Saturday, May 7, 2016

The HMS Referendum -- The Bait and Switch Continues. Time for the BOE to Cut the Fishing Line.

Looks like the HMS Bait and Switch continues.  

Let us recall.....First the D181 BOE and Administration selected an architect whose "HMS design contest" proposal cost $46 million. Then less than 2 weeks before the BOE had to decide whether to go to referendum or not, the price tag skyrocketed to $73 million.  Then at the ninth hour, the architect brought forward three additional proposals with price tags of $55, $60 and $65 million. The BOE majority (with two sane and rational board members justifiably saying NO to the $65 million plan), voted to go to referendum for $65.

And guess what the community said? NO WAY! The Referendum FAILED! And, it wasn't even a close vote!  

So now, as the BOE is trying to decide when and if and at what price tag to try again, the architect has come forward with a new proposal -- one in which it will agree not to be compensated for any more design changes - which per their letter, will only be MINOR --made prior to any future referendum being approved AND in which the firm will agree to lower its Architectural Fees on the whole project in order to get the price tag down to under $60 million. Really? Well, we are not buying it!

Check out the letter they sent to "Don" 45 days ago, on March 24, 2016.(That's right -- "Don" has been sitting on this letter for over one month, not publishing it for all the community to read, and to our knowledge, it wasn't published or discussed at the April 11 BOE meeting! The letter is now posted on Board Docs for the Monday, May 9 BOE meeting and can be accessed at: March 24, 2016 letter.

As we read the architect's letter, we were, to be frank, beyond disappointed in Cordogan Clark. Why? Let's take a look. The following will quote portions of the letter in blue and then give our reaction in red.

The letter states in relevant part:  

"As you know Cordogan Clark revised the design seven times since the competition to continue to find cost savings and we were intimately engaged in every organized activity to present the facts and information related to the HMS referendum and were ready and willing to do more and even offered to go door to door to provide information, and get the message dispersed."

Reaction:  How comical that they claim they revised the design 7 times to find cost savings! How ironic that they neglect to acknowledge that their original $46 million "winning design" was revised UPWARD by nearly $30 million. The fact that they ignore this apparent "teeny weeny fact" in their letter speaks VOLUMES. In our opinion, they just don't get it! Furthermore, their claim that they were "intimately engaged in every organized activity to present the facts and information related to the HMS referendum" must mean they worked hand in hand with the Vote Yes Committee and Director of Communications.  Obviously, they had ZERO influence, since they were unable to convince anyone to conduct the door to door canvassing that they reference. Not once did the community get any flyers from the Vote Yes community group. It just got flyers from Ms. McGuiggan. Why not?  Why didn't the architect work to create flyers for the VOTE YES group that were mailed to the community or distributed door to door? It seems that this firm is quick to claim that they would have and could have done more, but the reality is that what they SHOULD have done, they did NOT do. So why trust them now? We sure don't!

"As a gesture of our commitment to CCSD 181 and this project, we offer to forgo additional compensation for the efforts related to design adjustments required to bring the project price lower than the $65 million for the next referendum phase. It is our opinion that the current design, with some reasonably minor adjustments, as agreed to by CCSD 181, could bring the project cost down to under $60 million."

Reaction:  Read carefully what they said.  They essentially want to keep the current design with "minor adjustments".  No mention of what those minor adjustments might be, no mention how they determined that these unnamed adjustments could reduce the price tag by $5 million.  Are they planning to eliminate the auditorium?  The running track?  What are they talking about?  And are they really suggesting that reducing the price tag by a mere $5 million will be all it takes to convince more than 50% of the community to vote yes? In our opinion, this statement is meaningless and cannot be trusted.  It is clear as a bell that the community is not just going to accept MINOR changes to the design.  Hopefully, the online and phone surveys will show that the community expects not just MAJOR design changes but also a much greater reduction in the overall cost of the project.  The refusal by the architect to even consider this possibility in their letter leads us to conclude that they will never work to achieve the community's real goals and desires for a new or renovated HMS.

"We believe that the design, which was highly favored by the Administration, HMS staff and the Facilities Committee has inherent efficiencies and can be further refined to realize these savings."

Reaction:  Are they joking?  They claim their own design has ''inherent efficiencies?"  And that as a result of these "efficiencies" their plan can be  "refined" to "realize savings?"  What does that even mean and why should we trust their assessment of their own project that was riddled with cost mistakes from Day One? Simply making this claim does nothing to instill greater confidence in the many community members who didn't fall for the first round of bait and switch and are way too intelligent to accept at face value anything Cordogan Clark now says. Sorry folks, but once you stop laughing at this ludicrous suggestion, you should vent the anger you should be feeling towards this architecture firm and DEMAND THAT THE BOE FIRE CORDOGAN CLARK.

