Archive for January 2012

Steps Before a New Referendum Wins — 10/14/2011

January 28, 2012

Some seem to think the 2011 RB referendum’s 79+% to 20+% defeat was an aberration, a bad dream from which they can awake and bill others for what we know is a troubled, though high-performing in some areas, institution.

For these folks here is a handy checklist of what needs to happen first, in no particular order:

1. Adopt 11-12 budget to transition from 10-11 binge deficit spending……….check

2. Empower Dr. Skinkis to assess fully the situation, both educational and institutional, and create comprehensive educational / financial / administrative school improvement plan to make RB the finest Illinois public high school of its size…………………………………………..check

3. Seek all possible economies within current contracts, obligations, programs, physical plant, etc.

4. Account fully for the $60 million capital program spending

5. Investigate, report on, and take appropriate administrative action w.r.t. illegal electioneering, either in the school, by the staff or using public resources…………………somewhat underway — outsourced to lawsuit plaintiffs

6. Restore trust in RBHS………………………….the sum of the above and the sufficient condition (regarding RB — it would help if the economy bounced back as well…)

none of this is easy. some of it is downright unpleasant. most of it is basic re-building. all of it is vital to the needed turnaround.

put another way …

Budget failures and illicit politicking reflect the RB regime from which the community has already declared its independence. Thanks to the new board’s imposition of fiscal controls, and an investigation that will take place one way or another, the school on which more of us rely than any other to educate our teenage children will soon be transformed. Given our children’s need to excel in tomorrow’s job market, RB’s complete transformation cannot come soon enough.

best,
c

POSTED FRIDAY OCT 14, 2011 08:42 #
at http://www.riversideinfo.org/forum

Praising Teachers for Re-Opening Contract — 12/9/2011

January 28, 2012

Big News at the RB Landmark site:

http://www.rblandmark.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=8356

The teachers have voted to re-open the contract. Thank you, RBEA. Congratulations, Board.

This enables the RBEA, on the teachers’ behalf, and the Board, on our behalf, to discuss possible steps in earnest. Given the severity of what we face, it is a major development.

Consolidation is a potential big money-saver. We should get on top of our possibilities before Lt. Governor Simon announces her plan in January.

POSTED FRIDAY DEC 9, 2011 16:05 #

at http://www.riversideinfo.org/forum

Tribune and Math Club, Take Three… — 12/28/2011

January 28, 2012

“Stewardship” says:

Alright,

Let’s try this again with simple bullet points.

  • Postings on this thread and on the Landmark site prove my assertions regarding ideology. (I don’t care about the New Jersey Fatman. People are leaving his state at a similar rate as those leaving ours). Punishing RBHS is NOT going to influence what goes on in Springfield.
  • Balderman, Herbst, McClosky, and Marciniak are gone! Yet people choose to punish the school and community for things that happened in the past. You can’t change the past but you can influence the future.
  • You get paid well for what you do, why shouldn’t the teachers?
  • You keep talking about having the best school of our size; guess what, we already do! Please rephrase to having the best school we are willing to pay for. They are not the same
  • You never addressed my assumptions about cuts. Do you agree or disagree with me? I have watched the past few board meetings on RBTV, and I have read the PMA report. It doesn’t take someone with an MBA to figure out what is most likely going to happen, and what’s going to take place will not be pretty.
  • What I am most disappointed with, is the apathy of the people in this district. There are over 1000 families sending their children to the school and more to follow, yet most really don’t seem to care.; and that is great news for those who want to take down the school.
  • So all I read and saw prior to the referendum was your version of supporting it?
  • Time will tell, but I’m glad my children attended RBHS when they did, because the school will never be as good (for the students), again. When you look at the Tribune rankings and then factor in our size and demographics, 38th is looking great. I don’t have the time right now but I bet that if you did an analysis of the average salaries of the schools above us, RB is in the ballpark which would then establish a notion that you get what you pay for.
POSTED WEDNESDAY DEC 28, 2011 14:31 #
i reply:

Let’s try this again with simple bullet points.
–-OK, happy to continue the conversation.

