Tim Scanlon and the Future of RB — July 16, 2012

Tim Scanlon was a key part of an RB era that should never be repeated.

The RB Landmark chronicled many of the era’s problems, but published a somewhat laudatory send-off for Tim’s June 30 retirement (“The man behind the curtain,” July 2, 2012). With zero interest in discussing a former employee, Scanlon deserves comment for two reasons. First, some style him the Socrates of Ridgewood Road. That will not wash.

Second, since District 208 has spent the last year unraveling issues Tim helped create, and will do so for some time, RB’s future requires additional perspective.

Full disclosure: I do not know Tim Scanlon personally, but have observed him and his official acts while studying the school.

Scanlon is obviously beloved by many. I know he has helped many a family, including
my own, traverse the four years of RB with skill and sensitivity. None of the following deeply critical notes on policy ignore his role as part of the human glue that holds RB together. Perhaps he should have been a guidance counselor. As an administrator, I believe he was disastrous.

Scanlon, according to the Landmark going away article, was a union booster in administrator’s clothes. Herein arose the problem. He was paid to act for us, and not for fellow insiders. So, what did he do?

No Scanlon Audit

For instance, in 2007, against the recommendation of a highly qualified citizens’ advisory committee, the District 208 board gave Tim Scanlon daily control of our $65 million construction project. Tim possessed not one professional qualification for the task. Last week –- in the very paper with Tim’s going away story — a leaky field house, broken boilers, smelly sewage stack and other project shortfalls are afoot.

None of this is new. On video, with the Landmark present, at Komarek School in North Riverside on March 2, 2011, Tim promised us a project “audit,” so we would know where our money went and what we got for it. Most importantly — for the future — we could accurately build a capital plan to maintain what we have. “Audit” was Tim Scanlon’s word –- it is on tape. Instead, the Scanlon Audit never happened, we are stuck confronting avoidable issues, and our capital plan is a guess.

Tim’s construction involvement followed his successful leadership of the 2005-2006 building fund referendum campaign. He and a board member led “Citizens for Riverside Brookfield High School Building Excellence / Pride in RB,” which was the de facto campaign committee to pass the building fund tax rate hike to finance the needed bonds.

Tim and the Mystery $15,000

In this capacity Tim coordinated payment of some $15,000 to “Unicom ARC,” a St. Louis-based union campaign and communications firm, for pro-referendum campaign materials and consulting.

Unicom ARC was paid not by “Citizens” campaign contributors, but by the RB Boosters, a parent association dedicated to helping school athletics.

Scanlon’s colleague, the former athletic director, effectively ran RB Boosters through a straw board. He repeatedly, over the years, including at a freshman parent meeting i attended in fall 2007, declared Booster contributions to be tax-deductible. But when the campaign contributions became public, and the incompatibility of political campaigning with 501(c) 3 status was apparent, RB Boosters, on September 17, 2007, made a startling statement.

First, it said that political contributions, while unprecedented, not in its by-laws, and never discussed with its membership, are perfectly OK and appropriate.

Second, it turned out Boosters was not a 501 (c) 3 charity after all. To quote Gary Zeleny, Booster Club President, “RB Booster club tax returns for the last seven years, Treasury Department Determination letter and IRS 501C3 paperwork. Paperwork does not exist in Riverside Brookfield High School files. These files do not exist in RB Booster Club files.” (Emphasis in the original.)

So Tim and his campaign received an unprecedented $15,000 contribution from a putative charity that really wasn’t a charity. Confirmation from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White that the Boosters were “not in good standing” as an Illinois corporation was perhaps anticlimactic, though it served to deepen the questions about who and what were funding Tim’s union campaign friends in St. Louis.

But it was not even that easy. The Booster donor money Tim accepted for a political campaign consultant was drawn on two accounts. The first was the regular, familiar and expected Booster checking account. The second, also on a “Boosters” check, was drawn on an account never before seen –- or disclosed.

Until the day he left, Tim simply refused to discuss any of this. No superior administrator or board member has ever insisted that he do so –- in public session. The athletic director adamantly refused to account for anything, and eventually he was let go. For his part, Tim retires with these secrets intact.

Tim and the Uncertified Seven

By his own statement, in January 2008 Scanlon opened the official State of Illinois notice that RB’s superintendent and some half dozen teachers were legally unqualified to occupy their respective positions.

Thus about seven of our employees could neither legally enter the building nor be paid.  Faced with such startling news, Tim said, at a public meeting, with a Landmark reporter present, that he… encouraged the superintendent and the teachers to sort it out.

Tim proudly and emphatically declared he did not tell the president of the Board of Education in at the time. No, Tim said, he kept it to himself, essentially inverting the public RB organization chart.

