose room and air conditioning?

Well, I have to say, this exercise has reinforced for me the following:
1. I am pro-education and pro-school improvement.
2. I have been a D181 supporter and UNTIL NOW, voted YES on past referendum.
3. I have willingly paid to provide more benefits to all of the other D181 schools and students in the district than the schools my children attended.

Despite this past generosity and support,

4. I AM NOT A DEEP, BOTTOMLESS POCKET! I now have children in college and my children do not qualify for financial aid (we are lucky, I am not complaining, I am grateful for our economic circumstances).
5. There is a LIMIT to how much I am willing to personally fund for construction of schools that will not benefit my children. I can no longer mindlessly support adding $90 million of debt service to my or other D181's taxpayers' backs.
6. This does not make me evil or bad or hateful or stupid or ignorant or naive or a naysayer.
7. Over and above the numbers I have crunched above, I pay over $20,000 a year in property taxes, most of which go to D181 to pay for its operational expenses and pension funds. I will continue to willingly pay those amounts because I know that for the most part, D181 is a school district that has added value to our community and has driven property values up. And I have chosen to live here.
8. However, I do not believe my property value will go up if a new HMS school is built. I agree with others who have posted on this blog, that property values are driven more by the caliber of the teachers and educational programs offered. Therefore, I will not support a $90 million bond issuance to pay for one new school until I am completely convinced that all OTHER options -- such as a renovation of the existing school, or building a less expensive school that isn't inflated with millions of dollars in WANTS -- has been fully vetted.

Now I am sure I will be attacked by the Vote Yes folks for daring to make this comment and people will pick it apart and tell me my numbers are off. This wasn't a scientific exercise and I didn't go back into 15 year old archives to calculate exactly what I have paid in property taxes for the construction projects the past referenda led to. But I think I have sufficiently satisfied myself that while my numbers may not be 100% accurate, I have been MORE THAN GENEROUS with my willingness to pay for D181 schools and improvements. But there comes a time when even I, a past avid supporter, will say its time to SLOW DOWN this runaway train and properly vet ALL options.

I'm ready and bracing myself for the attack of the Vote Yes people. Take your best shot.

One last thing to point out. It is really disingenuous for D181 to suggest in their flyer that once the old referenda are paid off, property taxes for this referenda will go down. In fact, look closely at the chart. TOTAL property taxes to fund the TOTAL capital projects WILL go down starting in 2026 because all of the other projects (besides HMS) will finally have been paid off. HOWEVER, the property taxes each of us pay for the new HMS will GO UP that year. On a $1 million home, the property taxes on HMS project will go up an additional $366 -- from $537 to $903. That is an increase of 68%. You will notice that this "kicker" isn't explained anywhere on the D181 flyer!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Comments of the Day: $65 Million Price Tag for a New HMS is Common Core Math at its Worst! We Urge Our Readers to Opt Out!

Wednesday night, we received two comments that merit publication as Comments of the Day.  Both are copied below and directly question the accuracy of the cost comparison information that has been publicly released by the Facilities Committee, D181 Administration, HMS Project Architect and Pro-referendum group.  All of these sources have made a big deal about comparing (or publishing the district's comparisons of) the $65 million proposal for a new HMS to Hubble Middle School or to what CHMS would cost to build today.  Read the two comments below and then ask yourselves why you should trust any of the cost representations that D181 staff/committees/architect/pro-referendum groups are spinning as justification for the ridiculously high cost proposed to build a new HMS.

As always, SOUND OFF!

Comments of the Day:
Jon Clopton said...
I am for a new HMS middle school. The old facility is clearly outdated and a nightmare. However, this extravagance of this administration is compelling me to vote no. The bottom line everything over 35M is crazy. I'll vote yes to anything up to $40, maybe even $45M but this crazy spending needs to be curtailed. 

181 had a crazy piece on explaining how they arrived at $65M comparing to CHMS, but the facts were at best misleading and really fraudulent. They must have been taught Common Core Math. 

Their position was CHMS was cost $17.2M, but the real construction cost was 12.8M (as approved), with the overage being 4-5M for legal costs between the district and the park district (pretty stupid) but clearly not going to happen here. They used an expensive inflation factor AND compared 1998 (when bond was approved) versus 2017 (when HMS would be completed) which still makes is $26M using 12.8M actual cost. With space for 50% more student capacity (at high levels) it would only be $39M (clearly not close 65), and frankly should be less than 50% increase (as an example: a 5th BR to a 4 house doesn't add 25% more space total, but probably 10% or less). Using CPI as inflation the cost would be less than $30M using the same criteria and adding 50%. 