"Furthermore, we also offer to fund the cost of an independent cost estimating company which could validate the cost of the revised HMS design that we jointly settle upon and further reduce the negative perceptions related to the previous cost estimate."

Reaction:  So now, not only do they want to reduce the price tag with MINOR adjustments, and expect us to believe their representation that their design is inherently efficient, which they believe will reduce the price tag by $5 million, they also want to pay OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKETS the cost of an independent cost estimating company to validate the revised future HMS design cost?  Wow -- THEY SOUND DESPERATE!  Perhaps they realize that their contract might actually be in jeopardy, but in our opinion, its' too late for them to regain the community's trust!  But wait, the icing on the cake is next.....

"Additionally, we are willing to reduce our total fee percentage by a quarter of a percent to 6.4% from 6.65% to further illustrate our commitment that we are the right partner."

Reaction:  To top off their offer to tweak the design and lower the costs to the D181 taxpayers, the architects also offer to CUT THEIR FEES!  Yippee! Hooray!  SAY WHAT??????  As we recall, there were concerns raised by board members BEFORE the contract with this architect was approved about the fee percentage they were asking for.  Yet, at no time did this firm offer to lower their fees below 6.65%.  It is unbelievable that in a last ditch attempt to convince "Don" and the BOE to stick with them as the HMS architect, they are willing to cut their fees now.  What D181 taxpayers had a right to expect last December was that the district would hire an architect that was willing to make a profit, but realize that it had to come in at it's low point from the start, if it wanted the community to trust it and consider such a high price tag.  The fact that the firm is willing to cut it's fees now only means that they had built in quite a cushion because you can bet your bottom dollar that they will still be making a lot of money if D181 accepts all the things this letter offers.

So we should all be asking, is this really their bottom line?  Should we believe ANYTHING they say or offer?  Well, it certainly looks like "Don" has bought into their proposal -- hook, line and sinker!  His report to the BOE for Monday's HMS discussion states:

"I have confidence in the firm's ability to design a school that our community can support, and appreciate their continued partnership." ($file/BOE%20Report%20-%20HMS%20Facilties%20Update%2016-05-09.pdf)

Well, if after all the bait and switch tactics and excuse making and last ditch offers to cut the price-tag with only "minor" design changes, Dr. White really has confidence in a continued partnership with THIS architect firm then here is our final reaction:

NO ONE should have confidence in Dr. White either!  In our opinion, especially after receiving this letter, his recommendation to the BOE should have been to CUT THE LINE with Cordogan Clark and hire a new architecture firm.  The fact that he didn't come to this conclusion may require some tough decisions by the BOE, not just to go against his recommendation and fire this firm without Dr. White's approval, but also, to conclude that HIS contract should NOT be renewed when it comes up for renewal in the next 12 months.



Anonymous said...

The board questions have been added under the superintendent's report ($file/Board%20Questions_5_9_16%20-%20Sheet1.pdf). Without surprise, many "answers" are so roundabout, beat around the bush kinds of things, they don't actually answer the questions. An example is the question about replacing the first floor lockers at CHMS. The answer was that the 2nd & 3rd floor lockers were replaced in previous years. That begs the question: why did we replace the 2nd & 3rd floor lockers as well? If it has to do with having built-in locks, why not replace the lockers at HMS as well? At HMS, students buy their own locks. Also, if the new lockers have built-in locks, are the combinations changed every year? If not, could older and former students remember their old combinations and break into younger students' lockers and steal stuff? I've heard of issues of theft at HMS.

The lack of transparency and straight answers is laughable. I say laughable since I'd cry otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making this public It is outrageous that despite the results of the latest survey not having been made public yet, that Dr. White is forging ahead with his and Cordogan's plan. Why did they even bother to create and publicize the current survey if the district does not want to wait to find out the results of it before making recommendations? Apparently the district is continuing to ignore the community's concerns and has no interest in researching any other options or locations.

White and the rest of the Facilities Committee need to immediately show up with an official real estate appraisal of the current HMS location, as well as some legitimate plans for a remodel of HMS. We want to see how much the Institute of Life Principals location is valued at, as well as if the Village Park district would consider selling us some of their park land. If the FC and the district does not do this, then I feel this current administration are not people that we can trust with a dime, let alone millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Recommending Cordogan's fraction of a percentage discount is offensive. Didn't we already pay them over $200,000 for their ridiculous plans? They need to cut at least 1.5% off commission AND start coming up with some free plans for what a remodel would look like.

