Thursday, March 3, 2016

Comment of the Day: Former Board Member to Vote NO on the $65 Million HMS Referendum

Earlier this evening we received the following comment from former BOE member Yvonne Mayer.  It speaks for itself.  

As always, SOUND OFF!


Yvonne Mayer said...

Please post the following as a free-standing post. Thank you.

Today, Hinsdale's local newspaper, The Hinsdalean, ran a story endorsing the upcoming $65 million referendum for a new Hinsdale Middle School and urging voters to vote yes. The Vote Yes For HMS pro-referendum group promptly applauded this article and proclaimed their love for the editorial's comment that "Decisions must be based on current conditions rather than fears over future scenarios." 
Pam Lannom, the Hinsdalean's editor, who does NOT live in D181 and therefore won't be contributing her tax dollars to either a new school or any aspect of D181's offerings, made this ludicrous suggestion as a response to concerns citizens, such as myself, have made that the referendum should have been vetted in the broader context of possible legislative proposals. These proposals include shifting millions in pension liabilities to individual school districts, freezing property taxes (and therefore the District's revenue stream) or cutting Special education funding (funding which the district will then need to assume under Federal and State mandates). 
So the following is a comment I posted to the Vote Yes Facebook page's glee over Pam's article: "I completely disagree. Pam Lannom has never served on the D181 BOE and her statement is simply irresponsible. Her failure and YOURS to recognize that the BOE and the Administration need to be planning for the "rainy day" scenario which will come to the State of Illinois and trickle down rapidly to "rich" districts like ours is disappointing. Change is coming and revenues will decline in D181's coffers and the end result will be cutting programs, teachers or asking D181 voters to approve tax increases above the tax cap in order to raise needed funds to maintain existing programs and teacher levels. The needs of one school -- which are real -- should have been discussed in the broader context of the "what if's" that most intelligent Illinois residents realize are going to happen, in one form or another. At the end of the day, voters will decide the future of HMS and most likely, down the road, the future of maintaining what goes on in D181's classrooms. Too bad that the Administration refused to have even ONE SINGLE discussion about the district's future with the BOE (or with the community, for that matter, in the form of a Town Hall Meeting) before rushing to referendum. That's my opinion as a former board member who already had to cut $5 million from the D181 budget less than 8 years ago. We were lucky then, because no teachers had to be fired, but the hopes of better foreign language offerings, smaller class sizes and full day kindergarten were all scrapped. There isn't "fluff" in the budget anymore, so if things need to be cut in the future, our children will lose out -- in ALL buildings."
I will sadly, be voting NO on the upcoming referendum, and if it fails, hope that all parties will return to the drawing board to bring a more fiscally responsible proposal back to the taxpayers that also will protect the existing programs and teacher levels in D181 at ALL schools. No doubt, some D181 taxpayers who support the referendum will attack me (as I've already been attacked on the Vote Yes Page), but as a former elected BOE member in D181, I stand by my concerns over the process, price tag and future financial health of the district.
March 3, 2016 at 6:57 PM


Anonymous said...

Mrs. Mayer, thank you for this and everything else you do. I just want to point out one thing you missed: when you were on the board, and had to cut $5 million from the budget. I don't know offhand how if any teachers were let go (you say none, so I'll have to take your word for it). However I do know that several members support staff were let go. I've heard that before the cuts, each school had its own It person. Now, there's only each elementary tech serves 2 elementary schools. Due to this, with so much going online now, the schools have to plan when they do testing and any special online thing. Plus, just the lack of support for day-to-day activities hurts the instructional environment. I don't know how many other support staff members lost their jobs.

The Illinois legislature is considering cost shifting pensions to the districts, property tax freezes, and cuts in special ed funding. Mark my words: it's not if one or more of these things happen: it's when. Due to that, we cannot afford a new school. We cannot afford mass layoffs of teachers and staff. As much work as HMS needs, now is not the time to build a new school. Too much is at stake.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts of the Day--Part I
I don't hold any ill will toward the yes HMS crowd, and as with many who plan to vote no, understand all the arguments for a new HMS, not just this one at this time. The Hinsdalean editorial is indefensible.