In this article, 181 points to a construction cost of around $400 per square foot (which is what the cost is). How crazy is that? Well taking a look at comparable recently completed middle schools the average is around $200/sq. ft. and here are a few sources for that information:

1. Illinois web site shows $195 sq.ft as standard (which again is $33M at full size, which isn’t needed). 
2. Attached (SPM construction) is all middle schools in 2012, with Middle school for 650 students costing 22M (again multiply by 50%) and you're at $33M.
3. Another Virginia web site shows average square ft cost as $200/sq ft. AND a average cost of $30ish Million for 2 middle schools completed in 2015 (under $30M for the school approximately the same size). Virginia is pretty expensive, by the way. 
4. Chicago's most recent was $34M for 900 students. 
Dr. Jorge Prieto Math & Science Academy 2009 $36,852,201 105,576 900 $40,947 14 months

More recent conversation has turned to Highland Parks $85M Middle School. First, that includes land acquisition cost. Second, it seats 2000 students (at 90% capacity) so at least should be 2x our cost, and thus Hinsdale should cost $42.5, after backing out land, more towards $40M. In addition, this Middle school is HIGHLY contested because of crazy spending too. I’m sorry, just because someone overspends doesn’t mean we should. 

Thus the range for comparable recent bills is $29M (using Virginia and CPI) to $40M (using Highland park’s high cost, and yet to be approved). We can clearly get a top quality new school for $35M. 

Why is our design so much more? Is it this administration who has stars in their eyes, and a board who seems willing to go along with this unnecessary extravagance? A track, really? An auditioriom because apparently 181 and 86 can’t talk to each (talk about too much government). 

It could be the process? 181 only had three proposals, whereas typically 10-13 firms submit proposals. I was told by one friend, whose firms builds schools in expensive districts that the requirements to submit an initial proposal (before being selected as a finalist) would have cost over $100k, and contained unnecessary provisions. They also weren’t allowed time to discuss with the administration or community to get an idea of what was wanted/required (thus they were shooting at the dark and it was going to cost a lot of money) so they made the good business decision to not submit a proposal. Eliminating options makes projects more expensive.  
Anonymous said...
Ok, so I just did a little research on Hubble Middle school. As you know, this is the main comp that the facilities committee, the architect and the Hinsdalean have been using to justify the $65 million price tag.

The architect stated at the BOE meeting, and again in last week's Hinsdalean, that Hubble cost $58 million to build in 2008 and that equals $75 in 2017 dollars, when the bulk of HMS construction takes place.

Like Jon said, the math used to justify this whole project is common core math. Here is why:

1. Hubble cost $50 million to build not $58 million. A simple google search shows that $8 mil was a land purchase. We are not purchasing land. Therefore, $50 million is our comp number.

2. Hubble middle school is 190,00 square feet. The new HMS is 160,000 square feet - a 30,000 square foot difference. 30,000 square feet at $400/ft (the cost in the current plan per square foot) is $12 million. Therefore, if we are comparing apples to apples, our Hubble comp is actually 38 Million (which ironically aligns to Jon's figures outlined above).

3. $38 million in 2008 does not equal $75 million or even $65 million today. Not even close. Jon is right - it's common core math. I'm opting out of both.

Comment of the Day: Count Me Out!

This morning we received the following comment regarding the upcoming referendum and why the author will be voting no.  We wholeheartedly agree with this perspective but would love to hear any counter arguments from our readers - or more reasons why D181's actions shouldn't fall prey to the "Ponzi scheme" mentality that has taken over in Illinois.

Comment of the Day:

Anonymous said...
To 343, the idea that we have different pots of money to draw from and one is not dependent on the other is illogical in this environment. Yes, in any organization, including a school district, the capital expenditures and the operational expenditures are treated differently. It makes sense to borrow for one, and not the other. The two are tracked differently. And, in most circumstances, you can plan for each differently. But, it is all one pot of money to divide up. I agree that in normal times, it might make sense to not consider future operational issues in determining whether to float bonds for a new school. What you are missing, however, is that these are extraordinary times in our state and our area. Everyone agrees that our state is out of money--it cannot pay our bills. Nobody can agree on should be done about it. At some time, however, a solution will be forced upon Illinois residents because we will be out of money, as with any other Ponzi scheme. You can already see it starting, as courts order payments to be made without legislative approval. In other states, courts have ordered payments to be made to poorer school districts because the courts have found it unconstitutional to let some kids receive a great education and others learn nothing. CPS is clamoring for more money, its teachers are going on strike. And here we sit, in the judgment of the whole world, sitting in luxury, on our piles of money. Do you really think that when the books of Illinois are balanced, they won't be balanced on our backs, either by radically higher tax rates, or by cutting monies payable to school districts such as ours. Do you think we can just sit out the coming reckoning. Oh, and by the way, despite the judgment of the whole world, not everybody here is sitting on piles of money. So, my fear is that when the reckoning comes, and our operational funds are cut, and we need to go to the community for more money, we see our 65 million dollar luxury HMS going up and we don't get the money. I would much rather wait until we figure out what is going to happen in Illinois and what will happen to us. On top of all of that, the process has been a joke. The entire process was to avoid paying 65 million dollars for a new school, and now we are anyway. I get why people want a new school, what I don't get is why here, in Illinois, after all the years of making decisions based on what people want, rather than what they can afford, we are going to do it anyway. Count me out.