— Postings on this thread and on the Landmark site prove my assertions regarding ideology. (I don’t care about the New Jersey Fatman. People are leaving his state at a similar rate as those leaving ours). Punishing RBHS is NOT going to influence what goes on in Springfield.

If integrity, planning, managing and budgeting are ideology, I’ll plead guilty –- otherwise, please proffer a cite. Rationalizing RB is not “punishing” RB. RB was punished by ten or so years of feckless leadership that left the problems we are now facing. Why namecall (“New Jersey Fatman”)?

— Balderman, Herbst, McClosky, and Marciniak are gone! Yet people choose to punish the school and community for things that happened in the past. You can’t change the past but you can influence the future.

No one is punishing anyone, everyone should be dealing with today’s reality, 90-some percent of which was made by ten years of feckless leadership, etc. That’s what “turnarounds” are (btw, it’s ‘McCloskey’).

— You get paid well for what you do, why shouldn’t the teachers?

I have consistently said that no one should get upset with teachers being paid what they bargain for –- and our board agrees to. The teachers deserve the best deal they can get. We do, too – and we have every right to encourage the board to drive a hard bargain, since the board represents us (the community) the same way the union represents the teachers.

— You keep talking about having the best school of our size; guess what, we already do! Please rephrase to having the best school we are willing to pay for. They are not the same

Not good enough. In the past five years we have averaged about half-a-dozen admittances per year to “most selective” or “most competitive” schools. Precisely because of our size and committed parents, I believe that can and should be increased, though it is not by any means the only indicia, and RB is not by any stretch exclusively college prep, nor do I know anyone who wants to make it that way.

— You never addressed my assumptions about cuts. Do you agree or disagree with me? I have watched the past few board meetings on RBTV, and I have read the PMA report. It doesn’t take someone with an MBA to figure out what is most likely going to happen, and what’s going to take place will not be pretty.

I thanked Dave Monti and Matt Sinde on the Landmark website for their courage in re-opening the contract. This is high-stakes, and i too have said it will be difficult for both sides. What they eventually agree to is up to the teachers -– and the board. No need to handicap. Here is what I said on November 11: “one hopes that unlike 2007-2008, we of the community will see our fiduciaries take on their thoughtful and appropriate role with respect to the union, as they have since may (sic) with the budget and management of RB, so that all elements of d208 have confidence that their points were well made in the ultimate resolution of the very deep fiscal crisis that is the legacy of the last board and its many failures.”
That point embraced my October 14 suggestion: “3. Seek all possible economies within current contracts, obligations, programs, physical plant, etc.”

— What I am most disappointed with, is the apathy of the people in this district. There are over 1000 families sending their children to the school and more to follow, yet most really don’t seem to care.; and that is great news for those who want to take down the school.

I know no one who is trying to ‘take down’ the school. It is more name-calling. When a referendum loses 79/21, I understand the desire to blame the voters. See how that works for you and let me know.

— So all I read and saw prior to the referendum was your version of supporting it?

I referred to being one of the active, public Citizens’ Committee supporters of the 2006 building fund referendum. As long as you ask re the 2011 education fund referendum, I am happy to point out that after the Landmark’s illegal campaigning story, I wrote in the Landmark on March 29: “I have never liked the referendum, but I carefully told folks who did that they should vote for it. No more. It must be repudiated. The illegal campaign taints it beyond acceptability.”

Time will tell, but I’m glad my children attended RBHS when they did, because the school will never be as good (for the students), again. When you look at the Tribune rankings and then factor in our size and demographics, 38th is looking great. I don’t have the time right now but I bet that if you did an analysis of the average salaries of the schools above us, RB is in the ballpark which would then establish a notion that you get what you pay for.

