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......)


Anonymous said...

Under Dr. White’s tenure, it has become sport to bash the board and to blame them for all of the ills of the district. That behavior is modeled from the very top. Not exactly the hallmarks of a well functioning organization. Last time I checked, senior administrators - most notable Dr. White - are making 6 figure salaries and therefore accountability starts and stops with them. When an organizing is failing, it is always the responsibility of the guy on top - not a group of unpaid parent volunteers. Those parent comments are disgraceful. I challenge them to step up and run for the board during the next election.

Anonymous said...

One comment even blamed the board for the buffer zone. That’s D86!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed remarks. It seems to me that it was 1 of the current BOE members and a couple from the past BOE that allowed White and his staff to create this mess...not to mention the Pro New HMS people with White's blessing and assistance.

The Pro New HMS people ran around with a sky is falling mentality. My belief is they conned, shamed and goaded taxpayers into believing the district desperately needed a new HMS. Well, look where we are now!

In my dreams, we take a look at the Pro New HMS website and tax the heck out of those people. I am trying to think of a way that they could be taxed higher. Can anyone come up with a way to do so afterall their campaign seemed to involve mostly inaccuracies and misstatements that were rammed down our throats?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else find it ironic that the same people who whined to the board that they had to approve fancy auditoriums and running tracks and an iPad for every kid are the same people who are now complaining that the board mismanaged the money? I thought all those things would only cost the average taxpayer a latte a day ........

Anonymous said...

Let's not kid ourselves - Both Dr. White and the prior Board are both responsible for current budget deficit. White should have absolutely been on top of this, but let's not pretend that any Board member with half a brain does not understand the need for ongoing capital expenditures to maintain facilities and equipment. The prior Board (including four current Board members) and especially the prior President were asleep at the switch. White was negligent, but the Board was charged with exercising oversight. That was their job and they failed. Even if you are an "unpaid volunteer" (who incidentally sought out their elected position), you should know that repairs and maintenance are a constant in any business organization, year in and year out. Even if lacking business experience and judgment, every Board member lives in a house. What would their home look like if it was neglected for years. This blog's author seems like an apologist for the Board, so much so that I wonder if Board members aren't feeding inside information and opinions to the blogger. But I do agree with the blogger that there are far too many whiney parents in D181 who sit on the sidelines, wildly misinformed, and do nothing but complain. Some knuckleheads on these pages have actually called for the Illinois Attorney General to investigate the Board. Seriously??? While we are at it let's bring in the FBI, the CIA and the National Guard. Unbelieveable!!

Anonymous said...

Something to consider as far as class sizes and budgeting, how come there is inequity-gross-among our schools with respect to class size? At The Lane, there is a class with 49 students and 3 sections. In 3rd grade. How is that that class has 3 sections and a class size of 16.5 kids and we have classes at 50 and 25 students in 2nd grade? At Elm? According to class size guidelines this shouldn't be happening.

Perhaps an aide should be given but not a full section. Eliminating that one position or re assigning that staff person to a more needed role would be a budget cut. I'm sure if we look carefully, we'll find other blips like this. These all need to be considered.

Anonymous said...

I'm really disturbed by class sizes and inequity. Thanks for bringing it up 5:12. At my school we have 50 students and the students can barely have time to get settled into a class and it is time to go to PE, Music, Art. The teacher expresses that she has too many students and behaviors to manage and it is hard to get to "instructional time". I don't think increasing class size is an issue the BOE wants to consider when making budget cuts. But I do think we need to look at how some buildings have smaller class sizes and are getting split into two or three sections and some schools are not. If a school has a third grade with 49 students, to me that sounds like 2 big classes. Not 3 classes of 16 kids. That's ridiculous.

It shouldn't be allowed if you have grade 2 students with 69 and 24 kids per class or you have a second grade class with 25 each. That's not right. When looked at the report, class size guidelines indicate that this 3rd grade class at Lane has too small numbers. How come some schools have better teacher student ratios? Is it the same school that is mass accelerating their students in math because they are all brilliant over in that quadrant of Hinsdale. doubtful. I think the BOE and the new superintendent need a major overhaul of our system. Overwhelming.