Monday, February 22, 2016

UPDATED: D181's Director of Communication's Lack of Transparency is So Transparent it is Laughable!

Sometimes, we are left shaking our heads and laughing as we ask ourselves, "Could they really be that calculating in their lack of transparency?"  By "they," we are referring to Dr. White and his team of administrators.  This time, our focus is on his Director of Communications, Bridgett McGuiggan and in our opinion, the answer to this question is Yes.

Today, D181 families received the weekly E-news Update Ms. McGuiggan pens each week and sends out to all D181 families by email.  We have copied it in its entirety below, but are front loading this post with the first half of our Commentary.

As everyone in the community is well aware, and if not everyone is, certainly the Board Members are, for years now D181 parents, board members and community members have been asking the BOE and Administration to host a real Town Hall Meeting.  In the past, the request was to hold one at which community members could ask questions and raise concerns in a public setting at which any D181 issue would be addressed on the spot.  All such past requests were denied.  So it was refreshing when D181 announced a couple of months ago that it would be hosting a Town Hall meeting on the upcoming HMS referendum, a forum at which community members could ask questions and make comments about the proposed plans to build  a new HMS.

Sadly, it has become clear that the D181 Administration really has no desire to host such a Town Hall meeting, but apparently having scheduled one, it is now doing its best to ensure that it is NOT well attended. Rather than send out Email Reminders to Parents reminding them specifically about the upcoming Town Hall Meeting, the very week the meeting is scheduled for, the weekly D181 E-news literally BURIES all reference to this important opportunity deep within the email that is packed full of detailed information on other upcoming events.

Let's take a look now, before we return to our commentary.

E-News Letter emailed to Parents earlier today:

E-News for Families - February 22, 2016
  • Preschool Open House Tonight
  • Kindergarten Registration Begins Tuesday
  • Documentary Film Screening This Week
  • HMS Open House, Tours Scheduled for March 13
  • Simplify Summer Planning with the Summer Camp Expo 
  • School News and News from Our Community 
  • SELAS Connections: A Look Behind the Mask
Preschool Open House Tonight
Tonight (February 22), we are hosting a Preschool Open House at Oak School (6:30-8pm). All community members are welcomed to stop by and learn more about the Early Childhood Education program we offer for three and four year-old students. Preschool registration is now open and can be completed at Oak during school hours. Space is limited, so we encourage parents to enroll their children as soon as possible. Visit the Preschool section of our website to learn more about the high quality curriculum, outstanding teaching staff, and five-day per week program structure.

Kindergarten Registration Begins Tuesday
We will welcome families for kindergarten registration on Tuesday, February 23 and Wednesday, February 24 at the child's neighborhood elementary school (9am-3pm) and on February 24 at Prospect School for any District family (5:30-7:30pm). Visit the registration section of our website for details on paperwork that will be needed to complete the registration process. Re-registration for current students will begin in April, after spring break.

Documentary Film Screening This Week
The next event in the D86 Community Speaker Series is a screening of the documentary film "The Mask You Live In" which explores the topic of masculinity and its impact on society. Presentations are scheduled for Wednesday, February 24 at Hinsdale Central High School (7pm - Register) and Thursday, February 25 at The Community House (9am - Register). After each presentation, there will be a panel discussion led by local social workers, counselors, and educators. Due to the sensitive and graphic themes presented, viewer discretion is advised. Presentations are free but registration is required.

HMS Open House, Tours Scheduled for March 13
In an effort to provide another opportunity to share information about the HMS referendum and facility challenges at Hinsdale Middle School, we are hosting an Open House and guided tours on Sunday, March 13 at HMS (1-3pm). Parents, residents, and members of the business community are invited to stop by HMS to talk with staff and get an in-person understanding of building issues. Additional upcoming events include a town hall meeting this Thursday, a webinar on Monday, February 29 (live at 12pm) and a presentation on Tuesday, March 1 (10:30am). Click here for event details, and please visit the HMS Referendum section of our website for a variety of resources, reports, FAQs, and information about voting in the March 15, 2016 election.

Simplify Summer Planning with the Summer Camp Expo
All community members are invited to attend the D181 Summer Camp Expo, taking place Thursday, March 10 at Prospect School (6-9pm). This one-stop shop for summer fun and learning opportunities will include representatives from a variety of organizations with camps for sports, fine arts, educational enrichment, special needs, advanced learning, and more. Offerings include programs for children ages preschool through high school. The event is free, and no registration is required. Children are welcome! Please visit the Family Education Events page of our website for information on each of our upcoming events.