Some five months later, nothing had changed, at least with respect to the superintendent. The board president, who at some point tried to cover up the failure so voters would not learn of it, subsequently said Tim told him in May or June of 2008, according to the March 21, 2009 Landmark.

One may believe Tim Scanlon on this, or not. As one who follows these matters closely, I think his statement is preposterous and incredible, arrogant and disrespectful. Regardless, Tim’s claim fit perfectly with that of the board president’s denial. Tim may have fallen on his sword, but we know for certain that by not going on the record with the president about illegalities in his purview, Tim did not serve the community. Rather, he served his insider buddies.

A Payback Pay Raise?

…And he gained the glory. According to the March 24, 2009 Landmark, the same board president boosted Tim’s pay and pension in early March 2009 with three, 6 percent cumulative victory-lap raises, on top of a six percent cash “catch up” payment on June 30, 2009, to make Tim Scanlon’s retirement “closely mirror” those of his union friends we paid him to oversee.

For the conspiratorial, this pay boost passed about a month before an election in which three reformers would be elected (the SWiM team), and about two weeks before the uncertified seven story broke.

Overseen by Tim

And how did Tim Scanlon’s oversight of the union members work? Well, first, let’s note that he was the key staffer who told another former board president, when as a rookie board member he was assigned in 2007 to “negotiate” with the RB teachers’ union, not to bring an attorney. Why? “It would upset the teachers,” Tim reportedly said.

But easy contract talks were not enough for Tim, “a labor person at heart.” If only.

In a buried paragraph of the Landmark’s hagiography, we find this previously unreported newsy tid-bit: “Scanlon and [the former superintendent] developed an in-house staff development program where teachers could earn hours for salary lane advancement by participating in workshops held at the school…”(emphasis added).

Yes, this was within the contract whose formation Tim helped by keeping board attorneys away.

And yes, thus did RB teachers, under “Professor” Tim Scanlon’s oversight, “earn” their way to higher pay lanes, in addition to built-in and seniority raises. Tim cheerily cut out the demanding but inconvenient grad school-courses-readings-professors-homework-papers-exams-registrar middleman thing — in favor of after-school, in-office KumBaYa handholding. Tim’s union heart, it appears, beat for the teachers, while we paid him to manage… and then paid raises earned by sitting in Tim’s office.

Taxpayers funding these after-hour lane-changes might ask, “How can conversations with Tim, holder of a master’s degree, be equivalent to a real graduate course of study in a real graduate school with real professors, etc., holding real doctorates, such that completion of one might be seen in the same light as completing the other?” One hint at the answer? Never have you seen a press release from the union –- or the administration, for that matter –- proudly announcing this work-around.

But it sure is convenient.

In fact, Tim’s two signal accomplishments are the so-called “three-year catch-up,” contract of fall 2005 to spring 2008, and the current five-year contract, fall 2008 to spring 2013. It is hard to overstate the devastation these have wrought on RB’s fiscal sustainability.

They so dissociated the community from the high school that the last education fund referendum lost by more than 79 percent to less than 21 percent. They are why our board is today pinching every penny.

The average Illinois teacher retirement system reported compensation (total) increases for RB certified staff range from about 10 percent in the three-year “catch-up” (with Hinsdale, Oak Park and Lyons Township) contract to more than seven percent in the five-year follow-up.

Here is what that means. If one made $50,000 per year at the start of the three-year contract, it would grow to $102,000 by year eight, a hike of more than 100 percent. Please note – the hike to $102,000 is before one’s meeting in Tim’s office for non-Grad-School graduate school credit-producing lane change. If Tim signed one’s chit, one moved to higher factors, and pay increases increased.

No surprise, Scanlon era personnel costs went roughly from $10,000,000 to roughly $16,000,000. Tim also hired more teachers than we needed, certainly more than we could afford. Until Superintendent Skinkis arrived, Tim made our salary offer to selectees. No surprise: The higher the offer the higher the boosts along the way.

Union and Management, Equal Right to Negotiate

What matters primarily here is not even the rate of increase; it is the quality of the bargain. Unions must negotiate. They owe a solemn duty to negotiate for the very best deal they can get. That duty mirrors management’s duty to do its best as well (in this case, for us –- the taxpayer/stakeholders). That is the American way.

We are free to give our teachers seven –- or ten — percent per year. I am sure some among the teacher corps deserve it. But we should do so because it is our choice and it is bargained for at arm’s length, not because it is a sweetheart deal with folks from one side metaphorically taking up both sides of the table.

Tim’s divided loyalties implicate his duty to us as a member of the administration. They cast doubt on the extent to which he safeguarded, or assisted our “bargaining for,” any provision of the contracts. We have the deficits to show for the contractual spending. We have the pain of our adjustment to stricter realities. We have the loss of promising young teachers to pay more senior teachers. We have a perfectly awful negotiation ahead of us.

