Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Dr. Hector Garcia Unanimously Approved to be the New D181 Superintendent

The following is a press release signed by BOE president Jennifer Burns that was emailed to D181 parents and key communicators last night after Dr. Hector Garcia was unanimously approved as the new D181 Superintendent effective July 1, 2018.  A slightly modified version is also available on the D181 website homepage under the news tab.

We, the bloggers, are excited at the possibility that Dr. Garcia will finally be the right superintendent for D181.  We wish him good luck and hope he is successful in all his D181 endeavors.

Press Release:

On behalf of the Board of Education, I am excited to share that Dr. Hector Garcia, an educator with over 25 years of public school teaching and administrative experience, will be the new Superintendent of Community Consolidated School District 181 in Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills, effective July 1.

After an extensive search process that included over 30 applicants and involved an interview with key stakeholders, as well as multiple meetings with members of the Board of Education, Dr. Garcia was unanimously approved as Superintendent at our meeting on February 26. 

Dr. Garcia brings honed leadership skills, an in-depth knowledge of finance, facilities, and curriculum and instruction, as well as a collaborative, student-centered mindset to D181, characteristics that the D181 community – parents, staff and residents – identified as needed for success in a superintendent. The Board is looking forward to a long and productive relationship with Dr. Garcia and is eagerly anticipating his July start.

Dr. Garcia shares: "I'm looking forward to starting the journey of working together with outstanding staff members and a supportive community. This is an exciting time to bring all stakeholders together around a common vision for District 181 students. I await the opportunity to develop strong relationships with the students, staff, parents, and community."

Dr. Garcia is widely recognized for his extensive administrative experience and curriculum improvement efforts. He is the current Superintendent of Plano District 88, where he also serves as Chief Financial Officer and manages Facilities and Operations for the district. Formerly, he was the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services for Glenbard School District 87, where he led curricular improvements and professional development initiatives. Dr. Garcia has also served as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Plainfield School District 202. 

Beyond his 12 years as a district administrator, he has served as a principal, assistant principal, dean of students, and teacher in schools ranging from Adlai Stevenson District 125 in Lincolnshire to Morton East District 201 in Cicero. He has also taught graduate courses on leadership, organizational behavior, and curriculum for three Chicago area universities.

Dr. Garcia's strong belief in developing schools that are responsive to the needs of students and establishing a strong culture of collaboration has resulted in marked improvement in the districts during his leadership as a school administrator. He has presented extensively at the state and national level on administrative and collaborative topics, as well as implemented professional learning communities (PLCs).

Dr. Garcia has also been elected or appointed to key state and national committees. At the state level, he was appointed to serve as one of 32 educators on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC), charged with creating a new way to evaluate teachers and principals that incorporates student growth measures. At the national level, Dr. Garcia was elected as the Chair of National Academic Assembly Council for College Board.

Dr. Garcia received his Doctorate in Education Leadership and Policy Studies from Loyola University, Master’s Degree in Education Administration from Northern Illinois University, and a Bachelor's Degree in History from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is currently working to complete his CSBO (Chief School Business Official) certification.

Please join the Board in welcoming Dr. Garcia to the District at a reception at Prospect School at 5:30pm on March 12. More to come about this exciting event!

Jennifer Burns
Board of Education
Community Consolidated School District 181

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Blame The Administration, NOT The Board of Education, for D181's Financial Mess

In advance of Monday's meeting at which the BOE will vote on the proposed budget cuts, we feel compelled to respond to harsh criticisms made against them in the Parent Survey comments.  The Survey results/comments are now posted on Board Docs and can be accessed at:  Parent Survey Results.

The following 4 comments are included in the 27 pages:

The District should look at administrative expenses first and renegotiate teacher contracts. Plus, thanks to the members of the School Board for wasting tons of money on firing ______had the District on the right path and the morons that ousted him wasted tons of money and stunted the progress of our District. D181 is embarrassing ‐ led by the idiots that voted for _____ouster on the Board. Reduce salaries and cut positions ASAP. 

I am disappointed in the board for allowing us to be in this situation. Please consider eliminating administrator positions. We are very top heavy. I am embarrassed to live in this district given that the board can not effectively allocate ample resources.

Every single parent I have spoken to is outraged that the board could let this happen and on such short notice. Your choices will not be forgotten at the voting booth.

It distresses me immensely that instead of finally talking about adding full day Kindergarten, like so many of the surrounding districts and other comparable districts, we are going to make our children suffer because of a budget shortfall that clearly the board should have seen coming for some time. Secondly, to take away physical education classes from students who so desperately need the difference in their day to help them learn is also hurting our children.

These comments stood out to us because they suggest that the BOE is at fault for the fiscal crisis D181 is in.  We respectfully disagree.

The BOE is tasked with approving budgets recommended by the ADMINISTRATION. In order to make any decision, the BOE must rely on information it is provided by the ADMINSTRATION. While we, the bloggers, have criticized individual board members for not attending meetings, not preparing for meetings, not listening at meetings and grandstanding and pandering to their audience during meetings, we will not sit by and allow the full board to be blamed for a fiscal crisis that they did not cause.

On White's watch the district has gone from "seemingly" having a balanced budget to one with a $1.5 million deficit -- a deficit set to grow each year as NEEDED capital improvements at 8 of the 9 schools are finally included in the budget. In order to achieve and maintain a balanced budget for the next five years, $1.5 million (or more) need to be permanently removed from the budget to make room for the needed capital expenditures.

UNTIL this year, the BOE and the entire community were led to believe that the D181 budget was balanced or even had a surplus.  For the last several years, as the BOE set the following year's tax levy rate and DID NOT levy to the maximum allowed by law (until it finally did last December), the Adminsitration failed to identify and/or inform the BOE that capital needs at 8 schools were not included in the annual budgets. Further, when the BOE was deciding whether to go to HMS refererendum, and some of the board members suggested including additional monies for capital needs at the other schools, the Administration did not inform the BOE of the $10 million in needs we now know exist.  As a result, there was not majority support to include ANY amount, let alone $10 million, in the referendum for needed work at other schools.