School News and News from Our Community
Visit our website's News page to see the latest press releases on school stories, like service learning projects, an interactive in-school field trip on simple machines, and our most recent Ambassador of Excellence Awards where students were honored for success in art, language arts, and athletics. In our Community Backpack, you can view and download the latest in local organization fliers. Also, be sure to visit The Community House website for information on the annual "Band Together" event being hosted Saturday, March 5th. The event includes live performances, an art sale, and food/drinks, and benefits the Willowbrook Corner Youth Learning Center.

SELAS Connections: A Look Behind the Mask
By many measures, boys struggle more than girls do as they grow up today. Rates for learning problems, substance abuse, violence, dropping out, and suicide are more prevalent among boys. The question is how America’s definition of masculinity is impacting boys, men, and society at large. The documentary film "The Mask You Live In" explores masculinity in American culture through the lens of the media, athletics, and gender stereotypes.

The 87-minute “Youth Version” of the documentary will be presented as part of the Community Speaker Series, as noted above. The film aims to provide a compelling look at the difficulties many boys and men face in American society today as well as strategies to develop media literacy and understanding of the ways gender stereotypes impact our self concepts and interpersonal relationships. Please remember that viewer discretion is advised. There are two versions of the documentary, the 90-minute feature length film and the 87-minute “Youth Version.” While neither version has been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), both sessions of the Series will feature the “Youth Version.” This documentary contains language that some may find objectionable as well as some graphic footage related to drinking, drugs, sexuality and abuse. 

"The Mask You Live In" is relevant to both men and women - anyone who has boys and men in their lives. It presents a new perspective on the role masculinity plays in our culture, how it affects all of our interpersonal relationships, and how we raise and treat our boys. 


Have a great week!

Bridget McGuiggan, APR
Director of Communications
Community Consolidated School District 181
On Twitter @CCSD181
We have highlighted in RED the portion of the E-News that deals with the HMS Referendum.  We would like to point out the obvious:
1.  Other than the HMS Referendum events, all of the other upcoming events are referenced with a Heading that explains the specific topic being addressed.  
2.  The "Heading" dealing with the HMS Referendum not only does NOT mention the Referendum, it also does not reference the FIRST upcoming event -- namely, the February 25, 2015 TOWN HALL MEETING.  
3.  In fact, not only does the Heading NOT refer to the 2/25 Town Hall Meeting, the paragraph within the email, DOES NOT provide the ACTUAL DATE of the Town Hall Meeting (it just says "Thursday"),  nor the TIME the town hall meeting will start or the LOCATION of the Town Hall Meeting! Instead, it suggests parents take an extra step to click on a separate link to take them to the full D181 website.  (Now really, how many parents are going to take the time to do this, since most will expect that the critical information will be highlighted in the E-Newsletter?)
4.  The BRIEF reference to the ALL IMPORTANT Town Hall Meeting is literally BURIED --  sandwiched --  between reference to a March 13 Open House and a February 29 Webinar, both events specifying their actual date, location and time.
We could spell out in great detail the significance of this LACK OF INFORMATION provided by Ms. McGuiggan, but we know our Readers don't need us to do that.  It is plain as day what Dr. White allowed Ms. McGuiggan to do with this newsletter.  By simply referencing the Town Hall Meeting they can say they "got the word out." The two of them can claim LATER (probably on Friday morning, February 26) that "Oops" they made a mistake in not providing more information.  Or perhaps, they won't even acknowledge their "mistake" and instead will simply tell the BOE that the Town Hall Meeting was SO POORLY attended that it is clear that the community doesn't really want to have such engagement events.
Whatever happens, their lack of transparency SHOULD NOT be ignored by D181's parents, community members and taxpayers.  Ms. McGuiggan makes an awful lot of money to be making such "mistakes.''  According to a Report posted on Board Docs, in 2014-2015 she made a base salary of $89,065 and received additional benefits totaling $31,340.16 PLUS 20 sick days and 20 vacation days (and of course, those don't include the Legal Holidays that all D181 employees get off).  And that's before the raise she got for the 2015-2016 school year.  (Source:$file/D181%202014-15%20Teacher%20%26%20Administrator%20Salary%20%26%20Benefits%20Report%20Sheet1.pdf)
Is it too much to expect that in her detailed E-Newsletter, such a highly paid director of COMMUNICATIONS can provide the parents with FULL information about the ONLY TOWN HALL MEETING that has EVER been scheduled in D181's history during the VERY WEEK it is being HELD?
Really, is it too much to expect? 

UPDATE:  We encourage all of our readers to attend the FIRST EVER D181 Town Hall Meeting. 

Date:  Thursday, February 25, 2016
Time:  6:30 to 8:30 pm.
Place:  Hinsdale Middle School
Topic:  The HMS Referendum

Sunday, February 21, 2016

EDITORIAL: Local Newspapers Should Investigate and Report on All the Facts Before Attacking a Parent Run Blog's Presentation of Information. But THANKS for the Free Publicity!