The district's continuing lack of cooperation, collaboration, and failure to offer any new ideas or major price cuts smacks of collusion and insubordination.

Anonymous said...

Is anyone listening to the board meeting? I can't find today's meeting. The most current meeting they have is the finance committee meeting on May 2nd.

Anonymous said...

Never mind the lifestream thing, they just ran late

Anonymous said...

What is Dr. White trying to hide from the board, and why?

Anonymous said...

Lots of discussion at the BOE meeting about the horrible MAP scores. Words like "shocking" "dismal". Where are the reports??

Anonymous said...

The discussion on digital learning was also worth listening to

Anonymous said...

After reviewing the abysmal district MAP data, it looks like Monroe is by far the lowest in the district in both reading and math! I'm not sure whats happening over there but its obviously not a lot. I had high hopes for the new principal but it's becoming obvious he's just as incapable as his predecessor. I'm scratching my head at what (if anything) my children have learned this year. Assuming the district has open enrollment, I want my kids OUT!

Anonymous said...

Too much focus on a brand new school, not enough focus on the lack of learning inside our schools. The referendum was and continues to be a diversion by the board and administration. They should all be ashamed.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a Monroe parent and I want out too. Yet again Oak way outperformed the other schools.

Anonymous said...

The digital learning presentation seemed to have a bias for which way they want to go and which device. It seems there are 3000 devices for 4000 students. How is that bad??? I will not be making any donations to the PTO and foundation if this is what they will use my donation for. The teachers seem to want everything without thought of how high our taxes are. I would prefer if they spend more time giving instruction versus asking for more devices. My child's map scores for the past two years show a decline. Their excuse will be more devices will help us differentiate more. I don't want them to watch to play games on apps. I can home school then. I want them to teach the kids how to comprehend text, spell, write well and do well in math. The math program that has been picked seems to be convoluted in how it teaches math for elementary schools. Do our kids really need to learn new vocabulary for math that is different from other programs? What will they do when they get to college and everyone speaks a more traditional math language? Why are the teachers and administrators being so reckless and irresponsible and not using common sense in applying common core standards and picking better resources. We are not an inner city school district. I know this is harsh but I am really fed up of hearing the teachers are all great and lets give them everything they want when it comes to technology. I don't want my kids to continue more learning with technology at home when homework already takes up a considerable amount of time. These kids need to unwind. They will still play their games and I don't want them to have more screen time because of school. They have other activities as well. Unfortunately if other kids are highlighted for doing more work at home, the pressure is put on all of them to do more work. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

The last thing middle schoolers need is more technology. They are on it all night as it is doing homework and using on-line textbooks. It's awful. Yes, it is more difficult for teachers to differentiate without 1 to 1 but they've been doing it successfully for years. At the end of the day 1 to 1 is just away to keep some kids busy and quiet while a teacher is working with others. Why not abiity group all kids and so have the majority of kids working on the same thing at the same time?

Sure, technology can be great when used well and appropriately. But, until I hear a concrete plan regarding how it will improve or increase learning, given the fact that MAP scores are down again, I just don't understand how the administration can even consider a 1 to 1 plan that isn't tied to fixing the problems we currently have. Another planned distraction or Dr. White's hobby? I have no idea but think that we need to get the basics right, first. I wonder how our comparison districts did on their MAP scores.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the comments above. For the life of me, I cannot figure out the board president thinks they think they are going to pay for all this technology! Doesn't the Digital Technology Committee have an inkling that technology does NOT raise student performance or learning? Once again, too much focus on anything and everything this district EXCEPT for how children learn best. And here is a hint.... it is not by more screen time.

Perhaps the digital tech committee should spend more time showing certain the teachers how to correctly input their assignments, rubrics, expectations, class rules, discipline methods on their web pages? Or, simply offer students an in school elective in keyboarding before making huge investments in soon to be outdated laptops and iPads.

Anonymous said...

All the survey results from the online survey and phone survey are available on Board Docs

Anonymous said...

It would have been very helpful for the survey taker's comments to have been visible. These comments should have been published. This is the only way for everyone to see the comments and ideas of people who cannot physically attend the meeting. All it takes is 1 good idea to solve a problem. All of these ideas need to be printed and shared with the people who took the time to do this survey - especially since we taxpayers paid for the survey.