The BOE and community were KEPT IN THE DARK about the true state of the disrict's needs or their potential impact on the BUDGET.  

Further, while pension reform may now be imminent due to Governor Rauner's proposed budget ideas, this threat to the district's fiscal health is not a new one, but is one that the Administration has minimized each time the BOE has asked about it in the past. We have been listening to podcasts for years and know each time the BOE asked the Adminstration about possible pension reform implications on all suburban school budgets, the Adminstration suggested that because legislators are always talking about pension reform but have never followed through with actual legislation, it would be premature to build the possiblity of pension reform into the budget.  Sadly, this lack of planning for the pension "rainy day" now puts the district in even greater jeopardy.  Instead of pushing the BOE to levy to the max and grow the reserves in case the pension "rainy" day occurs,  the BOE was advised that the lower levy rates would still generate enough revenues to maintain balanced budgets.  Now it turns out, this was not the case.

Parents are certainly entitled to be outraged by the state of D181's fiscal situation, but let's place blame where blame is due.  In our opinion, the budget was mismanaged by the very highly paid ADMINISTRATORS who failed to identify and/or inform the BOE of millions of dollars in capital needs that should have been included in the budget.  (Again, we thank the current Chief Financial Officer for finally informing the BOE of what had been excluded from the budgets and making the BOE aware of the deficit situation.)  In our opinion, had the ADMINISTRATORS told the BOE of the million of dollars in NEEDED capital improvements at Elm, Lane, Clarendon Hills Middle School, Oak, Prospect, Walker, Madison, and Monroe, the BOE would have realized the need to  balance the budget sooner.

In our opinion, if the BOE had known about the capital needs, it would NOT have approved the Start Time changes last year that added over $300,000/year in transportation costs to the budget.  It would not have approved a 1 to 1 initiative for All Grades.  It would not have approved the creation of positions such as TOSA's or Content Area Specialists, positions that didn't exist until a few years ago.  Moreover, in our opinion, the past Business Office administrator should have identified the $690,000 in inefficiencies that the new Chief Financial Officer identified very shortly after arriving in D181and is now going to permanently eliminate from the budget.  Imagine the millions that could have been saved over the last few years, had these inefficiencies been corrected.

These information failures cannot be blamed on the BOE, a board of 7 UNPAID volunteers who cannot be expected to "know what they don't know."  Some of the BOE members have been accused by irate community members, administrators and teachers of "micro-managing" the district. That accusation now seems ironic, since we, the bloggers, wish they actually had been micro-managing the district so that they might have realized that they were not being provided information to make informed and fiscally responsible budget and levy rate decisions.

We would be remiss in not reminding our readers that two BOE members actually went beyond what is normally expected of a BOE member and served on the HMS referendum accountability committee,  closely scrutinized thousands of documents and the events leading up to the publication snafu, and discovered that the Superintendent had not provided the BOE with needed information. Some "critics" in the community have pilloried these diligent and responsible BOE members for finally demanding accountability.  Little did we know then that that information failure was just the tip of the iceberg.  Now we know that the BOE had also been kept in the dark about the true state of the district's needs at 8 schools and the negative impact addressing those needs would have on the budget.

It is very easy to lash out at the BOE and call then "morons and idiots", as one comment above does.  It is also easy to say that the board's "choices will not be forgotten at the voting booth." But in our opinion, with the exception of one current board member who we have posted about numerous times in the past and frankly, have finally written off, we think the actions taken by the BOE in forcing a change in leadership at the end of this academic year, was the right action to pursue and shows their intelligence. How can anyone on the BOE or in this community trust an administration that in our opinion kept critical financial information from the board? How can anyone on the BOE or in this community trust an administration that did not properly budget for the capital needs of 8 out of 9 schools and in our opinion only focused on the needs at one school? How can anyone on the BOE or in this community trust an administration that does not even recommend freezing its own salaries in order to share in the painful cuts that the BOE must now approve in its efforts to once again balance a budget -- a budget that they were led to believe until last fall was not only balanced, but had a small surplus?

No doubt one or more of the 4 BOE members whose terms will end in Spring 2019 will choose not to run again, if for no other reason than the unwarranted attacks against them and the failure by this community to realize how hard they have actually worked or the challenges they dealt with in the face of repeated information failures by the Administration.  (Of course, we hope that the 2 term board member will NOT seek a third term.) We, the bloggers, challenge those in the community who simply want to attack the BOE to step up and run to replace them. Put your money where your mouth is and good luck doing a better job than the current board majority.  But those of you who want to oust any board member better start attending board meetings and closely following the issues. Everyone, but especially the critics, has a responsibility to stay informed. The authors of the Parent Survey comments above might then reach a different conclusion about who is to blame for the fiscal mess D181 is in.

It is time for everyone to recognize where the blame lies for the deficit crisis, and in our opinion it is not with the BOE.  Come on people, get real!

And as always, SOUND OFF (and sound off soon, before we go silent......)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Breaking News: Six Day Notice Posted. Dr. Hector Garcia to be Approved as New Superintendent on 2/26/18

The Six Day notice was published yesterday, can be accessed at the following link and identifies Dr. Hector Garcia as the candidate who will be approved by the BOE at the February 26, 2018 Regular Board Meeting:  Six Day Notice.  

The notice provides Dr. Garcia's proposed salary and benefits for the next 3 years (which we will comment on below). In addition, Dr. Garcia's Resume can be accessed at the following link: Dr. Garcia's Resume. We found the notice within the Salary/Benefits Tab within the Financial Reports Tab within the Department of Business and Operations tab. Not easily found, but at least it was posted. We assume it must have been posted late Monday night following the Special Board Meeting.