It seems that our blog is getting quite the publicity these days. First, it was referenced and lambasted during public comment at the last board meeting. Then blogs in general (haha) were referenced in last week's Hinsdalean's editorial list of what to give up for lent. Specifically, their list included the following item that should be sacrificed during Lent: "Reading blogs that allow anonymous posts of unconfirmed information. Especially those that do so while claiming to be transparent."

We had quite the belly laugh when we read this suggestion, especially since the blog has gone out of its way to back up what it says either with links to D181's website/Board Docs/FOIA documents/Podcasts, Board member quotes, etc. or has labeled commentaries as "opinions." We don't make anyone pay to read our blog or buy space to post or advertise on our blog. We have repeatedly challenged critics to point out any factual errors in the blog and will continue to do so.  We have provided a free forum for public discourse on the public education of our children and collection and spending of our tax dollars.  So, thanks to any newspaper or community member who wants to spread the word about our blog.

"In our opinion," the hypocrisy of the Hinsdalean's editorial is that unconfirmed or misinformation comes in many forms.  Sometimes, it is the presentation of incorrect information.  Sometimes it is the presentation of incomplete information.  Take last week's edition, for example.  In its article on the HMS referendum, it claims that according to Bridgett McGuiggan, the D181 communications director, the 55th and County Line Developer quoted Don White a price for that large piece of property  "upwards of $20 million."  When we read this line, we kept reading, hoping that there would be some kind of independent verification of this number, such as the name of the person who White spoke to, a quote from the actual developer, or a quote perhaps from any one of the seven board members with a comment on when (if ever) this information was publicly discussed with the BOE and then rejected as an option that deserved further exploration.  After all, whatever price that land would cost (and whatever piece of that land might be purchased -- since it is a huge parcel and might not all be needed), would be offset with proceeds from the sale of the prime real estate parcel the current middle school and adjacent field sit on.  But none of that was covered in the "news" article.

Like we said, misinformation comes in many forms. Voters deciding on whether to support yet another capital project in D181 on March 15 through a property tax increase deserve a presentation of ALL of the information. But as in typical in D181, the regular parent/D181 taxpayer is not privy to all of the information that will help us make a fully informed decision. So for us, the parent bloggers, our choice on how to vote is obvious -- we will vote NO on the current plan to build a new HMS, not just because of the price and MULTI MILLION DOLLAR WANTS that "in our opinion" shouldn't be funded until Special Education and Curriculum services are fully funded and appropriately provided to ALL of D181's students, but because voters are once again being kept out in the cold and denied full information. Dr. White and the BOE have not publicly discussed and fully explored all options and even the local newspaper isn't digging deep enough to uncover all the "facts." Yet the local paper wants to criticize blogs for lack of transparency...

As always, SOUND OFF!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Comment of the Day: Fact Checking of 2/8/16 BOE Meeting Public Comments Reveals Misinformation

This morning we received a series of public comments from Jill Quinones, a highly respected D181 community member who has submitted signed comments to our blog in the past.  This morning's comments were copies of 2 letters she sent to the BOE last night addressing misinformation given during public comments 2 parents gave at the 2/8/16 board meeting.  As she points out in her first letter, Ms. Quinones is an educator with 24 years experience, a D181 Learning Committee Member, and a resident of D181 with a 15 year history.  It is also well known in the district that Ms. Quinones is a lawyer, although she is currently a teacher in a neighboring district.

We are publishing Ms. Quinones' comments as our Comment of the Day because we believe that it is important for our readers and anyone who listens to the Board Meeting Podcasts to realize that not all of the information stated during public comments is accurate.  

We invite those individuals who made the 2/8/16 BOE meeting public comments to respond to Ms. Quinone's letters if you believe she is incorrect in any of the information she has provided the BOE.

As alway, SOUND OFF!


Jill Quinones said...

Bloggers: Last night I sent 2 emails to the BOE that address factual errors made during the public comments at the 2/8/16 meeting. I'm submitting them in multiple parts to your blog.

Part 1 Email 1:

From: Jill Quinones
Subject: Feb 8 Meeting Public Comments
Date: February 14, 2016 at 11:01:45 AM CST

Dear Board of Education,

I recently listened to the public comment made at your last meeting (February 8). While I can appreciate the passion from these speakers, several of the comments contained not only impassioned opinions, but also incorrect facts. As an educator with 24 years of experience, a D181 Learning Committee member, and a resident of this District with a 15-year history, I would like to provide you with a little fact checking as I think it is important that we all have factually correct knowledge when talking about decision making and educating students in D181. This letter is 1 of 2. I will send the second one later.

Public Comment: The Board gave a directive to advance 1/3 of our students 2 years in math

Facts: The Board directive was, according to the 1/11/2016 meeting recording, to advance the highest performing group of students in each grade by 1 year. No exact number was set, nor should it be. Some BOE members referenced the number of students that had been accelerated in the past (1/4 – 1/3), but the math trajectory on Board Docs is what was approved as the “directive.” There is no Board directive that 1/3 of our students should be finishing Geometry in 8th grade.

