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 façade 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.


Devil's Advocate said...

Parents, I'm a little surprised that you aren't a part of C4CH already. This blog and C4CH share many common values it seems. You mentioned a while ago that you might take a breather from this blog. Is there any chance you could talk to C4CH and see if they'd be interested in taking on some of the responsibility for this blog? As you said, over half the district's students live in Clarendon Hills.

In terms of comparing HMS to CHMS, can anyone tell me what issues there are or have been at CHMS? The C4CH article said that HMS' gym is twice the size of CHMS', but only has 20% more students. Do the parents, students and staff think CHMS' gym is an adequate size for their student population? Do the HMS parents, students and staff think HMS' gym is too big? Speaking of CHMS' gym, didn't they get a new hard wood gym floor a few years ago? What was wrong with the old one? Couldn't this be considered a "Taj Mahal" feature? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was funded by the PTO and private donations. If the parents and taxpayers really wanted it, I'll be okay with that.

What other issues has CHMS had? Also, what good things does CHMS bring? The reason I ask is I just want the district and community to learn from CHMS. Build on its strengths, learn from its mistakes. If the referendum passes, I don't want the district to spend additional millions of dollars to fix things on top of the $65 million. While I don't want to spend that amount of money, I also don't want to cut corners either. I'm all for parity between both middle schools, but I also don't believe in a "CHMS suffers from these problems, so everyone must suffer the same problems." If I had the money, I would totally fund a new HMS along with renovations to CHMS to bring up the parity. Unfortunately, I don't have anywhere near that kind of money.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with 7:19, and I live within HMS boundaries. If I had a extra million laying around, I would gladly donate it to HMS. That being said, if I did donate a million dollars, you better bet I would want that money to be used wisely. I would ask that evidence be provided to me to prove that district proposals directly improved student learning. For example, I would not support any experimental technology lab with new computers without there being some type of research based software program in place that is proven to improve student's skills. We know that very little research exists that proves positive correlation between the number of laptops in the schools positively benefitting student learning. It all depends HOW the school uses and fairly implements those programs. Far more evidence is available that proves the success of paper, books, and professional development/training for teachers. I lived through the PTO funded iPad experiment and have seen its negative consequences. Had the administration been more forthcoming years ago about the state of HMS, they should have been asking our PTOs for money to re-do the carpool drop off land or re-model the cafeteria and stage area there.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:05. A lot of the administrators seem to be so fascinated with technology and a 1 to 1 system (each student gets their own computer), that they don't look into how they are used. All they seem to care about is shiny, new toys, and nothing about the actual curriculum at all. I'd love to know what programs the district is paying for, yet has no idea about. I've heard that the district's textbooks have both a physical and online version. Do any of the administrators know about the online version? With everything moving online, does the tech department know how to support it all? While I believe a new school and a 1:1 tech thing can help, the district needs to focus on curriculum and how to use what it has first before we buy anything new.

Anonymous said...

While it's nice to have on-line versions of books, I much prefer paper textbooks. In a textbook or workbook, there is no Instagram, Safari, or instant messenger lurking a mere click behind the online version of a book to tempt my 13 year old. I am sick and tired of the school asking my child to do her homework online at home. Don't they realize that it is not physically possible for me to do my own work, take care of my other 3 kids, spend quality time with my family, and police my middle schooler while she works on supposed homework?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has set clear limits on computer time for children. If the school wants to let kids work on and print up materials at school, fine, but they need to be aware that most families don't have the resources to re-create a computer lab for our children at home! Nor do we want to.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a special education student, I have had to beg for access to some key online tools my child should have been using. Too many personnel in the special education department are either unaware of the appropriate technological tools, dump the responsibility of finding the tools on the parents or abdicate their roles in teaching our children how to efficiently use these tools.

Anonymous said...

9:31 I also have a 13 year old boy and I couldn't agree with you more. I have installed parental controls, talked to my son, administered consequences and the like, in an effort to prevent my son from being tempted by going to other sites and games while using the on-line textbook. He works in a centrally located area in our home, but it is near impossible to keep him away from these on-line distractions until his homework is completed and monitor him appropriately. And my son is a rule -following A student. Some nights the temptation is just too great for him. Not only that, but the on-line text books are difficult to maneuver around and slow to load which makes looking at different pages slow and difficult. I have bought my son several hard back copies of his books to keep at home which help with all of the above. Yes, students have to go on-line for paper writing and research but do we have to have everything on line?? The AAP didn't just pull their guidelines out of a hat. Ask any neurologist what all of this on-line behavior is doing to our kids' brains and they will tell you. It is not a scare tactic, it is a fact based in uncontroverted research.