38th is simply not good enough for our kids, their futures or the rapidly-changing world in which we live and they will earn their livings. (The tribune, btw, reported on December 22 that our average teacher salary, at $95,138, is 18th out of 868 districts.) 

Is turnabout fair play? Here are my questions for you:

1) The main issue RB faces today is: ____________________.

2) The best solution to that issue is: _____________________.

3) RB is best understood as: ____________________________.

4) When I say the goal of some of my neighbors is to “takedown the school,” what I mean specifically is: _____________.

5) When I say others are “punishing” RB, what I mean specifically is: ___________.

6) Neither I, nor my spouse, derive any income from District 208. (True) (False)

Thanks!

POSTED WEDNESDAY DEC 28, 2011 20:51 #

Tribune on Math Club, Take Two… — 12/28/2011

January 28, 2012

“Stewardship” says:

Chris,

No one disagrees that the district is going broke, PMA made that very clear. The interesting thing though is that the salaries and benefits are not that far out of line with what a not for profit organization should be at. For the sake of argument, let us hypothesize that the teachers give back half of their original proposal. It would only equate to about $400,000. Let’s even say they agree to concessions of another $100,000; that still leaves a huge amount that needs to be cut. How much more can you get out of the custodial staff and other non-teacher employees? Let’s say $100,000. Now that the board put a policy in place that they cannot drop below a 20% fund balance (I agree with this), that means if the board is going to use PMA’s projections, (FY2013)the board will still need to cut almost $1,000,000.
Where is that going to come from? My assumption is sports, activities, and electives. So since you no longer will be offering electives, you can release those teachers. That might get you through to the 2013 referendum, but what if that one fails?

Don’t you realize that you are not going to save this district financially by cutting teachers and their salaries? They might accept a freeze, but frankly they are not going to reduce their wages to a point where it will balance the budget. (Sorry mr, we can’t fire them all). So what’s left? Increasing revenues, but since Sacchi and the other anti-tax groups got their hands involved, they have turned the community against the school. Do you think all it will take is a waiving of a magic wand and you saying OK folks now it’s’ time to pass a referendum. The seeds of hate have been too well sown. The damage has been done. It will take a very long time to get the school back up to the academic standards it now achieves. The board really needs to look at its’ own mission statement. It needs to be revised and the word comprehensive removed. I no longer see RB being a comprehensive high school. Luckily, my last child will be graduating soon.

For the record, I am a registered Republican, but I do not drink tea. That is the ideology to which I was referring. Sadly, I do not have the time to discuss this in this blog, perhaps over a pint somewhere would be more appropriate.

If my assumptions were wrong about your influence at the Trib, then I apologize. I want a great school for this community, and for those children that will be there after mine leave. I hope that you do to. It appears though we have a difference of opinion on how to get there.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

POSTED SATURDAY DEC 24, 2011 09:55 #
i reply:

Stewardship —

I wonder if you can square “great school” or our “jewel”, as you say, with the parade of horribles we have witnessed. Can you reconcile your nom de plume‘s definition, “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care,” with the sorry mess in which we find ourselves? Because you do not try, my sense is you cannot.

Neither can i, and that is how i became involved.

Seeds of reform — not hate, as you suggest — were planted by past failures. As a chronicler of same, i have zero interest in reciting them except insofar as past events create present circumstances. They teach that this reform must be comprehensive, since focusing on one element, as you focus primarily on the teachers, fails to comprehend, let alone remediate, the panoply of institutional shortfalls. Anything short of comprehensive is not reform.

