Points on the referendum — 3/3/2011

March 3, 2011:

“Now they want more than $100 million”

I thank Komarek Parent University for inviting me March 2 to provide a contra view, with reservations, about the proposed more than $100 million RB referendum.

Esteemed D95 board president Jim Landahl (pro) and I were to take the stage. As it happened, Jim told me later, he decided to share his time with RBHS board member MariAnn Leibrandt, RBHS curriculum and instruction chief Tim Scanlon, RBHS financial advisor Elizabeth Hennessey of William Blair and Co., parent and community leader Darcy Lewis and, in the question-and-answer period after the presentations, RBHS superintendent David Bonnette.

I am looking for a place to post my presentation on the web. Here are points that I made or tried to make:


1. We all love RB.

2. We deserve the finest Illinois public high school of its size.

3. Our past is important only as it defines the present and limits our future.


1. Vision matters

2. Limits matter

3. Governance matters

Great governance brings great support, poor governance brings poor support.

And for us, “Governance” means the “RB Board.”

I am neither anti-union, nor anti-teacher, nor anti-referendum:

1. I was a union (AFTRA) organizer at WMAQ-AM radio.

2. The only reason I know anything is great teachers penetrated my thick head.

3. I did my tiny part to assist passage of the 2006 RBHS building referendum, by working on and endorsing the project first on the FLRSPCC committee and later on the Citizen’s Committee.

4. My point about our board is I believe it should represent us in negotiations with teachers’ union as well as the teachers’ union represents RB teachers. That is the only way to a fair deal for both sides.

The tax hike itself:

1. This is the largest single local permanent tax hike our community has seen in recent memory.

2. The April referendum authorizes a permanent tax hike that is larger than the building fund tax hike we passed in 2006.

3. RBHS itself says it raises taxes by slightly more than $4.5 million per year. At 20 years, that is $90 million. At 30 years, it totals $135 million.

4. But remember, this tax hike is permanent. It does not go away, as the 20-year 2006 building fund tax hike will go away in about 16 years, or as short-term district obligations go away after set short periods.

5. The proposal hikes our rate by 20.2 percent, or 44 cents, from roughly $2.17 (Source: Wm. Blair).

Contract-as-cause of the tax hike:

1. This tax hike is necessitated by the Larry Herbst/Jack Baldermann contract with RB’s teachers.

2. The contract provides cumulative raises of more than 30 percent, with annual average-average raises of more than five percent.

3. Roughly, we spend $20 million at RB every year.

4. Of that, roughly $16 million is spent on salaries.

5. And, roughly $14 million of that is spent on wages for certified staff under the Herbst / Baldermann contract.

6. At annual raises of more than five percent, the $14 million grows by roughly $700,000 per year.

7. State funding, county tax procedures, the property tax cap, property tax abatements, inflation and other external factors are neither the proximate cause of nor legitimate excuses for RBHS spending under its contract with teachers. They are significant but separate issues that will not be resolved by a vote either way in April.

The bad governance backdrop of the Herbst / Baldermann era, relevant only as a limit on our present / future:

1. The RB board is our governing unit at RBHS.

2. Under Larry Herbst’s board presidency and Jack Baldermann’s superintendentship, RBHS experienced an extraordinary series of governance failures, including but by no means limited to:

a) Wasting $500,000 to $700,000 on the Paw and Cyberdog without a curricular plan,

b) Allowing the superintendent and others in the school without legal certification to be there,

c) Failure to execute appropriate background checks on volunteer personnel,

d) Giving insider non-employees health care and other benefits at our expense,

e) A January 2009 Suburban Life report on an investigation finding rampant disregard of Illinois Freedom of Information Act at RBHS,

f) Hiring in contravention of board nepotism policy,

g) Safety failures and

h) …many more, referred to here and in the Riverside Brookfield Landmark and the Suburban Life.

3. These shortcomings led to our community’s desire for reform at RB.

RB finances of the Herbst/Baldermann period sadly reflect the governance ineptitude, relevant only because it resulted in the contract that is driving the more than $100 million tax hike:

1. Under Herbst/Baldermann financial controls were almost nil.

2. By 2008, the situation became dire:

a) The board spent reserves down to less than 60 days of obligations in 2008. By July 1, 2008, RB was within 60 days of insolvency.

b) Well managed Illinois schools maintain reserves at more than twice or three times that level.

c) The board ignored 1800 citizens who petitioned for a referendum in August 2008.

d) And the board in August 2008 adopted a plan to raise taxes on district taxpayers by more than $4.9 million in September 2008 with no referendum and hold a 2010 referendum on a 20 cent tax hike.

e) The board then raised our taxes –- without our consent — in September 2008. Now it says it was wrong about a referendum for 20 cents, it needs 44 cents – an error of 220 percent.