All of these issues flow in large measure from Tim’s “us-versus-them” pro-union stand, working at the expense of management and the community’s ability to pay — and the leadership team that fostered and sustained this approach.

Tim and Curriculum

Tim arrived shortly after the last echo of dispute about RB heading down the Advanced Placement (college-level work) prong of the fork or the International Baccalaureate prong. With the former superintendent on board, there was a new way to “distinguish” RB –- get kids, as many kids as possible –- to take AP classes and the AP tests that follow. The ratio of test takers to student population was a ticket to ride the methodology of one researcher, whose technique had been adopted by Newsweek magazine.

And thus began the great “Honors squeeze.”

Good students who were not ready for college-level work, but who were forced into AP classes, felt the squeeze. Essentially, under Tim, RB turned its back on good-but-not great kids. They were tossed in with the great-and-ready-for-AP level kids, to sink or swim. The manifold ways in which this wrought havoc on kids’ curricular development are so complex they would be worthy of real research in a real graduate-level class at a real university taught by a real professor.

In this context, it went something like this: Johnny gets a “C” or a “D” because the A.P. class was just too hard for him at this point. The damage to his college application is clear. His family’s $80 for the A.P. test, paid at registration, long before anyone knew how Johnny would do, is basically forfeit. Why take a voluntary exam on which you know you will not do well?

At other schools, families pay closer to the test — and after they know how their student is doing. Instead, RB focused on getting families bought-in, and kids to take the test no matter what. At least for a while, RB rode that ratio to high rankings on an utterly arbitrary basis.

Tim Scanlon drove this.

So, to scheme our way up the Newsweek ranking, Scanlon cut choices for kids in the middle — but not just for the average college-bound kids.

As “curriculum” officer, Tim fully supported “Paw and Cyberdog,” the no-plan / no-report / $600,000-plus rat hole-filling vocational education curricular travesty. We may reasonably have expected Tim, the great educator of quotes in the Landmark send-off, to point proudly to the curricular dimension of the novel idea that RB renovate a private owner’s commercial property (?), and then operate a snack shop (the Paw) and an internet café (the Cyberdog) to teach our kids how to become minimum wage baristas.

Silly us. Just like the Scanlon Audit, Tim has nothing to which he can point. There was no curricular plan. There was no curriculum. Neither was there a curricular report. All were FOIAed, to no result.

There was, however, a spending plan, and our money went down the drain. What our kids received remains a mystery – until special needs kids were brought in after the original plan failed. The no-bid renovations contracts may reveal who benefitted from the boondoggle.

Note as well RB’s hubris here, that it could better teach these folks than Starbucks or McDonald’s, and the bizarre idea that RB’s voc ed should point to lowest-end service jobs instead of very high salary machining, metal bending and computer-operated manufacturing jobs, which both relate to Triton College courses and go begging in this region every day. Yet Tim’s support for this insider-driven curricular fiasco was complete.

Tim Grants Indicted Pusher Access to Our Kids and School

Tim defended vigorously his allowing an RB dad who was under indictment for possession of a controlled substance to become a volunteer wrestling coach in the fall of 2008. Had Tim done his assistant principal job for us, and run the RB Board policy / IHSA / ISBE check on the volunteer before granting him ongoing close access to our kids and the interior of our school, he would have learned the pending indictment was not the volunteer coach’s first drug arrest, and that he had a string of earlier bouts with the law.

In fact, he was so notorious that the Chicago Police Department’s Organized Crime Division, Narcotic Investigation Section, no less, targeted him. A clouted trade union member with a senior spot at McCormick Place, CPD followed him to his home and arranged a controlled purchase. In unchallenged testimony at trial, CPD said it found two pounds of marijuana in his basement, and a complete set of distribution equipment, and that its confidential informant made the purchase under strict procedures with the Chicago organized crime division right outside… in North Riverside.

The board structure promised an investigation. It was never done, or never released. Tim Scanlon, fully aware of the organized crime element, and the drugs found in the subject’s home, etc., somehow found his way onto both sides of the issue.

In the fall of 2008, when the subject was knocking on the door, and was under indictment after turning himself in after issuance of an arrest warrant, which follwed the search warrant, which followed the controlled purchase, which followed the targeting… Tim failed to do the background search. When the story broke ten months later in June 2009, Tim said had he known of the drug charge, “that would have stopped it right there,” the Landmark reported.

Upset parents did their own. They found no less than five arrests, stretching back to 1979, including two felony arrests. They included illegal possession of alcohol, criminal damage to property / fire (felony), DUI/alcohol, possession of cannabis and possession of cannabis with intent to distribute (felony). These were shown to the board, with Tim present, in executive session. The parents asked the board to take clear steps to limit access and protect kids.