That we are far past waving a wand to make the problem go away is an essay in the governance issue you have not addressed. The board has a serious duty. It operates the high school on behalf of the district. If, as we have seen, it fails in performing that duty, and instead operates the high school with respect to internal constituencies and sub-goal pursuits, then it builds alienation from the community with each such choice (think: more than 75 percent opposition to the referendum). That alienation is magnified and intensified if the board then lies about what is going on (‘How were we supposed to know the superintendent did not have a certificate?’) and/or fails to hold anyone accountable for anything (deputy principal, for instance, who has said publicly he knew the superintendent was present on school grounds and drawing his salary w/o a certificate, thus illegally, and took no action). The result? Hardened antipathy and abundant distrust. That these are particular to past RB boards and their choices, and not some general anti-school “ideology” — your word — is shown by the still high regard enjoyed by Gross, Komarek and District 96.

No one is wrong to resent being lied to — especially about as vital a public good as our high school.

We, as a community, are going through the painful process of unraveling those lies and that record. It is no fun. I for one wish we were celebrating ten percent of our seniors heading off to ‘most competitive’ colleges instead. But, hey — since our current path heads right off a cliff, it’s good that we are changing course. So let’s look on the bright side and move on.

As community members, our task is relatively easy. The difficult part is what Dr. Skinkis faces (please review his reports at board meetings), or what the board will address in its talks with the RBEA. Unravelling a series of ill-founded choices disrupts a status quo with which people are familiar, raises concerns about lost rents, creates uncertainty about what comes next and sets off a round of opposition with attendant costs. But it has to be done. Given the unsustainable course on which prior boards put us, it must be done now. One might suggest the community’s only course is to support the board and administration, before it is too late, both to pay for allowing past boards to run amuck and to vindicate our interest in the best high school we can have today.

As to end-state, fwiw, i refer you to posts back up this thread. Many posts state the goal, “the finest Illinois public high school of its size.” In late 2010 or so there is an elaboration on that theme. As a parent who actively supported the building referendum (and continues to await the board’s report on what led to the cover-up of the ten percent cost over-run to $66 million), i am linked directly in numerous ways to the school and its performance. 38th place is not good enough for me, our kids or this community.

POSTED WEDNESDAY DEC 28, 2011 06:34 #

Note on the Tribune’s Math Club Article — 12/23/2011

January 28, 2012

[“Stewardship” accused me of leading the Tribune to report on a controversy about RB’s math club.  Here is my reply…]

Stewardship —

Two folks know I had nothing to do with the Tribune article, me and the person who pitched the story to the Tribune. But it’s OK with me if you think I did. No problem.

As for the school — our issue has been governance. Whatever quality we have, if it’s built on failed governance and its attendant externalities (viz., all we have seen over the last several years), then it is, in a very real sense, false. And, it is part of my approach that the students are better served — by definition — if the district is fully integrated at an organizational level, and not dis-integrated and unaligned, as the new board and administration over the last six months have repeatedly found it to have been.

Furthermore, as one who has upheld the teachers’ — as represented by the union — right to get the best deal they can, i repeat that the same must also be true of the district — as represented by the board. Only two days ago the Landmark again confirmed the district had no legal representation in its last two contract “negotiations.” Such is all too indicative of past boards’ haphazard approach to their fiduciary duties. Is our fiscal calamity any surprise ?

So, one might wonder, what part of this is OK with the ‘Stewardships’ of the world? The obvious misfeasance? The imbalanced results? The deficit spending? The thirty unreleased memoranda of understanding that explicate the contract in undisclosed binding interpretations? The fiscal cliff toward which we are propelled? What the ‘Stewardships’ often intone is the quality of instruction. Fair enough. But since the detriments are self-evident, what evidence is submitted regarding the benefits? And, assuming for the sake of conversation that there is a second Athenian Academy operating over there, is there evidence that such cannot be quickly re-established after the needed workout from our fiscal mess?

On two levels, this is beside the immediate point. The immediate point is we are going broke by 2015. [Not to be persnickety, but here is where one may say, “i don’t care who’s teaching over there, if we are going broke, then something is profoundly out of whack.”]