So what is our initial impression of Dr. Garcia's candidacy?  We begin by saying BRAVO to the BOE!  

In order to write this post, we reviewed Dr. Garcia's resume and conducted some online due diligence. As we conducted our research, our optimism and excitement surrounding Dr. Garcia grew. We are impressed with Dr. Garcia's background,  credentials, work experience and reputation in the communities he has worked.  It is our hopeful opinion that with his knowledge base Dr. Garcia may be exactly what D181 needs right now to steer the district back on course.

We, the bloggers, have always taken the position that D181 is not a starter district for administrators. We believe that administrators, especially those in the central office, must come to our district with wide-ranging experience and not have to learn how to do their job after arriving here. We hoped the BOE would identify and hire a superintendent with a background and experience in Curriculum, especially after years of curriculum turmoil in our district. We hoped the person would have high school experience, in order to be able to understand the importance of articulation with the high school D181's chidren will attend. We also hoped that the new superintenent would have experience in finance and human resources, in order to be able to jump right in to tackle the fiscal problems D181 is currently facing and assist the BOE in negotiating a fiscally responsible teachers' contract.  Finally we hoped that the new superintendent would have work experience in high achieving districts similar to D181.

In Dr. Garcia, the BOE may have hit a home run.  

He has over 22 years of educational experience in grades K through Grade 12. He has systematically worked his way to the top job in the central office -- a superintendent -- after working as a teacher. Assistant Dean of Students, Dean of Students, Assistant Principal, Director of Educational Services, Principal, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services (Teaching and Learning), and the last 5 1/2 years as a superintendent. 

Dr. Garcia is currently the superintendent of a diverse (both racially and socio-economically) K-12 district -- Plano District 88 in Illinois -- with approximately 2400 students.  Dr. Garcia was approved as the Plano Superintendent in 2012 and in 2016 his contract was extended for an additional 5 years.  With a much smaller budget that D181's in Plano, it appears Dr. Garcia has worn many hats.  Unlike D181 which has many levels of Assistant Superintendents for various departments, Plano, does not have Assistant Superintendent positions, rather only has a Director for Teaching and Learning and a Director of Assessment. Dr. Garcia appears to be in charge of the finance department and human resource department, and he is currently completing a CSBO endorsement (Chief School Business Official).  (Sources: Plano District 88 2016 State Report CardPlano District 88 websiteDr. Garcia's Resume,  3/17/16 Kendall County Now article.

Prior to his hire as Plano's superintendent, Dr. Garcia worked in high achieving districts and schools such as Glen Ellyn District 87 and Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in particular as a curriculum administrator.  (Source:  Dr. Garcia's Resume.) 

As one news article stated:  "His educational experiences range from working in a predominantly low-income, minority setting to one of the most affluent and high-performing schools, Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire."  (Source:  1/30/12 ValleyLife Press article.)

One gets a sense of who Dr. Garcia is in reading his Superintendent's message on the Plano District 88 website, which states in part:

"My passion for education stems from not only my work in schools for over two decades but also witnessing firsthand how difficult it is to raise kids in a challenging era. As a husband and father of four young children, I too know how challenging it is to raise kids with various strengths and weaknesses in school even with two educators at home! ...
As an educator, I have had the privilege to see and experience the power of school systems that work as a collaborative team and have student learning as their essential mission and goal. During my time in schools, I have been a teacher, high school principal and a district administrator in struggling as well as highly successful school districts. I have had the honor of leading and contributing to the work of outstanding educators as we developed a school system that has been recognized at the local, state, and national level.
I look forward to building upon the great work that has been done throughout the district in the past. I am always available to speak with parents and students and gain insight and perspective on the recent accomplishments, as well as the challenges that we face in the future. Please call me ..., so we can find a common time to meet and sit down for a cup of coffee.
The ultimate goal of our work together is to continue to foster greater levels of collaboration for the benefit of our students. Thank you for your support!"  (Source:  Plano District 88 website.)
Turning next to Dr. Garcia's compensation package, according to the Six Day Notice, he will have a 3 year contract and his starting base salary will be $235,000.  In years 2 and 3 of his contract, he will get a raise, the equivalent  CPI up to a maximum of 3%.  This means at most his base salary in Years 2 and 3 will be $242,050 and $249 311.50.  In addition, each year, he is incentivized to meet his performance goals in order to annual bonuses of up to $15,000.  
While these numbers seem high, we compared them to what Dr. Garcia is currently making in Plano, a much less affluent and smaller district than D181.  Under the terms of his contract in Plano, Dr. Garcia will earn $196,070 in 2017-2018; $205,873 in 2018-2019; $216,166 in 2019-2020; and $226,974 in 2020-2021. (Source:  3/18/2016 WSPY news article,)
Comparing Dr. Garcia's base salary to Dr. White's current contract, Dr. White's base salary for the 2016-2017 school year was $239,527.31 with the same annual guaranteed increase in base salary as Dr. Garcia will receive. (Source:  Dr. White's Current Contract.)  So Dr. Garcia's guaranteed base income is less than Dr. White's was 1 years ago.  
While some may criticize Dr. Garcia's salary as being high, the question we must all ask ourselves is"did we really think D181 could get an experienced, well rounded, yet cheap superintendent to come in and fix the district's mess,"  especially one with experience and working knowledge in all the different departments he will be overseeing and who currently has a five year contract?  
The answer to that question is an obvious NO.  D181 is currently in a mess.  It will be a challenge for any new superintendent to come in and fix the mess.  In order to attract a highly qualified and experienced superintendent and expect him to leave a job where he was given a 5 year extension requires paying top dollar.  We may not like it, but that is the reality of the situation D181 finds itself in.
We are excited at the prospect that maybe this time the BOE has gotten it right.  We are encouraged by the fact that Dr. Garcia is experienced, especially in the area of curriculum, and obviously has been successful in his current district, gaining the trust of a board that has awarded him with a 5 year contract extension.  We have never heard of any superintendent getting that length of an extension.  
We are looking forward to Dr. Garcia being formally approved on February 26. We hope the BOE will invite the community to a reception at which we can all meet him.  Dr. Garcia will face many challenges in getting D181 back on track.The first will be working with the BOE to hire an Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum. We think there are also a couple principals retiring this year so Dr. Garcia will have to work with the BOE to hire their replacements. He will also have to help solve the fiscal problems D181 is facing and assist the BOE in negotiating a fiscally responsible teachers' contract . We hope he will be welcomed by all in our community -- staff, parents, community members, students -- and allowed some time to sort through the mess and create a plan to address the curriculum issues, special education issues, capital needs issues and financial issues. 
Of course, time will tell how successful Dr Garcia is as D181's superintendent.  For the sake of all of our children's education, we truly hope he will be and we sincerely wish Dr. Garcia good luck as D181's next superintendent.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Part 2 of Series on how Delusional and Self-Serving Behavior Will Not Help Solve D181's Budget Crisis Caused by Years of Administrative Neglect -- How to Erase the Deficit