PC: The Board has no data to support this (directive to accelerate)

Facts: The PARCC presentation given at the 2/8 meeting provides ample data. Both MAP and PARCC are CCSS aligned assessments. This data shows that:1435/2669 (53%) of our students are scoring at the 80th %ile or higher on MAP. 382/2669 (14%) are exceeding expectations on PARCC. 1053/2669 (39%) are meeting expectations on PARCC at these top levels.

As an FYI, depending on grade, students scoring at the 80th%ile or higher on MAP are scoring equal to the average (50th %ile) student anywhere from 1 to 4 grades ahead of them. The RIT score allows educators to make this comparison. For example, the 5th grader with a 230 RIT (90th %ile) has the same RIT (and math achievement) as a 9th grader at the 50th%ile, which is also a 230 RIT.

Finally, an earlier report presented to the BOE by Dr. Carol Larson shows that it is these same top students who are NOT making expected growth. This is additional data that supports that these students need more.

PC: What criteria support this (directive to accelerate)?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Comment of the Day: D181 Should First Address the Unfinished Business of Providing Appropriate Special Education Services Before Taxing Us for the Infrastructure "Wants" in One Building

This morning, we received a comment from the parent of a special needs child.  We are publishing it as the Comment of the Day because we are tired of hearing Pro-Referendum Supporters state that curriculum needs are completely separate from the infrastructure needs at HMS.  Yes, since its inception, this blog has focused mainly on the state of curriculum in D181 because that has been the primary area in the district that has had problems and negative impacts on all students.  We have never said we don't support building a new HMS, but we have been clear (as have most of the readers commenting) that we are not willing to support construction of a building that has millions of dollars in added WANTS and not NEEDS. 

Today's comment of the day is directly on point.  We believe all of the pro-new HMS parents need to ask themselves the following questions:  How can D181 continue to ignore the NEEDS of our Special Needs Students?  When will that "Unfinished Business" be completed?  In our opinion, until the business of providing appropriate services to our Special Needs children is meaningfully and successfully addressed, no WANTS in other areas should be funded.


Parent of a Special Needs Child said...
Mrs. Mueller: Thank you for acknowledging that the SPED department is a mess. My child has suffered as a result and it is not right. You are correct that the board members have been asking for the administration to assess the SPED department for some time now, but there has always been an excuse to delay it. The most recent excuse is that it should be rolled into the Strategic planning process. Enough is enough. Really, how hard would it have been for the person in charge of that department to order all of his staff to collect data on the services being offered, the success or lack thereof of these services, the costs compared to LADSE and the efficiencies and increased quality of services (if any) that have been achieved since leaving LADSE? This is data that should have been collected since the very first year that D181 withdrew from LADSE. Was it? Who knows? Was it analyzed? Clearly not. And there really is no excuse for this. There has been no accountability for this failure. No superintendent since the withdrawal raised concerns or red flags about the state of the SPED department and most of the BOE was lax enough to assume this meant there were no problems. It is not enough to hire a new head of SPED in D181. The analysis should still be done and persons responsible for the past failures should still be identified. If any still work here, they should be dealt with. Then and only then will people really start to trust what is happening in the central office. Until then, you can't really expect families of SPED kids to support building a new middle school, especially if their kids won't be attending it. It's absurd to use the equity or "Unfinished business" theme to support the new school when these kids education within existing buildings has been subpar due to SERVICES not INFRASTRUCTURE. How about finishing the UNFINISHED business of making sure our NEEDIEST children are provided appropriate services? Start with that and finish that FIRST before asking me to pay any more tax dollars. It truly offends me that so much attention has been paid to building one school to the detriment of all the special needs children in D181. 
February 14, 2016 at 8:37 AM

Thursday, February 11, 2016

HMS is Not Reflective of a Third World School

Today a community member/Facilities Committee Member was quoted in The Hinsdalean's HMS Referendum article as stating that  "he's concerned that some residents are not aware of the conditions at the school, which are more reflective of a third world country than this community, in his opinion."

Nothing could be further from the truth!

Here are photos from the Internet that show what a Third World School looks like.  There are hundreds more available just by searching "Third World Schools." Shame on anyone on the Facilities Committee for the fear-mongering and dramatics that they are using to try and sell the idea of building a shiny new $65 million HMS.









Sound off!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Board Votes 5 - 2 to Recommend Building a $65 Million Hinsdale Middle School

We will keep this short and encourage the community to listen to the entire 2/8/16 Board Meeting discussion and decision by the BOE majority to recommend building Option G - a $65 million Hinsdale Middle School.  Bottom Line:  Five board members -  Garg, Burns, Vorobiev, Clarin and Turek  -- voted to recommend building a $65 million school in the form of Option G.  Two board members -- Gray and Giltner -- voted NO.  Several board members voiced their hope that the price might be less than $65, but as we all know, these are essentially empty words until -- in the event that the referendum is approved -- a construction manager is hired to actually validate the latest Cordogan design and bids are made on the actual work to be done. 