The fiscal presentation eloquently argued to balance the budget now. If we don’t, the rest is, please pardon the usage, academic. Second, in balancing now, unless the board notices up across-the-board-RIFs, it will be the union and its interpretation of seniority, work rules, etc. that determines which teachers we have — not us. That may be great, it may be awful, but it pretty much will be the way things work. The very teachers in whom Stewardship reposes such trust will determine who stays and goes.

Finally, I hope the ‘Stewardships’ decide to state what ‘ideology’ is at work in formulating the general proposition, “we should not go broke” ? I think governance, delegation, integrity and solvency are non-ideological. But lord knows other apparently disagree. Fine — where is their line ?

It’s a tough ride ahead. The problems are pretty obvious. Let’s work together, get solid and build the finest 1500-student Illinois public high school.

Merry Christmas, c

POSTED FRIDAY DEC 23, 2011 23:35 #
at http://www.riversideinf.org/forum

A couple of points — 1/4/2012

January 28, 2012

1. “Curious Resident” (above a couple of posts) refuses to ID itself wrt its household income and personal dependence on any of the matters it posts about. It has refused to do so for months, if not years, so please be warned. Basically, it shills for one side of the argument.

If you are interested in an expert analysis, with numerous reference to the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, please check:

Wall Street Journal
OPINION JANUARY 4, 2012.
“Why Public Pensions Are So Rich
Shifting government workers to 401(k)-style plans would offer greater transparency and keep benefits in line with the private economy.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204464404577118440980974530.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEFTTopOpinion

2. Much as i abhor Curious Resident’s refusal to respect its readers, i agree about pensionizing the dabate. We are not going to change the Illinois TRS here at RBHS. We need to focus on what we can do as a community. If people think Illinois teacher pensions should be reformed, then that is great, and it is a huge, complex and demanding issue in its own right. i for one am interested in helping RBHS be the best it can be NOW in this clean-up / turnaround operation after all of the partiers, so to speak, have gone home.

3. MRT — and even the accursed Curious Resident, and others — say this gets us over to class, staff and activity cuts, which is true — and quite demanding on its own.

4. There is at the Landmark site right now a very false choice being debated between “Stephen” or “Steven” and ‘people who are not Steven or Stephen.’ This is over the decline of home values if communities do not “support” their local school district.

The falsity of this choice is absolutely clear to those of us who both own a home here and care about improving governance and performance at RBHS. Simply, the ‘people who are not steve’ (a) practically assume governance/performance were not issues at the last referendum and (b) hold constant all such matters of governance and performance while asserting “plummeting” home prices now or in the near future as a direct result of the referendum’s defeat.

This construct is utterly inapplicable to RBHS, because of the well-established and painful-to-recall parade of horribles of earlier boards and administrations. In light of those, our decision NOT to support RBHS’ party-hearty governance/performance record via the referendum is in fact — to any sensate home-buyer willing to check the record before plunking down their commitment to a District 208 home — a confidence-building step that shows a new base of support for a well-governed and well-administered local high school. That should push prices up.

Having been raised in New Trier District 203, I happily concede the point that, should
voters there oppose an ed fund referendum out of a newly-sprung spirit of uninterest in NTHS, then someone somewhere might say, “Maybe New Trier will not be what I thought it would be when junior enrolls. I will drop my bid for that lakefront home from $7.23 million to $7.1 million. So there.”

As it happens, New Trier Township voters defeated a building fund referendum on the very day we defeated our ed fund referendum. It was the first referendum of any type in New Trier’s history to have lost. Homes there are still drawing $500+/sq.ft. prices — perhaps benefitting from a decreased tax bill expectation for the next several years.

Which raises another reason the choice is false and ought not be countenanced. Isolating the impact of one referendum vote for one school district among several in the midst of all else that is going on — including the quite legitimate view that a housecleaning / turnaround is underway at RBHS is nigh-on impossible in any meaningful term. The statistical steps necessary to isolate the ‘referendum defeat only’ impact probably require an n-size that is much greater the number of home sales we are going to see in any relevant term. In other words, there is not a big enough pool of sales from which to isolate meaningful (statistically significant) evidence to prove/disprove the ‘non-steve’ assertions. [And if it is an RBHS math teacher who is hiding in anonymity to make this argument, then they are either dishonest or not qualified to teach math, and woe unto each of us, and our kids in his classroom.]