Anonymous said...

In the interest of transparency could the Parents also publish page 2 of the C4CH newsletter? On Page two they gave Marty Turek a thumbs up for looking out for Tax Payer interests based on a Tax Levy vote instead of looking at overall dollars approved on wasteful spending by this same board member. This blog itself spent months keeping track of various issues during the election season. Zero accountability under the previous board. It is difficult to trust the information from this newsletter based on their assessment of who is looking out for our interests. Claudia Manley is also the star of D86 for voting against a levy of 1.6%. The analysis is pretty short sighted.

Anonymous said...

I am glad so many Clarendon Hills people do not want to vote yes on the overpriced new HMS, but when this referendum gets voted down, what will Clarendon Hills do? Will they support sharing CHMS with The Lane again until any other ideas materialize? So far, this seems to be the easiest, most reasonable option. The Lane is a relatively small school and, it was assigned to CHMS up until a few years ago. If it was that easy to redistrict them out, it should be just as easy to redistrict the Lane back in. I wish the board would stop wasting everyone's time on the Yes for HMS propaganda and move forward with some more realistic plans that could be implemented as soon as this fall. They need to start hashing out the details of how this would work. The upcoming institute day on the Friday before spring break falls after the election. On this day, and during Spring Break, the district should be able to begin working on a new viable plan. Parents need to be informed before memorial day so we can start weighing in on this decision. Perhaps if enough children volunteer to go there, those Lane families who want to stay at HMS can still be given this option.

I have heard people say that CHMS is also overcrowded, but it is nowhere near as crowded as HMS. Nor does it have the other challenges that HMS has suffered through (Mold, ugly, no parking, less green space) over the years. I think we all are going to have to accept that there is no perfect solution, but if voters are going to be expected to make a decision, all of the options need to be made public before the vote. If CHMS is really that crowded, I suggest CHMS parents take a look at the HMS portables. They are very nice, especially considering that they are physically attached to the building.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but it's a little self centered to throw the Lane kids in front of the redistricting bus again. The Lane has over 350 kids. Oak is a smaller school and why not just split Monroe for that reason. I am disappointed at little regard for other attendance areas and families. Yes CHMS is a better building right now but no one wants their kids split across two schools. You also build relationships with teachers and staff and have to start all over again.

Anonymous said...

Here is some other commentary from the C4CH newsletter about other happenings at the high school district. Does this blog support only $40 million in projects at D86 and believe Manley and Corcoran are correct in their opposition of the board majority?

Hinsdale High School District 86
Union Negotiations Ongoing and $100+M Referendum
The new facilities Chair Jennifer Planson and Board President Kay Gallo seem
to be thinking big, really big on spending. A Master Facilities Plan (“MFP”) was
approved 4-2 (Claudia Manley and Ed Corcoran opposed) for a $130M set of
projects at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South. However, there is some
hope as Clarendon Hills Board Member Ed Corcoran’s plan called “Alternative
A” was backed by Claudia Manley and received words of praise from other
Board members for a more focused set of projects at $40M. However, the
Gallo/Planson majority are pushing ahead for a November 2016 referendum.
Corcoran’s plan prioritized compliance with statutory codes ensuring student
safety, security and compliance while also addressing the demonstrable
classroom needs, special education space and necessary infrastructure.
Specifically “Alternative A” is a $40M plan that would have included projects
at both campuses.
At Central, “Alternative A” would include:
✦ Needed classroom space
✦ Replacing a swimming pool that has outlived its useful life
✦Adding parking near the football field and constructing a new West entrance
✦ Relocating the Buildings and Ground Department, and moving both
wrestling and gymnastics to exterior locations thus creating a large amount
of high value classroom space at a very low cost while improving locations
for sports.
At South, “Alternative A” includes upgrades to safety and security, library,
cafeteria, special education and counseling area.
There have been dozens of meetings and fantastic participation by the community and staff. The main question remains.
Why won’t the Board majority articulate a referendum amount or scope for the November 2016 ballot so that taxpayers
can understand the cumulative effect of the D181 Hinsdale Middle School referendum and the D86 referendum amount
for Hinsdale Central and South High Schools at the same time?
Manley and Corcoran have stated they want a spending cap of $40 M with only “needs” while eliminating the “wants”. So
why isn’t the smaller plan, “Alternative A” being considered??
What else is happening in D86 Board meetings?
Tax Refunds (abatements) are Due to D86 Taxpayers – There are two abatements due to the taxpayers in
District 86. One abatement is needed due to DuPage County Clerk unilaterally increasing your tax bill in 2013 more
than the Board of Education voted for. The second abatement is a procedural abatement to make sure the borrowing
from D86 reserves does not result in a backdoor $500,000 annual tax increase.
Teacher’s Union Negotiations - Are underway, and involve serious money (approx. $50M/year in D86 alone) but this
time talks are private and the information is secret from taxpayers so the community hasn’t a clue what the Kay Gallo
and the administration are trying to achieve. Is the new Board majority solidly pro-Union or are they conservatives as
they claimed?
Retirees Still on Local Healthcare & Pension Spiking - Another serious local problem is that Union retirees and
their families continue to receive subsidies of up to 30% from local D86 healthcare plan even after retirement (until
Medicare takes over ). This will cost taxpayers about $1.3M in 2016 and another $500,000 is expected to pay for
pension spiking for the same group. Poor negotiations by the administration and the Board allowed this gaming of the
local system to continue. This alone constitutes over $15M in liabilities. No benefit flows to students or taxpayers from
these legacy benefits.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see if CHMS families step up to support a new HMS the way that Hinsdale families supported a new Walker, Prospect and CHMS years ago. We're still paying for some of those 3 schools and they couldn't have been built without Hinsdale's votes and tax dollars. Hopefully the CHMS residents will be as supportive of D181 students as HMS residents were.