4. Most distressingly, in the spring of 2008, as RB’s reserve funds dwindled, insolvency loomed and the board’s financial advisor ran numbers on the hiking-taxes-without-a-referendum, Herbst / Baldermann and the board adopted the above-described contract.

5. Simply put, Herbst/Baldermann wrote a check the board could not cover. Presumably they thought we would not notice.

6. Note very well points 2.d. and 2.e. above: The board and its financial advisor told us after they signed the teacher’s contract that with the no-vote $4.9 million tax hike, the eventual referendum would be only 20 cents. Either they did not know what they were talking about or they did. Obviously, they did not care that the 20 cent figure was less than half of the 44 cents they actually proposed.

7. Either way, this sequence of events instills concern, not confidence.

Why would the board do this?

1. Ask Larry Herbst.

2. In 2007, Larry and the incumbents were endorsed by the teachers for re-election.

3. In 2008, Larry and the board gave the teachers a very generous contract.

4. I have no idea if these events are connected – please investigate and decide for yourself.

With the departure of Superintendent Baldermann and the ascension of Jim Marciniak to the board presidency, an RB turnaround has commenced in earnest.

1. Interim superintendent David Bonnette was recruited.

a. Superintendent Bonnette conceded last night that the Paw/Cyberdog expenditures brought no significant educational benefit

b. Superintendent Bonnette said that had he negotiated the contract it would not have turned out as it did.

2. Hazard, Young and Attea was hired to conduct searches for senior-level personnel.

HYA highlighted the need to “restore integrity” to the district after Herbst/Baldermann era.

3. Principal Pam Bylsma was hired.

4. Dr. Skinkis has been signed up.

5. With support from president Marciniak and new board members, Dr. Bonnette has pursued many administrative improvements to repair damage done in the earlier period.

What we need is simple:

1. Ongoing reform in all directions at RBHS. The reform mandate has begun. It is not complete.

2. An independent complete project accounting to budget and plan of the $60 million building project. The board must keep faith with us by showing exactly where each penny went – not in the overall audit that’s conducted for state purpose, but a true and accurate report on project goals, objectives, budgeted costs, actual and variances. We deserve a complete accounting of every hard-earned dollar we gave them.

3. The same for the no-vote-$4.9 million-tax-hike. Also, the Herbst / Baldermann administration refused to comply with FOIA requests for Wm. Blair and Co. /Elizabeth Hennessey’s compensation and retainer. That must be put on the record.

4. A genuine financial plan for the district, to be revised and updated annually, to build public understanding and support for the Board, the staff and all of the great things that happen every day at RBHS. Only ongoing reform and this finance plan – with all financial issues put on the table — will ground public support for a new referendum.

5. I believe the referendum will be defeated. But that will not end this story – it will transform the story. In fact, it will be the end of the beginning; it will complete our break from the Herbst/Baldermann era. The sooner the better.

6. The more important part will come about when the new board sits with the teachers, and with us, and with its new financial advisor to chart a new course for RBHS. A return to the voters for a new referendum is inevitable, but it will be done with greater respect to our financial circumstances and our rightful expectations of accountability at RBHS. This will not be easy. All of it will be demanding and tough. We have heard a lot about a “partnership.” This will test that partnership – and show us just what we need to succeed as a community in establishing the finest Illinois public high school of RB’s size, within our ability to pay.


1. If after this you think the referendum is a great idea, by all means vote for it, and thank you for your public spiritedness.

2. If after this you think the referendum is a bad idea, by all means vote against it, and thank you for your public spiritedness.

3. In this recession, with its effects, it is not for any of us, least of all the most privileged and successful, to tell the rest of us that “if you do not vote for the referendum, then you do not properly care for RB.” Caring about RB does not equal supporting the referendum. Opposing the referendum does not equal ignoring RB.

4. But all of this does point to an undiminished public responsibility. Each of us owes it to ourselves and our families and each other to work hard to get to know the seven candidates for RB board and select the four we think are best qualified for the job. Because whatever happens to the referendum, we will need a first-class board to bring us a first-class high school.


POSTED THURSDAY MAR 3, 2011 18:05 #
Explore posts in the same categories: Riverside Brokfield High School -- Referendum

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