Part 2 of this series will now address How To Erase the Deficit.

Before we begin, we want to point out a new development that took place since the 2/12 board meeting that may make the district's financial crisis even worse than what was projected. In an attempt to deal with Illinois' fiscal crisis, Governor Rauner has proposed shifting teacher pension costs to suburban school districts. This might save the state money, but will it would increase expenditures for districts such as D181 by millions of dollars.  (Source:  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-met-bruce-rauner-illinois-budget-20180213-story.htmlhttp://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-rauner-speech-pensions-budget-20180214-story.html).

Over the last several years the D181 BOE has discussed the possibility of this happening, however, each time, the administration kicked the can down the road and failed to take any proactive steps to "save for this rainy day" by levying to the maximum allowed by law and growing our reserves.  Case in point: back in February 2016, when the BOE was discussing the proposed $65 million HMS referendum, a couple of board members voiced concerns that we wrote about in our 2/8/16 Blog Post.  Despite the concerns raised about possible future liabilities, the majority of the board charged ahead to build an expensive new school without including funds for improvements needed at other schools.  We now know that the board was kept in the dark about the true conditions of the other buildings in D181 and the $10+ million that needs to be spent over the next five years. If Rauner's pension reform goes through and it finally does "rain," D181 is not prepared to handle the increased budget deficit.

In light of the state of the district, and the possibility that State legislation will make the deficit worse, what should be done to balance the budget? The following are our opinions. We encourage ALL readers to sound off and make your opinions known to the Board of Education before they cast their deciding votes on what to slash and what to keep.

To begin, we are not going to opine on the specifics of the cuts that the BOE has already indicated it supports. Rather, we are going to focus on the possible cuts the administration is still discussing and has asked the adminsitration for more information on. Per the Board Meeting Summary, the board already agreed to trim the deficit by correcting inefficiencies, and were supportive of eliminating the SELAS consultant and middle school Content Leaders, reducing summertime professional development, eliminating the Central Offic reception position, eliminating one TOSA (Teacher on assignment), reducing the cost of the Community Relations position, changing hiring practices in an effort to improve the balance of new graduates and veteran teachers, managing art teachers' time more efficiently, starting orchestra in 5th grade rather than 4th and finding a new location for the District office.  (Source: Summary of 2/12/18 board meeting.)

Unfortunately, these combined cost reductions will not erase the deficit.

The board asked for more information and will continue discussion on the following possible cuts:
-- Reduction of PE classes to 3 times per week from 5 times per week
-- changing the school times in order to achieve transporation efficiencies
-- increasing transporation eligibility to 1/5 miles (from the current 1.0 miles)
-- an administartive salary freeze
-- a teacher salary freeze.
(Source:   (Source: Summary of 2/12/18 board meeting.)

As discuss below, in our opinion, the board should only pay for things that are legally required and approve these cuts and freezes. This will position the district to permanently erase the budget deficit, allow the disrtrict to pay the $10 million in needed capital iimprovements at 8 schools over the next five years, as well as absorb a possible shift in pension liability from the state to the district.


1.  $690,000 of the deficit will be erased with the "efficiencies" that Mr. Dada has identified, none of which impact our students. (Source:  2/8/18 proposed cut list.) The BOE has already agreed to those cuts.  One can only wonder why these efficiencies were not identified sooner, and how much smaller the deficit would be if they had been implemented three years ago.  Remember, Mr. Surma was hired into a brand new position, created especially for him by Dr. White.  Dr. White identified what Surma's role would be when he told the press:

"White added that Surma will also be looking for ways to save the district money.  His duties could include bidding out contracts to find less expensive alternative business, or finding ways to save on transportation costs, according to White.  He will also analyze technology purchases inside and outside of the classrooms, as well as facility needs.  White said the goal is for Surma to improve the district all areas." (Source:  7/15/14 Suburban Life Article.)

Excuse us while we cry FOUL!!!!  Did any of these promised things actually take place?  We think not and would urge all community members to storm the next board meeting and ASK WHITE WHY NOT!

2. Since correcting the inefficiencies and making the cuts that the full board has agreed to will not wipe out the deficit, in our opinion, the next thing to keep in mind is that D181 is a PUBLIC school district.  Expenditures are paid for primarily with tax dollars and tax dollars are dependent on the tax levy rates set each December for the following year.  Public schools are regulated by state laws that define specific programs that must be provided.  If required, the public schools must pay for those programs.  If they are not required, then public schools need only offer what they can afford.  Continuing to pay for wants that are not required by law should be suspended if to continue them will drive the district into financial ruin.