Anonymous said...

7:50: I think a lot of Clarendon Hills residents will support a new HMS, but the process that the district went through might throw some people off. It's not totally black & white.

Also, I've seen a few comments on here and other places where that are basically "I got mine, screw you" or "What's in it for me?"

As has been said before, the curriculum should be fixed first.

The Parents said...

10:15: The Bloggers do not support everything that is in the C4CH newsletter. We are not prepared at this time to take a position on the possible future D86 referendum, other than to say that we believe both Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South are in dire need of repairs and renovations, possible expansion to create more classrooms (not tearing down either school and starting over), a new pool at Hinsdale Central and and reconfiguration of certain features at Hinsdale South (including moving the location of the cafeteria). The D86 board has been reviewing all options and is not rushing to put a question on the ballot. To our knowledge, it has not decided on the amount it may ask taxpayers to approve with a referendum, although our understanding is that between $120 and $200 million in projects have been identified, over a five year masters facility planning process, and that the BOE has indicated (but we could be mistaken) that the most they would ask taxpayers for would be $70 million. Our understanding is that they are still evaluating the identified projects and attempting to prioritize them. We do understand that one board member, Mr. Corcoran, has suggested a $40 million proposal. He is one of 7 board members and has the right to make suggestions, however, as in D181, the full board will ultimately vote and the majority will decide if, when and for what amount to go to referendum. When that time comes, we may comment on the proposal, but right now our focus and that of our readers is on the D181 referendum, which goes to vote in two weeks.

Anonymous said...

7:50am: my kids feed into HMS. I am not a CHMS feeder. And yet your comments totally offended me. The three new schools in CH combined cost significantly less than $65 mil. I don't know the exact number but I think the combined cost is around 1/3 of the proposed HMS. Those buildings were modestly built so as to not unduly burden taxpayers. That's like saying we gave you a ford so now you are a bad selfish person if you do not give us a Lexus. My CH friends support a new HMS but they want the cost to be reasonable and they don't want it loaded with extravagant wants. When this referendum fails we will do what we did after the first CHMS referendum failed - we will go back to the drawing table and come up with a reasonable, modest design that is not insulting to half the town. And everyone will support it. Now stop with the guilt.

Anonymous said...

I think the pro-HMS folks are mixing apples and oranges. From everyone that I have spoken to who is voting NO on the referendum, it is not because they are opposed to fixing HMS (whether through renovation or a new build). It is because they are opposed to the proposed design, the $65 million price tag (which will be significantly higher than that) and the faulty process that got us here.

And to 7:50am, I am a Hinsdale resident and my children go to CHMS. I have supported all the renovations ACROSS the district (Monroe, Madison, etc.) and the new schools at CHMS, Walker and Prospect. Please don't pit us against each other.