To begin with, the Hinsdalean fantasy that we don't know what will happen in the future is without any foundation. We know what will happen, we just don't know how. We are going to get clobbered. See today's article outlining the disparity between rich and poor districts in Illinois. The worst in the nation. At the end of the day, we will lose substantial monies. I guess the Hinsdalean is right, we don't know when. Yet, any logical analysis would say soon. The Illinois financial crisis has been going on for decades as the can is kicked down the road. Will it continue for another ten years without resolution, that seems unlikely. Will it continue for six months, that seems likely. Sometime between six months and ten years we will be clobbered by increased taxes or lost money. And no one is going to tap us on the shoulder and say, "it's coming", it will just come. The signs are sooner rather than later. Our universities are not being funded. CPS teachers are being furloughed. We don't have a budget. Chicago has raised property taxes and will raise them again. Chicago wants our money. The Courts have ordered various payments be made. Vendors are owed billions of dollars. Does this sound like a who knows scenario or more like sooner rather than later scenario.

As for the idea that curriculum and capital expenditures are entirely "separate" and can be conceptually isolated, that is also indefensible. We have one pot of money, divided up. But the idea that they are separate goes beyond the idea that we are one community with one set of finite resources. Curriculum and capital expenditures also compete for the energy and talent of the administration. We are in the process of trying to fix the curriculum. A big shiny new building will be a lovely thing to work on, instead of digging into the muck of statistics, test results, and unhappy parents.

Perhaps this provides some insight into why the administration is in love with the new building. It needs a win. A big shiny new win. It needs a legacy. Not only would the building be a big shiny new win, it would be a distraction. Just like a magician distracting the audience with one hand, while it hides the coins with the other, the building will be a positive focal point to distract people. How else to explain the mysterious and illegal release of data and burying the actual price of the building.

Well, I hear angry yesers, crying "what about the benefits." Ok, a new HMS would provide benefits. If you are going to spend 65 million dollars, you should have an upside. This is the cry for support for every government expenditure. Every government program that takes taxpayer money provides some benefit to someone. Couldn't we also provide more teachers, a dedicated language lab committed to teaching mandarin, subsidized travel to academic competition, one on one meetings with STEM professors from area universities, free memberships and travel to lifetime fitness. How about a greenhouse and agriculture lab on the existing bowl. That would be super cool. We could do a lot. The Yes crowd crowing about the benefits doesn't move me. How about this question. Is there anything we could do with 65 million dollars, other than build a new school, that would provide less actual educational benefit to the kids than a vanity project to fit in with downtown Hinsdale style? I am hard pressed to think of anything reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts of the Day--Part II
The question is always, in a world of finite resources, compared to what? How is this building compared to a more utilitarian structure. How is this building compared to waiting, and focusing financial and administrative resources on existing, overdue, pressing curriculum reforms. How is this building compared to upcoming repairs? My understanding is that the trailers are 50,000 a year and that the building is safe and largely fixed. Is spending 65 million dollars now really the most likely way that all students can benefit academically. It sure seems like a vanity project for the administration and for those residents who love the idea of a fancy new school.

Finally, if I could get over all of that, I can't get over the process. In particular, the last minute 20 million dollar increase in price. How did that happen? In any other organization, it would be cause for self-reflection and apology. Here, the people who wonder about are portrayed as luddites and selfish. Wow. And, what about the price per square foot. All the material posted and circulated lacks any support for over 400 per square foot for a middle school. I looked and cannot find a similar price. And, the comparisons with Hubble have been shown to be baseless, without any serious rebuttal.

HMS is an odd looking building that may well require regular repairs. A new school might well be a worthwhile investment. Moving to 55th and Garfiled seems pointless--the kids benefit from being near downtown and not a busy intersection. The facilities committee worked hard, and must be chagrined to find its work under scrutiny. I don't blame any member that strongly defends its work--the emotional investment must be overwhelming any reason at this time. Yet, in the end, in light of all circumstances, the timing, the safety of the current building, the administration's desperate need for a win at all costs, the shaky financial data, and the state of our state, the answer has to be no.