3.  The third thing to keep in mind is that taxing laws allow taxing bodies to increase taxes annually to a MAXIMUM amount -- the lesser of CPI or 5%.  D181 has had years where the tax increase was virtually flat due to very lower CPI rates.  However, as we pointed out, for several years, the BOE has also not levied to the maximum allowed by law and as a result, revenues that could have lowered a future deficit were never collected (and now cannot be recouped).  It is, in our opinion, unconscionable that the administration didn't do the work needed to properly identify the capital needs (to the tune of over $10 million) and build those expenses into the recommended tax levy rates.   But once the truth was told, it was the obligation of the Board to levy the maximum amount in order to allow the district's programs to be funded and not put in jeopardy.

4.  Last December 18th, after the Chief Financial Officer finally did the work that had been neglected and explained the true state of the district's budget, 6 members voted to finally LEVY to the MAX for the upcoming year.  One did not  -- Marty Turek.  (Source:  See roll call vote summary at bottom of Agenda page describing 2017 Tax Levy resolution on Board Docs for 12/18/17 BOE meeting.)

5.  We were shocked then at Mr. Turek's blatant act of irresponsibility in voting NO -- a vote that reflected a complete disregard of the NEEDS facing D181, but we were even more shocked to listen to the delusional suggestions he made at the 2/12/18 Board Meeting.  Rather than acknowledging that perhaps his vote had been a mistake last December, he continued ignoring the District's NEEDS and financial condition.  He suggested that the Capital NEEDS at 8 of our schools that Mr. Dada said were critical and must be addressed immediately should be DELAYED.  That's right folks -- delayed.

6.  In our opinion, until the deficit is erased, the BOE must levy to the maximum allowed by law EVERY YEAR going forward.  The community may not like it, but if anyone leaves money on the table they are hypocrites to also suggest NOT cutting programs or other budget line items that the district cannot afford any longer and ignore capital needs.  If Mr. Turek is unwilling to raise taxes to fund NEEDS, then he should resign!  And anyone unwilling to levy to the max to help erase the deficit should not consider running for the BOE in the next election cycle.

7.  As if Mr. Turek's refusal to levy to the max last December wasn't bad enough, at the 2/12/18 BOE meeting, he suggested that the deficit be handled by dipping into reserves.  He claimed that he was concurring with Board Member Giltner's suggestion about using reserves. Take the time to listen to the Podcast because you will first hear Mr. Dada's explanation of why the district CANNOT AFFORD to use ANY of the district's reserves to lower the deficit.  Then you will hear Mr. Giltner AGREE with Mr. Dada.  Next you will hear Mr. Turek -- who either wasn't listening or doesn't have the mental capacity to comprehend what the grown ups at the board table were discussing -- claim to "agree" with Mr. Giltner and then suggest that the deficit be handled with reserves.  If you listen to this part of the discussion, you may conclude, as we have, that Mr. Turek is delusional.  (Fortunately Mr. Giltner was quick to correct him and inform "smarty" Marty (our words not his) that he had said the exact opposite of what Turek was representing.

8.  In our opinion Mr. Turek was pandering to the crowd of teachers who attended the 2/12 meeting since during public comment they also suggested that reserves be spent down.  We are baffled by Mr. Turek's conduct, since his suggestion is not in the long term interests of the taxpayers and district.

9. We believe that anyone who suggests that reserves should be used to offset the deficit should be criticized as irresponsible and unwilling to face REALITY! Even Dr. White publicly acknowledged that the deficit cannot be fixed by spending reserves.  He said so during the meeting. In light of his unwillingess to be fully transparent in the past, the situation must be really bad if he felt the need to actually be candid and open about this reality. As reported in the Doing's article: 

"Several teachers, including Maura Fagan, a teacher at Monroe School and president of the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Teachers Association, suggested the district use its reserves to help offset the deficit.

If this was just a one-time occurrence, the district might consider using reserves, Superintendent Don White said. But an architect identified needed improvements that will cost $2 million to $2.5 million in each of the next five years.  And the district should allocate about that much for the next 10 years to properly maintain its facilities."  (Source:  2/13/18 Doings Article.)

Further, as reported in the Hinsdalean's article, "Superintendent Don White said using the district’s reserve funds as a remedy would be a short-sighted approach for a long-range issue.
“These are recurring costs that we know we are facing, so we’re going to have to take action now to balance the budget,” said White, who also pointed out numerous state-level unknowns that could adversely affect funding the district receives from the state." (Source:  See Page 5 of 2/15/18 Hinsdalean.)

10.  We actually agree with Dr. White and in our opinion, the deficit cannot and must not be reduced by spending any of the district's reserves.

11.  Before the BOE approves cutting any programs that impact our students, it must first stop the self-serving behavior of the administration and teachers.  If you take the time to listen to the Podcast of the 2/6 Finance Committee or review the cut list presented to them for discussion, you will realize that the initial cut list prepared by the administration failed to include any suggestion of an Administrator or Teacher salary freeze. (Source:  2/2/18 Draft Cut List.)  During the finance meeting, it was finally disclosed that almost $1,000,000 can be saved by freezing salaries for just one year and those amounts have been added to the draft cut list presented to the full board on 2/12/18.  (Source:   2/8/18 proposed cut list.)  So why wasn't the suggestion of freezing salaries on the list of ways to reduce the deficit?  In our opinion, freezing salaries is a MUST before any cuts are made that will impact the classrooms and our students, especially, if as discussed below, teachers are unwilling to support cutting programs that are no longer required by law.  The BOE must immediately begin discussions with the administrators and union leaders of both the teachers and support staff and get a commitment from them to reduce or freeze their salaries for one year in their next contract, if not sooner.