The Parents said...

1:00 -- Here are our responses to your comment. Are you aware that $500,000 per year was included in the past budgets for maintenance. The Board wasn't asleep at the wheel. They questioned this amount each year and were told by the administration that this was all that was needed. What more could they have done? The administration failed to inform them that over $10,000,000 was needed to maintain 8 out of 9 schools over the next 5 years. The administartion failed to bring forward a Facilities Master Plan. Perhaps the Board members on the Facilities committee should have pushed harder for it -- I would agree that they didn't do a good job on the committee. But at the end of the day, it was the administration that was supposed to identify and cost of the capital needs and present them to the board. It failed to do so. It eventually became apparent that the adminstrators were not doing their jobs and so they "resigned." We'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall to learn all the "personnel" issues that the BOE discussed in executive session, that we will never be privy to and that finally led to a change in who was running the Business and Operations department. Since White surrounded himself with friends from his past district, we would bet a million dollars that HE didn't suggest a change in personnel.

And as for suggesting that we are apologists for the board or somehow the board is feeding inside information or opinions to us, that is a complete joke. We are bursting at the seams laughing at this suggestion. Rest assured, we are not in contact with the BOE. We want to remain ANONYMOUS! They don't know who we are! Further, what inside information have we ever posted on this blog? Our information is always from PUBLIC sources. And we come up with OUR OWN opinions and are quite proud of then, whether people agree with them or not. Why is that? Because we have put in the leg work and countless hours of research and listening to meetings and talking with parents and teachers and reading hundreds of pages of documents posted on the district website and on board docs. We have processed that information, thought carefully about it and formed our own opinions and conclusions. We don't need inside information or anyone else telling us what to opine.

And we actually don't think people who are calling for an AG investigation are knuckleheads. We'd like to see an outside ageny come in and review actions taken by the administration over the last few years that have caused the current deficit. Will that happen? Probably not. But that's likely what the Lincolnway district parents, teachers and administrators thought a year or two ago........

Anonymous said...

Everyone in the district, including the taxpayers, had a hand in D181's financial mess. Taxpayers need to research and understand their votes and the candidates. Too many taxpayers believed that Hinsdale children were mired in mold at HMS and, thus, voted for the new school. They didn't understand the lengths Don White and some parents would go to get a new middle school worthy of "their" children.

The Doings and the Hinsdalean want access to board members and Don White so they didn't truly investigate. A newspaper should never be beholden to the groups it covers.

The former board is to blame but those blaming all the former board members need to understand that it seemed the board majority rode roughshod over those who didn't agree with them. That includes their fellow board members and members of the community. I still don't get why no one is up in arms over the fact that Gary Clarin admitted to daily phone calls with Don White. Gary was a board member who should have been overseeing Don White not buddying up to him. Why haven't the authorities been contacted to determine what their relationship entailed and if anything illegal occurred?

My question is, though, where were the principals of these schools? I keep hearing about the roof at Elm School. Board meetings used to be held at Elm School. Almost every time I was at Elm for a meeting and it was raining, there were big garbage cans in the halls to collect rainwater. That was years ago.

I don't understand what the principal at Elm was doing other than rearranging the water cans. Why wasn't she sounding the alarms? What about the teachers and staff? The HMS crew certainly was crying wolf and there seemed to be a lot less water flowing into HMS than Elm. Why wasn't the principal, teachers or staff at Elm concerned that 5 or 6 years of constant leakage could be a breeding ground for mold? I always thought that when water leaked through a roof and into the walls/carpet but wasn't remediated, mold grew. Or is that mold only grows at middle schools?

Maybe our principals, teachers, and staff are a little too concerned about kissing the superintendent's rump than they are about other things? For what our principals, teachers and staff are paid, our children and the community deserve a lot better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response to 1 am. I couldn't agree more. I believe it is the current board's responsibility to look to the attorney general's office or the Better Government Association to determine if there has been malfeasance on the part of Mr. White or his friends, I mean staff, as well as former/current board members and the district's former attorneys. Something seems to have really gone wrong and the taxpayers deserve to know why.