Interesting how no price breakdowns for less than $45 million were offered? Why would this information be ignored.
Also interested that no mention of a remodel or 3rd middle school were mentioned, especially since an overwhelming concern for HMS was that the school was too big.

jay_wick said...

The "summary link" that includes the slides that will likely be reviewed at upcoming BOE an/or facilities committee meetings -- HMS Next Steps Slides

The majority of respondents to both phone and online instruments would prefer a "new less expensive design" for the replacement of HMS, this is distinct than merely paring down some of the existing proposal "to find some overall cost savings".

If one scans through the voluminous free-responses (that range from thoughtful to venomous...) one cannot help but see DEEP DIVISIONS in the district. Survey Results w/ Responses
Many responses are especially troubling as they point to a lack of understanding on how the district has been organized for a very long time. The BOE really needs to make efforts directed toward respondents (and frankly the whole base of voters) who either supported the defeated the proposal or remain opposed to any further capital expenditures to explain the real working of property taxes in Illinois under PTEL -- taxes that have grown faster than inflation are traceable ONLY to the increased value of one's OWN property or approved referenda, which the district has NOT HAD in quite some time. The rise in value of other property in the district REDUCES the burden on existing property owners. NO ONE HAS GOTTEN A "free ride"! The costly new homes built throughout the district, whether they are served by HMS or CHMS, have made it possible for the district to remain well financed. This is a VERY BASIC FACT that sadly seems lost on too many respondents... If one honestly cares how "fair" property taxes are as a primary method of funding schools one needs to also look at the very modest property taxes paid by many inside the city of Chicago (where the selective admissions / magnet schools still set the bar for performance of all public schools in the state) and the shockingly high property tax rates paid by residents in the deficient former industrial suburbs and rural areas that are facing true financial emergencies in their schools. One can easily be misled by the rhetoric of connected power-brokers who both personally enrich themselves through their representation of high-rise landlords and similar wealthy property owners under the current arrangement as well as retain their grip on elected office through their exploitation of low-information voters; one might hope that residents of our district would be more capable of understanding the true nature of such issues. Prospects of true reform in the face of demonstrated widespread ignorance are bleak...

While I know many of the BOE members, one cannot help but wonder the degree to which any of them truly have the enthusiasm needed to overcome the misunderstandings so prevalent regarding HMS. There is no question that the existing building should never have been built, but the 40 years of efforts to make it more compatible with the needs of the district have resulted in no real progress. A consensus of how to come to terms with this fact must include a broader examination of the success and failures of the district in all areas but also a realistic plan to engage with broader realities of our broken statewide funding system. In my view, efforts to make our district an exemplar of how to embrace the long term benefits of consolidation are the perfect way to re-frame the issues and broaden the set of winners, but again without leadership such a shift will not happen. It remains unclear to me whether the BOE has enough will to follow the clearest message from both surveys -- a better proposal needs to be developed!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Tons of comments, but many of them assume that a remodel was out of the question. it is obvious that many people were uninformed. Shocking how may people made ridiculous claims like "People who voted no are selfish." Really? Since when is it selfish to not want to throw you money away? How could so many people say they voted yes on the referendum, but in the same breath, say they thought the project was too expensive? Interesting how willing people are to waste other taxpayer's money.

A remodel was never an option because there was no quote. Another location for the school was NEVER on the table, because no other locations were ever priced out or specifically offered to residents. Interesting that an older resident pointed out that HMS was originally built only for 7th and 8th graders. Why was reverting back to this plan never discussed? Let the elementary schools add portables instead of always asking HMS to do so. Or, build a smaller school just for 6th graders anywhere, and free up space at HMS and CHMS.

I spent 20 minutes reading the comments, and didn't finish yet. However, I feel the comment that sums it up best was #196:


D181 needs to focus on their student's dropping scores and skills, not the architectural designs.

Anonymous said...

I waded through much of the 207 page survey and the comments. I pray that our BOE is reading them all. The reasons for the failure of the school are obviously expense and too many bells and whistles.

There is an obvious lack of trust with the D181 central administration and to a lesser extent the BOE.

Many felt a 40 year old school should not need rebuilding and that this BOE is just repeating the mistakes of the BOE in the early 70s that built the current mess.

Sad to see a lot of comments that the only reason this referendum did not pass is the "selfishness of Clarendon Hills, Monroe, and residents without children". No doubt the cocktail parties in the Oak School attendance area are full of such talk, but the analysis of the vote does not support that statement.

If you have some time, you should peruse the actual results to see for yourself.