12.  Salary freezes are a no-brainer in a district that pays its teachers the second highest salaries in the states and that has been giving administrators raises at a ridiculously high rate.  More than 80% of the district's budget is used to pay salaries and benefits for the teachers and administrators.  If you look at Slide 10  of a Power Point presented to the Finance commimttee, you will see that D181 teachers are the second highest paid of all comporable districts in the state.  Their average salary is $30,000/year higher than neighboring Western Springs, and $14,000/year higher than Butler's district in Oak Brook. Teachers are fortunate to be locked into multi-year contracts that set their salaries and annual increases.  But in past crisis, both D181 administrators and teachers have agreed to SACRIFICE and lowered their salary expectations.  During the last national fiscal crisis almost 10 years ago, the administrators' salaries were frozen for one year (January 2010). (Source: Minutes of 1/11/2010 Board Meeting).  The teachers also agreed to a one year base salary freeze in a 3 year contract approved in October 2011.  (Source:  10/24/2011 Joint Statement.)

13.  Such sacrifices were applauded by our community and will be applauded if our highly paid employees agree to them again.  Teachers and Administrators cannot simply expect the community to support spending cuts that will impact our students, or call for spending down reserves that are needed for future unexpected expenses, without being willing to be part of the solution, especially when a one year salary freeze in combination with the $690k in "efficiencies" identified by Mr. Dada would wipe out the deficit.  If teachers are unwilling to agree to a freeze, we would urge them to consider lowering their salary increase expectations going into the next contract. The reality is that expenses have outpaced the revenues collected and since over 80% of the budget expenditures are for salaries and benefits, something has to give, especially if teachers' pension liability may be shifted to our district.

14. However, since it is unlikely that salary freezes or salary reductions will be agreed to before the next teachers' contract is negotiated, the BOE must still identify other means to lower the deficit.  The remaining "big ticket" items are: changing the start times of school in order to allow efficiencies in bus transportation to realize over $300k in savings, changing the bus pickup eligibility from 1 mile to 1.5 and reducing PE from 5 days to 3.

15.  Changing school start times.  In our opinion this is a no brainer if it will save $300,000 per year.  We are frustrated that the community will have to go through a second start time change in 2 years and once again cry FOUL against an administration that was tasked with finding ways to reduce expenditures but instead implemented a change that raised expenses.  To now have to reverse course does not seem fair to students, parents or teachers, but it is one change that will not have a direct impact on the services offered to students in the classroom.  

16.  Changing Bus Eligibilty.  By law, D181 is only required to provide free transportation to students who live 1 1/2 miles or more from their school and to those living less than 1 1/2 miles from school but who must cross a designated hazardous crossing.  It is our understanding that for years D181 has been offering free busing to students who live 1 mile or more from their school regardless of the hazardous crossing.  Thus, the administration has recommended, as a possible cut, complying with the letter of the law and only providing free busing to students who live at least 1 1/2 miles from their school or those who must cross a hazardous crossing.  This would generate $250k in savings.  Again, since the district must live within its means, if something isn't required of a public school district, it should, in our opinion, only be offered if it can be afforded.  Unless the district finds sufficient other cuts to erase the deficit, this transporation eligibility change will have less impact the on students and parents than cuts to classroom programs.  The alternative is to charge these parents fees, but since no one likes to pay more for what they've previously gotten for free, we predict that most families would find alternate means to get their kids to school.

17.  Reducing Daily PE to 3 days per week.  Finally, the administration has proposed reducing daily PE to only 3 days per week, an action that would save $450k per year.  Listening to public comments made at the 2/12 board meeting and following parent comments on social media, we understand that teachers and many parents are not supportive of this change.  Studies have shown that daily PE is good for students.  No one can dispute that.  The problem is that a public school district should only offer what it can afford or raise the money needed to pay for it.  Unfortunately, we now know that the district cannot afford to offer daily PE unless it finds other ways to erase the deficit.  Teachers who are opposed to reducing PE to 3 days per week cannot have their cake and eat it too.  In our opinion, if they really want to keep daily PE in place, they need to offer some concessions, such as reduction in their salaries or a future freeze in their salaries.

18. Some teachers and parents have suggested going to an operational referendum to raise moneys needed to balance the budget.  We doubt that the D181 taxpayers would approve such a referendum at this time, unless all other cost reduction options were implemented and the district still found itself in financial trouble.  With new federal tax laws no longer providing any property tax incentive beyond a $10,000/year deduction, school districts are going to have a much tougher road to travel in convincing people to raise their property taxes to bail out a district that has over extended itself.  In our opinion, operational referendums will fail and should not even be proposed unless pension liability is shifted to the district, resulting in massive deficits that will require more money to be raised to keep our district's legally required programs in place.

19. D181 is in financial trouble. After years of overspending and not identifying millions in needed capital improvements, the BOE must make cuts that will be painful for someone. To do nothing, spend down reserves or ignore possible future legislation that will increase the deficit, serves NO ONE.  There are districts that have dug such a big financial hole for themselves that the state must take over running them.  This is not a road we, or anyone, should want D181 to go down.  Corrective steps must be taken now that are permanent and will lead to a balanced budget that the district can afford to maintain.

20.  Finally, we have not always praised the board, but after reviewing all the budget materials, we have concluded that this fiscal mess is NOT the BOE's fault and that almost all of them recognize the seriousness of the situation.  They are our elected officials and as fiduciaries of our tax dollars, they are tasked with fixing the mess.

We wish the BOE luck in making their final decision on what will stay and what will go.  Our expectation is that once the BOE figures out how to get D181 out of this mess, the board will not allow future administrations to turn a blind eye to the true needs of the district, and will demand that the district live within its means.  It is unfair to provide "wants" when in the end,  "needs" are not paid for.  It is unfair for the public to be asked to simply bail out a district that has lived beyond its means by asking us to approve an operational referendum.  What has happened is WRONG and the Board of Education must find a way to make things RIGHT.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Part 1 of New Series on how Delusional and Self-Serving Behavior Will Not Help Solve D181's Budget Crisis Caused by Years of Administrative Neglect -- How Did We Get Into This Mess

Today we begin a 2 part series in which we opine on the budget reduction crisis facing D181.  Part 1 will address "How Did We Get Into This Mess."  The second part, to be posted soon, will address: "How to Erase the Deficit."