In any event, as an intellectually honest conversational concession, let me state clearly: it is worth it to each kid at RBHS, and each kid headed there, that we impose governance / performance and end what was going on.

Without governance, we get what we got and the mess we have. It is no service to any kid — or anyone’s home value — and i am clam happy to be cleaning up instead of supporting the corruption, abuse, mismanagement, laxity and capture that had engulfed RBHS.

5. Which gets me to another point altogether. Public Input.

Obviously, i appreciate very much this blogsite, and the Landmark posts. But this is unofficial. Dr. Skinkis and the board have promised open public input sessions regarding RBHS and the budget (not about things we cannot change, such as TRS). The sessions should be coming up pretty soon. i hope all of us who trade ideas here will go there and make our respective presentations.

The discredited and failed supporters of the prior status quo said, ‘there is no problem here, shut up and go away.’ The new administration and board say, ‘we need your help, please come with ideas.’ i know which statement i prefer, and i will honor their invitation with notes that seek to be as serious as the problem they are intended to address: Making RB the finest 1450-student Illinois public high school.

Hope to see you there.

POSTED WEDNESDAY JAN 4, 2012 17:39 #
at http://www.riversideinfo.org/forum

Leadership, criticism and progress — 1/13/2012

January 28, 2012

by chris robling

I’d like to propose that we not use posts here, or anywhere else, to make personal statements about individual teachers or their compensation. I believe it does no good, and in fact a considerable amount of harm, to write, “Sally Sue teaches algebra for $100,000 per year and in the private sector she’d be lucky to make $50,000.”

We–-the community, as represented by the District 208 School Board and its employee–asked these teachers to work for us at RB. We offered them the compensation package they currently receive. We are shirking our responsibility if we blame them for accepting something we offered. By attacking compensation, we are really expressing disappointment with the folks we put on the board, and the people they hired to run the school.

The teachers recently voted to reopen the contract–an important step towards a fiscally sustainable RB. It is in our best interests to have the new negotiations result in a better relationship. How does it make sense to beat up the teachers?

Additionally, if kids see posts portraying a teacher as an unemployable private-sector drop-out who won the career lottery, it undermines that teacher’s stature in the classroom. That inevitably effects the 100 or so kids who cycle through that teacher’s classroom daily.

Most of us know zilch about what’s happening at RB day-to-day — so our evaluation of “Sally Sue” is worthless. Yet many of us are frustrated with the current state of RB.

I believe that frustration arises from our former governance problem, which was largely a delegation problem. In other words, via school board elections we delegated our authority over RB decisions to board members. The past several boards (improperly) passed along most of that authority to several power centers, or fiefdoms, within the school — the athletic center, the vice/assistant principal center, the superintendent center, the outsourced service provider center, the RBEA, etc.

Whatever may be said of these centers, as such they were not primarily oriented toward the students and taxpayers. The wheels fell off when the voters said “no” to bills with which they did not agree. We are in the resulting crisis.

Our current school board is at long last bringing these centers into alignment. In Dr. Skinkis we finally have a superintendent who works with and for the school board, not the fiefdoms.

As a community we have passed from ‘showing there is a problem’ to ‘finding a solution to the problem.’ Much of the solution resides in the school – teacher relationship. That means our smart play is to strengthen both the board (us) and RBEA (the teachers) to make the extremely difficult choices that will return RBHS to fiscal sustainability. Personal attacks of those not responsible simply do not fit in this picture.

POSTED FRIDAY JAN 13, 2012 12:34 #
at http://www.riversideinfo.org/forum