I also believe that the board should be looking into invalidating its severance agreement with White. I thought that if an agreement was negotiated and there was found to be gross negligence (or fraud), the agreement was invalid. White is the superintendent. He held himself out as qualified to run this district and has advanced degrees. He made hiring and other decisions. He should have known the state of this district and its finances. Couldn't the district's financial and educational mess be considered gross negligence? Don't get me wrong. I want Mr. White out of this district and far away. I just don't think we should be paying him to leave; I would love to see him paying us (D181 taxpayers). Also can't D181 does something about the ridiculous pension we have to pay him? If gross negligence is found, do we still have to pay him a pension? I guess I am asking at what point is enough enough?

Anonymous said...

Kudos to 10:55 and 1:00. Well said. Negligence was committed against our district but the Board is turning a blind eye. Bravo to Mr. Dada for finally exposing the truth that was beneath everyone's closed eyes for years. The previous board never should have rushed to extend Don's contract, but they did. The current Board's lack of punitive action against him allows this person to earn 6 more months of FULL salary from us. Six months of salary = over $1 million dollars. This money could have gone directly to fix the problem that this person and his cronies were responsible for. To add insult to injury, this salary will now count towards his pension and boost his monthly check when he retires in a few years. Does this person really deserve a pension, courtesy of taxpayers? Other staff members see this type of behavior from the Board and realize that if a highly paid superintendent can get away with this type of intentional negligence, a lesser paid staff member will, too.

I feel really sorry for the next school district that this and other former administrators go to. This whole scenario reminds me of how Churches also used to ignore the disgusting things their priests and other religious leaders have engaged in. Instead of the Diocese reporting them to the proper authorities, they gave them their stamps of approval and urged them to transfer to other communities. Now even more innocent school districts will have to suffer because some board members in 181 refuse to take their obligations seriously.

Anonymous said...

This is 12:15 - my math looks like group project done by our former administrator and his finance guy. Unlike them however, I never got paid and I take full responsibility for my mathematical error.

Dr. White's current contract is available on this blog, so I copied and pasted some information that will help you each do your own math. If you care to, look up his entire contract to see if you think he met all of his professional duties as outlined.


4. COMPENSATION – The SUPERINTENDENT shall receive annual compensation of TWO HUNDRED THIRTY NINE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED TWENTY SEVEN AND 31/100 DOLLARS ($239,527.31) for the 2016-2017 contract year. In exchange for this compensation, the SUPERINTENDENT agrees to devote such time, skill, labor and attention to his employment, during the term of this Agreement, as is necessary to faithfully perform his assigned duties.

IN ADDITION to his salary, he also receives health and disability insurance, as well as Teacher's retirement system contributions. See below)

6. TEACHERS’ RETIREMENT SYSTEM CONTRIBUTION – In addition to the gross compensation paid to the SUPERINTENDENT by the Board as expressed in Section 4, the BOARD shall pick up and pay on the SUPERINTENDENT’S behalf, his entire contribution to the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System pursuant to Sections 16-152 and 16-152.1 of the Illinois Pension Code, up to a maximum contribution of 9.0% of all TRS-creditable earnings. The Parties expressly acknowledge and agree that the BOARD’S obligation under this Section shall not exceed this contribution limit. If the amount of the SUPERINTENDENT’S contribution to TRS exceeds this contribution limit, then the SUPERINTENDENT shall be solely responsible for the difference between the amount of said contribution and the contribution limit.
It is the intention of the Parties to qualify all such payments picked up and paid by the BOARD on the SUPERINTENDENT’S behalf as employer payments pursuant to Section 414 (h) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended. The SUPERINTENDENT shall have no right or claim to the funds so remitted except as they may subsequently become available upon separation from service with the BOARD from the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System. The SUPERINTENDENT does not have the option of choosing to receive the contributed amounts directly instead of having those contributions paid by the BOARD to TRS. These contributions are made as a condition of the SUPERINTENDENT’S employment for his future service, knowledge and experience.