Before weighing in, we, the bloggers, decided to do our homework.  We have spent over 20 hours
-- reviewing all available materials,
-- including listening to past podcasts including the BOE's and Administration's discussion on the proposed budget cuts at the February 12th meeting and the Finance Committee's discussion on Febuary 6,
--monitoring our readers' comments on this blog,
-- monitoring comments posted by D181 parents on other social media websites,
--reviewing all budget materials and minutes of past board meetings at which tax levies and budgets have been addressed and
-- reviewing the D181 staff's' survey comments that are now available on BoardDocs.

We do not suggest that our opinions and conclusions that follow are the only right ones, but we do believe they are logical.  As always, we encourage continuing debate by our readers. We invite our readers to SOUND OFF on our opinions and conclusions, but suggest that you first take the time to:

-- Review the Proposed Cut List:  2/8/18 proposed cut list
-- Read the District's summary of the 2/12 BOE meeting: 2/12/18 Meeting Summary
-- Read the Doing's article summarizing the 2/12 meeting: 2/13/18 Doings Article
-- Read the Hinsdalean's article summarizing the 2/12 meeting:See Page 5 of 2/15/18 Hinsdalean
-- Read the Staff Survey comments:Staff Comments on Proposed Budget Cuts
-- Listen to the Podcast of the 2/12 BOE Meeting (yes, it is long, but you owe it to your children):https://livestream.com/ccsd181/boe/videos/170156151
-- Listen to the Podcastof the 2/6 Finance Committee Meeting:https://livestream.com/ccsd181/boe/videos/169903068



1.  For at least the last 3 1/2 years on Don White's watch as superintendent and Ken Surma's as Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations,  D181 has been living beyond it's means. (Note:  Following Surma's "resignation" last year, he was replaced by Moshin Dada, whose title is Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer).  Despite the BOE repeatedly asking the administration to identify and inform the board of actual District NEEDS that required annual funding, and that would drive the annual tax levy determination, prior to Dada's hire,  the administration failed to do so.  As a result of White and Surma's not informing the BOE of the District's true NEEDS, until last December the BOE had not "levied to the max" for several years.  It "left money on the table" -- revenues that were actually needed to pay for capital needs -- and that can NEVER be recouped.

2.  During Board discussions leading up to the levy rate determinations over the last four years, the BOE told the adminsitration it would always find a way to pay for NEEDS, but the adminstration would have to identify them. Instead of identifying actual needs, the adminstration came to the BOE with "wants."  The administration ignored the capital needs of all the schools other than Hinsdale Middle School.  It failed to develop and present to the BOE a Facilities Master Plan.  It failed to develop a 5 year budget and its monthly budget reports were repeatedly late and often based simply on projections and not actuals.  During the HMS referendum process, critics pointed this out and demanded that a Facilities Master plan be finalized before "bells and whistles" were incorporated into the very expensive new middle school project.  Yet as we sit here writing this post, no plan has been presented or approved by the BOE.  Some board members also recommended that the HMS Referendum include monies to spend on needed capital improvements at the other schools, but the administration did not recommend this and with no Facilities Master Plan to back up this suggestion, the majority of the board did not vote to include anything for the other schools in the referendum. (Note:  We are aware that work on finalizing a Facilities Master Plan has been done since Dada's hire to develop a Facilities Master Plan, but until it is actually BOE approved, there is no final road map for the district to follow.)

3.  One example of White and Surma asking the BOE to approve wants instead of needs was that instead of identifying millions in needed capital expenditures at ALL the schools, the BOE was asked to shift monies away from a needed roof replacement at Elm School to pay for a fancy paver driveway at Monroe.  Fortunately the BOE realized before it was too late that this would be totally inappropriate.

4.   Not until last fall, after the BOE hired Moshin Dada to replace Ken Surma and run the business department, was the board finally informed of the millions of dollars in capital needs that had been ignored.  (Source:  5/22/17 Personnel Consent Agenda) Mr. Dada threw himself into the job of figuring out the true state of the district's finances and what he discovered was shocking to all of us.  He is the first administrator in years to realize that the district is in financial trouble and that the administration acted in a completely irresponsible manner (our words, not his) by blindly recommending unnecessary luxury facilities' improvements and curriculum, technology and transportation expenditures that it could not really afford.

5.  For example, the administration recommended the BOE approve 1 to 1 technology, create many new positions such as multiple Teachers on Assignment and Middle School Content Specialists, and increase full time teachers by not following class size guidelines. Further to appease certain board members' concerns about students "lack of sleep," the administration recommended changes to the school start times, which had the effect of driving transportation costs up by over $300,000.  All of these expenditures drove the budget into deficit -- but a deficit that was hidden in the shadows because the administration had failed to budget for the needed capital expenditures at 8 of our schools.  But worse yet, all the while the budget was growing, the administration failed to identify $690,000 in "inefficiencies" --until Mr. Dada finally did so.

6.  One can only wonder how the district's finances could have been ignored for so long on White and Surma's watch, but if you do your research, you will discover that White created a new position for Surma when he started at D181.  Surma worked for White at his old district, but not as a financial administrator and when he started in D181 White created a brand new position for him called Assistant Superintendent of Information Services and Operations. After a vacancy was created when the existing Assistant Superintendnt of Business and Operations retired (rumors indicate he was run out for no good reason and he is now working --  not retired -- in another state), White promoted Surma.  No "search" was conducted to hire an experienced or seasoned financial officer.  (Sources:  http://www.mysuburbanlife.com/2014/07/15/district-181-adds-second-former-troy-superintendent/am110on/7/9/2014 Personnel Consent Agenda5/18/2015 Personnel Consent Agenda)

7.  Since his hire, Mr. Dada has shown no fear in telling it like it is.  The district deficit must be erased this year because if not, it will only get worse.  He has clearly informed the board that the cuts will not be easy but that they are necessary.  He has also been quite candid in explaining why the deficit must not be handled by spending down the district's reserves and that to do so would be fiscally irresponsible.