We commend Gray and Giltner for reminding the rest of the board that the BOE must look out for the fiscal health of the entire district, and not just focus on building one school.  Gray reminded the board that there are many possible liabilities that the district may have to assume in the future.  In our opinion, it was fiscally irresponsible of the rest of the BOE and Dr. White in not having a substantive discussion on the possibility of the district incurring these additional liabilities.  Giltner further pointed out that he could not support a design that in his opinion included "wants" -- such as an auditorium -- and not needs, especially when there are so many other district needs that must be funded.

After the BOE voted to recommend Option G, the next item discussed was how to fund the $65 million in bonds in the event the referendum is successful. Again, we encourage our readers to listen to the meeting, since the opinions given by certain board members, in our opinion, initially showed their willingness to kick the can down the road versus having taxpayers pay for the new building as soon as it is built.  To keep it simple, the decision was whether taxpayers would have to start paying in 2018 (once the building was completed) versus waiting until 2024, the year after all other bonds taxpayers are currently paying down for the past construction projects are paid off.  By waiting until 2024, the taxpayer costs would essentially be flat until 2024 and would allow people to say "hey, HMS won't cost anything" for parents who will be sending kids to HMS in the next 8 years.  

According to Dr. White's Report/Recommendation,  he was asking that"the Board tentatively approve a solution that begins the payoff of debt just after a new school is built and includes debt payment decreases when current debt expires (similar to PMA Option 3C-1). It is further recommended that the Board of Education establish a targeted tax increase for a home valued at $500,000 and $1,000,000 so that the administration can ask PMA to update reports that can be shared with the community as soon as possible."
The board voted to begin paying down the bonds the year the building is completed (should the referendum pass).  Now the only question is what will this cost the taxpayer?  Unfortunately, Dr. White's Report/Recommendation did not provide the answer.  So we will continue to wait for this information.

Stay tuned.....

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Comment of the Day: Grown-ups Don't Make Decisions This Way. It's Time to Scrap this Mess and Start Over.

This morning we received the comment below which we have chosen as our Comment of the Day.  We think it is timely, especially in light of the new Design Concept Comparison Chart that has been posted on Board Docs for Monday's (2/8/16) meeting, along with the other documents that have been prepared to support the Administration's and Facilities Committee "recommendation that the Board take action to select HMS Option G" -- a $65 million concept for a new HMS.  (See:  2/8/16 Board Report on HMS Design Concept Recommendation)  We believe it answers most of the questions that one of our readers asked last week and the answers are disturbing.

Following the Comment of the Day are some quick observations and OUR recommended course of action. As always, SOUND OFF!
Anonymous said...
All these hysterical people are posing a false dichotomy. The question is not whether the community should support renovations or a new school. The question is whether we should have a 400 dollar square foot building rammed down our throats as the only choice when the price jumped tens of millions of dollars at the last minuted. I feel like I am being sold a time share, buy now or it will be too late. And I know this is how Illinois got to where it is generally, how we got where we are on curriculum, and how mistakes are made generally. Yes, I know the committees spent a lot of time, and yes I know people, good people, have an emotional affair with the idea of the new building, but grownup so don't make decisions that way.

Do we need the new building? Not want, Need. I have no idea. I want to see, open for all to see, what a comprehensive renovation would cost with a clear eyed view of the pros and cons of a renovation as opposed to a new building. Can we afford the new building? Illinois heading into rough waters, even in our prosperous little corner, where not everybody is so prosperous. Even if by some measure we NEED a new building, if we can't afford it we can't build it. Absent data and an explanation, nobody is going to rush me to buy a time share like this, let alone a 65 million dollar building.

7. Oh, and let's not forget that the WINNING firm neglected to include in their estimate site cost premiums, owner soft cost and contingency and escalation estimates.  All of these "exclusions" are now referenced in the Design Concept Comparison Chart.  Yet many of these exclusions were actually included in the other two architect firms' competing design concepts.  We point this out because we want everyone to ask themselves the following questions:
  • How could the Facilities Committee or the Administration have chosen Cordogan as the winning firm?
  • Shouldn't SOMEONE on the Facilities Committee or the Administration have flagged all of these EXCLUSIONS from the concept that Cordogan submitted and questioned what the actual price would be if they added these features into their design?  
  • Shouldn't that information have been requested BEFORE Cordogan was given serious consideration or selected as the winning firm?
  • The Winning Design which was sold to the BOE as costing $46 million could NEVER have been expected to cost that, if all of the basic features listed above were left out of the plan.  Why weren't all of these INADEQUACIES identified last September, October, or November BEFORE  a firm was selected?
We really think that someone must believe that D181 voters are simply too stupid to realize the unbelievable BAIT AND SWITCH that has been perpetrated on all of us.  In our opinion, in their rush to get a referendum question on the March 2016 ballot, and to ask the voters for more tax money BEFORE  D86 could, the D181 Facilities Committee and Administration were careless, sloppy and frankly, probably selected the WRONG architectural firm.  We urge the BOE to scrap this entire plan, inform the D181 community that while the ballot may still have a referendum question on it (since it is probably too late to have it removed), that it will NOT go forward with the current or recommended $65 million plans to build a new HMS at this time.  