Promises were made that all access for the volunteer coach except parental visits to RB would be denied. Yet, while the troubled (see-above) athletic director was reporting directly to Tim Scanlon, the subject retained free access to the school, the players, the coaches, hot dog stands, other events, etc.

And then, by November 2009, knowing all of the above, Scanlon selected the subject, who “…volunteered and was ultimately placed on the Student Conduct Code/Athletic Code Committee,” according to the Landmark. Tim Scanlon put a serial arrestee on our conduct code committee – after saying five months earlier the “drug charge” was enough to “stop it right there.”

Tim Runs Illicit Campaign

As the Landmark reported on March 22, 2011, Tim’s most outrageous breach as our “man behind the curtain” was violating Illinois law to run a political campaign out of our high school. In 2010-11, Tim was the campaign manager for the biggest tax-hike in local history. According to all who attended, he was happy about it at numerous Saturday morning planning meetings, because the new taxes would channel funds right to his union friends.

Tim, from our offices, illicitly deployed personnel, equipment, facilities and even students to hike our taxes. Such was Tim’s gratitude for our boosting his salary from $125,000 in 2009, to $150,000 in 2011, and on to more than $160,000 for the just-completed year. I guess that in Tim’s view, we had only begun to pay.

The community can take solace that Tim did not teach political science. His team won only one out of every five votes cast in the April 2011 referendum. Three of four board members elected were opposed or neutral on the referendum. Of four referendum-supporting candidates, voters elected but one.

But despite his side’s repudiation, Tim’s offense remains. And because of his gross dereliction, the school has had to defend against a nagging lawsuit while it ill advisedly refuses to investigate fully the independently reported improprieties. It is another Scanlon mess that saps effort in the present and delays the needed renewal on which RB’s future depends.

The Tim Hangover

The hangover pain this district bears after the Scanlon era’s unsustainable spending binge is the gift Tim gave us by taking our money to administrate, but in fact working for insiders.

Unions are an important part of Illinois schools. Board – union relations are complex, demanding and significant predicates for success. We have some terrific teachers who do extraordinary work. Getting the community – union relationship right takes considerable strong discussion on both sides. Both sides must assiduously and effectively represent their interests in reaching the ultimate deal. But the community – union balance fails if those who nominally represent the community actually work for the union. That is what Tim did. He profoundly injured District 208, each student under his care, their parents and the community at large in his many actions, of which only a few are listed here.

And there are other issues, available to all who review the Board meetings since July 1, 2011, that shock the conscience. No job descriptions, no evaluations. No indices or accountabilities of job performance. No procedures, few controls. And more, and more. Dr. Skinkis’ reports sum to a sobering statement of what he was handed by Tim and the interim superintendent the day he took office. Not pretty, but not necessarily all from Tim, either.

For every college kid during Tim Scanlon’s era who received a first-class education, we must ask about the many kids pushed into AP classes for which they were not prepared. We must ask about voc ed kids who were sent to the Paw to flip burgers. Their opportunities fell to the former superintendent’s elaborate gaming of the Newsweek rankings, with Tim as his happy curricular henchman. As an administrator, Tim Scanlon was a regressive force from whose harm we will be freeing ourselves for years to come.

According to Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA), RB needs its institutional integrity restored. No wonder. Under Tim and his cabal, RB ran for insiders. Taxpayers were outsiders.

Some at the school today want the six pillars of Character Counts to ground our kids’ development. Not one of these is “integrity.” Character Counts instead advances “trustworthiness,” which is not nearly the same. Tim was trustworthy to his cohorts, but his actions lacked integrity. I think this community, and HYA, know the difference.

It was our fault

But we must not blame Tim. The fault here is entirely ours. It was our governance failure – allowing RB to be run by and for insiders, instead of for the community and its vision of a high school — that neither detected nor corrected what was going on, until we had agreed to eight years of teacher contracts with huge average annual increases, etc. That realization became the reform movement. It is another thread in RB’s story, and it will go on. Tim Scanlon’s RB thread ended on June 30, which, with the knowledge of what not to repeat, makes RB’s future considerably brighter already.

(A short version of this ran in the Riverside Brookfield Landmark, July 11, 2012,http://www.rblandmark.com/main.asp?SectionID=3&SubSectionID=46&ArticleID=9178&TM=42835.2 )

POSTED WEDNESDAY JUL 11, 2012 20:20 #
Explore posts in the same categories: Education, Riverside Brokfield High School -- Referendum, Riverside Brookfield High School -- Athletics, Riverside Brookfield High School -- Turnaround

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