8.  Thank you to Mr. Dada for finally telling the community what the true state of the district's budget is.  It is disheartening to realize that Don White failed to do so and will now waltz out of the fiscal mess his administration created, leaving it to the new superintendent to deal with.

Now that the community (or most of us) have finally woken up to the truth, hard choices must be made by the BOE to erase the deficit.  We are finalizing our commentary on the cuts that we believe should be made and will post Part 2 of this Series shortly.  Until then, SOUND OFF!  We'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Breaking News: Is New Superintendent Announcement Imminent?

We have been closely monitoring the D181 website to see when, and if, the 6 day notice will be posted informing the community of the name of the proposed superintendent hire and related compensation package.  So far, no 6 day notice has been posted, but today we saw an agenda for a Special Meeting has posted on BoardDocs.

The board is scheduled to meet in executive session -- again -- on Tuesday, February 20, at 8 pm.  (Source:  http://www.boarddocs.com/il/hccsdil/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AW2RS46EA04F)  The only substantive item on the Agenda is a Personnel Discussion.  (Source:  http://www.boarddocs.com/il/hccsdil/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AW2RUB6F15B7)

Since no 6 day notice has been posted, we do not believe the BOE will be voting to approve any new hires at this meeting. But since there haven't been any more series of closely held meetings, perhaps this means that all the BOE has left to do is hammer out a new contract for the incoming Superintendent.  

We hope the BOE has something to publicly announce by its next regularly scheduled meeting, which per the online calendar will take place on Monday, February 26. (Source: Board Meeting Calendar). By our count, to do so will require the BOE to post the 6 day announcement no later than Tuesday night, February 20. (Source:  5 ILCS 120/7.3(b))

We will check the district website again on February 20 and notify our readers of any announcement. Until then, stay tuned!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Proposed Budget Cuts Could Hurt D181's At Risk Population

Tonight we received the following comment asking that we create a free standing post dealing with the impact the D181 proposed budget cuts may have on Special Education. After reading the comment, we have agreed to run it as a free standing post.  As always, SOUND OFF!

"Frustrated said...
Please create a free-standing post for Special Ed.
Under Don White, Special Ed interventions have almost disappeared, and this at-risk population continues to fall further behind. The suggested budget cuts will remove almost all the specialized instruction these at-risk students receive; they already lost writing lab. What's left if they remove academic strategies, reading lab, and math lab?

Statistically, only 15% HMS and 13% CHMS Special Education students are prepared for the next step.
Almost all neighboring districts do significantly better.
• Hinsdale Central Feeders: Butler 29%, Westview 18%, and Gower 15%.
• LT feeders: Highland 33%, McClure 23%, Park 25%
• Westmont 25%
Why are these districts doing to help these at-risk students reach success?
The Board of Education needs to know the true state of Special Ed in D181, and recognize that our special ed students need more, not less, to close the gap.

Does your child have an IEP or a 504? Do you feel part of your child’s IEP team? Do you feel supported?
Are your child’s needs are being met at school? Do you use private tutors and therapists?
Have you resorted to alternative education to help your child close the gap?
Have you hired an advocate? Have you hired an attorney? 
February 10, 2018 at 11:34 AM

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New Superintendent Won't be Approved by BOE on February 12th

We have just checked the D181 website and Board Docs.  With no Six Day Compensation Package posting anywhere on the D181 website or Board Docs and no reference to a posting at the District Administration Center, we have concluded that the D181 Board of Education WILL NOT be approving a new superintendent at the February 12, 2018 meeting. No other Special Meetings are posted on Board Docs.

What does this mean? Hopefully, just that the BOE is negotiating the terms of a contract with the incoming Superintendent and the timing just didn't work out for the Six Day posting in time for next week's meeting.

For the sake of the district, and because the BOE must turn its attention next to hiring Department of Learning administrators to take over for the interims, let's hope the BOE can wrap up the superintendent hire soon. He/she should be involved in hiring his/her central office team, so every day matters.

Perhaps the BOE will know by February 12 who they will be hiring and will make an announcement during the meeting!

So stay tuned, and as always, SOUND OFF!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Breaking News: Draft Budget CUT list now Available for Viewing!

As everyone knows, D181 is facing a multimillion dollar deficit over the next 5 years.  The administration was tasked with drafting a "cut list" for discussion by the Board of Education, with the goal of balancing the $1.35+ million deficit projected for the 2018-2019 school year. In checking BoardDocs today to see if the SIX DAY posting had been published announcing a new superintendent's compensation package, we found a new notice for a meeting of the D181 Finance Committee.  The meeting is scheduled for February 6 at 5 pm at the Administration Center.  Agenda item 3B is titled "Budget Deficit Reduction Discussion."  The finance committee will be the first group to "vet" this list before it is presented to the BOE.

There are three documents under this agenda item tab, and we encourage our readers to review them (click to open):

2018-2019 Budget Deficit Reduction Executive Summary

2/6/2018 Powerpoint for Finance Committee called Budget Deficit Reduction

DRAFT - D181 Budget Reductions/Revenue Considerations

We have not yet had an opportunity to review these documents in great detail, other than to see if the Adminstration has come up with a big enough cut list to balance the budget. According to these documents, D181 faces a 2018-2019 projected deficit in the amount of $1,355,994.  The goal was to identify at least $1.5 million in cuts in order to balance the budget and create a surplus that can carry over into future years.  The DRAFT - D181 Budget Reductions/Revenue Considerations identifies over $1.6 million in proposed cuts for 2018-2019 and an addional list of possible future cuts totalling over $2.1 million.

But will these cuts impact the classroom?  Are they fair and responsible suggestions?  Are they self-serving in any way for the administration? We will be closely reviewing the documents over the next day or so and will post our opinion on the proposed cuts.  In the meantime, we encourage our readers to do the same!

Stay Tuned and SOUND OFF!