It is time to START OVER, and this time, do it right.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Comment of the Day: Dr. White Needs to Clarify Once and For All if HMS is Dangerous!

Moments ago we received the following comment.  It speaks for itself.  However, we do think it would be important and responsible for Dr. White to once again state (this time hopefully on the HMS referendum page on the D181 website) whether or not HMS is dangerous.  He recently said it was not, yet apparently, not everyone has gotten the message.



I doubt students' parents were even notified. Just like they were not notified about the released directory information, were parents notified ahead of time of the recently posted photo of HMS children walking through the halls at HMS on the "Vote Yes for HMS" Facebook page? 

Surprise, surprise, another failure on the district's part to obtain parental permission. Sure the faces of most of the students are conveniently blurred out, but not all are. Hmmm....I wonder who would have had access to our children in the hallways of HMS and permission to take a photo of them? A teacher, an administrator, or facilities member? Someone must know who took the photo, blacked out the faces, then posted it onto the political group's Facebook page. This political group seems to believe that rules don't apply to them. I don't think it's ok to publish photos of our kids, even if they blur out photos. I can't believe they did this. If they were allowed to enter the school and take photos, then who authorized this? If they were given a photo by the administration, then who authorized it's release? 

And to suggest as their photo comment does that the picture shows the "overcrowded and dangerous dash" HMS students have to navigate when changing from the portables to the main building is downright irresponsible. Once again, didn't Dr. White already say that the conditions in HMS are NOT dangerous? Didn't this political group have to take their reference to the building being dangerous down from their website after he made this declaration at a recent meeting? So now, they are trying to fear monger using Facebook? Dr. White, please tell them to stop with the theatrics and misrepresentations. If Dr. White thinks the building or its conditions are causing a danger to the students, then it shouldn't cost the community $65 million to fix those conditions now. They should be fixed regardless of the spending that kind of money. And if he can't get it done without spending $65 million then he needs to be fired.

But let's get serious now. This photo is downright silly. There is nothing wrong with the amount of children in the hallway nor is there anyhing wrong with the portables. Take a picture of any middle school hallway in America and you will see the exact same thing - lots of kids walking to their classrooms. But their hallways will probably be older than those in HMS. And they will probably have metal detectors. In fact, lets all go over to the high school and see how crazy those WIDE hallways and stairwells are during any passing period. D86 needs to go to referendum too but you can bet they are not going to suggest a total new building because the hallways are dangerously crowded during passing period!

And one last note, I have 6th grader at HMS and my child never once complained about a lack of heat in the portables or crowds. So I'm not sure where those comments are coming from.....

February 3, 2016 at 8:35 AM

Monday, February 1, 2016

Comment of the Day -- Where Have the Good Ole' Days Gone?

We miss the good ole' days......

Comment of the Day:

Anonymous said...
Two True Stories Parents,

I am a parent of D 181 children who were educated back in the dark ages of late 90s, early 2000s, you know before electricity and the internet and we all milked cows every day:

Today, I meet a parent and a 4th grader at one of our fine elementary schools. Mom says they no longer give spelling tests in D181. The child learns 10 vocab words PER WEEK. Definition, how to use in a sentence etc. 

I tell her my child went through D181 back in the old days, when children were actually required to learn stuff. My child was required to learn 10 words PER DAY! Every Friday a spelling and vocab test with 50 words! The word lists were differentiated including " challenge words" Challenge words were were at high school level. You did not need to be in a special class to learn challenge words. Children 15 years ago were adding hundreds of words to their vocabulary each year. Routinely "non gifted" students were getting 28 to 34 on their ACTs because they were educated from Day 1.

Second True Story:

Went to Hinsdale Public Library around 4 pm one day last week. Cars were parked up and down Washington, library parking full, cars parked one block over east of Garfield. I asked the library lady if there was something special going on. She says it is like this every day because of all the kids being tutored at the library. I glanced around; there must have been 75 to 100 elementary and middle school aged kids sitting with their tutors. This happens every day! Plus more tutors at home! 

OMG people, what hath we wrought? It is one thing to use a tutor for ACT prep or SAT prep as a junior and senior in high school or to help cram for an AP calc or AP Bio exam. When kids this young are needing tutors what does that say? How on earth can we take spelling and vocabulary away from our kids??? What on earth are they replacing it with? Will they have to dumb down Hinsdale Central? How will are kids fare at Fenwick or another private school?

Please wake up parents. It is worse than you think.

I don't blame teachers; I blame the administration and this very sad curriculum.