Archive for August 2012

Yet another reply to Lisa Marciniak… 8-10-12

August 10, 2012

I have no expectation of changing Lisa’s mind about anything, so the object of this exchange on Riverside Town Connection for me was more to flesh out positions and issues.  In that spirit, the antidote to insomnia awaits . . .

Here is how the surplus happened.

According to Jim Marciniak, whose September 20, 2011 statement in the RB Landmaerk that i quote above, the new board tossed out the old board’s “crib sheet” on how to run a deficit.  Jim was so upset he said the new board “failed Budget 101.”

The new board then focused on savings to stabilize finances.  With Dr. Skinkis, the new board questioned every expenditure.  It is all on the videotape.  By spending less than it took in, District 208 posted a surplus.

My note above uses the figure $58 million because that is, roughly, the value of the bonds sold as a result of the 2006 referendum.  It is one of the few figures about the project we know with any certainty.  Any additional costs associated with the construction project would necessarily have been paid from  other sources.  They also must be accounted for.

Months ago, at a board meeting, Garry Gryzcyn, a former CFO and a University of Chicago MBA, said a personal review of documents indicated the construction project’s total cost may be as high as $66 million.

Since you focus on this spread, one hopes you will join those of us who are asking the board to end the inherited uncertainty created by the Scanlon stonewall.

We deserve to know how much of our money was actually spent, what we got, what works and what still doesn’t, what recourse we have for what we got that does not or has not worked (mal-functioning boilers, pool ventilation, sewer stack, leaky gym, etc.), and what our maintenance requirements and costs are for the new systems and construction.  Right now, no one can definitively answer these questions.

The only way to get there is a full accounting and an audit.

Since public documents and prior board statements say nothing about an audit being announced next week, i do not know what you are referring to.

Further answer to Lisa Marciniak — 8-8-2012

August 9, 2012


I appreciate the capitulation. Not so much the characterization.

As the parent of a soon-to-be-RB-sophomore, I am as concerned about RB today and tomorrow as anyone.

Here is what my today and tomorrow at RB look like:

If a parent volunteers, there will be a background check. If they have half a dozen arrests, including several for drugs, their access to our kids will be restricted.

If a teacher or administrator is not certified, s/he will be walked off the property.

If someone gets an idea to squeeze honors kids to jack up AP enrollment, sticking those kids with low grades and their parents with $85 AP test fees, they will be stopped.

If the school asks for $58 million, it will provide the community with an accounting for every dime, validated by a serious audit.

If a construction program results in malfunctions, leaks, chloramines’ odors, and an empty shelf where our maintenance and operation manuals are supposed to be, the district will vindicate our rights before they toll.

If a group is given plenary fundraising authority in the school and the community, the Board will condition that privilege on ongoing demonstrated actual state and federal compliance, so parents will know they are dealing with well-run organizations.

If anyone has a cockamamie idea about vocational education, with no curricular plan, they will be stopped before the school pours $600,000 down a rat hole.

If there is a negotiation, then the board will actually represent us and not rubber stamp union demands in exchange for a campaign endorsement.

If general economic conditions deteriorate, someone at the school will tell the truth about our financial position.

If anyone gets the bright idea to campaign illegally from the school, those in charge will find out and stop it, not hook up for a videotaping that is itself so obviously a transgression it is withheld from public for 17 months, and then burphel when questioned by the RB Landmark.

If a “superintendent” promotes an employee with whom he is having a personal relationship, and then lies to the board, his colleagues and the D208 community, such that we must pay a private investigator to determine what the “superintendent” knew all along, the “superintendent” will be walked off the property.

And more and more…

All very different from our recent yesterdays, Lisa.

It is all institutional integrity, basic management and administration. This is day-in, day-out governance, Lisa, and every great school lives by it. Of course, people argue that it’s past-obsessed and personality-obsessed and politically-obsessed and whatever else they may say.

That’s when those folks sound more OK with yesterday’s RB, which fostered those horribles, than they are with the fresh start we made on July 1, 2011.

They should not be. I am not OK with any of it. A great school wouldn’t be OK with any of it, either. RB will not be a great school until we as a community reject it and demand better.

But they argue, attack – and then fold — and ask for a new hand of tomorrows.

Lisa, you quote the Illinois constitution. You quote the general theory of public education. But you cannot bring yourself to either denounce or explain what was done in our name to our community’s kids. Why credit your view of the state constitution if you cannot see the obvious impropriety of these events?

And in your blindness to what is obvious, I cannot imagine your answer to the kids who had their “one chance at high school” while all of this was going on. There is a brazen disregard for those who bore that burden, as you piously – and conveniently — claim ‘don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.’ Perhaps “callous” describes that disregard better.

Here is what I wrote about “tomorrow” in May 2011, replying to PAR4 at

“The community has definitively found RB, great things going on there notwithstanding, to have serious problems and thus to be in need of similarly serious improvements. Revanchists may get with that, or they may report back to fantasyland. Looking backward to false interpretations, and trying desperately to advance them as new ideas, may be the best [they] can do. The rest of us are finished with all of that. In fact, thousands of us took part in ending it. We have already moved forward.” (

This is a nice way of saying the less than 21 percent, and especially those with cotton in their ears about their blessed “new revenues,” aka, “tax hikes,” are stuck in the past.

Lisa, my position is to cleanse and improve the school before asking for another referendum. I think yours is to hike takes, throw money around and be OK with all of Tim’s transgressions. I invite you to take that program to the voters.

Its time is over. We tossed out that approach. Just as the board you are obsessed with attacking tossed out the flawed budget instructions from its predecessors.

One predecessor even attacked the new board for doing so in the RB Landmark. Here is the quote from the September 20, 2011 RB Landmark: “You’re going to have to ask Buttimer and Robling why their hand-picked board failed to pass Budget 101 when they had a crib sheet that told them exactly how to do this… They need to own this. This budget was supposed to be balanced, and it’s far from balanced.”

Result? RB ended 2011-2012 with a $300,000 surplus.

Regardless, Lisa, you want to debase the board. About whom are you talking? Again, from May 2011: “Look closely at the seven. There are advanced degrees, professional distinctions, personal accomplishment and real-world expertise. We have a university-level medical educator and practitioner. A successful businessman. An attorney/MBA and an MBA who has served as a CFO. An IRS investigator. A designer of new products (who is more in touch with the emerging economy than that?) and an evaluator of medical doctors. To suggest that any one of these will place any concern ahead of his or her considered judgment of what is best for the community, taxpayers, parents and students is unsupported fatuous nonsense, odiously similar to the unsupported fatuous nonsense the community has been debunking for years.”

Folks who hate the broom will always complain about the sweeper. It’s their right.

Meanwhile, RB is on a new path.

Big Olmsted Panel @ FRED, Saturday, August 18, 1:30pm…

August 7, 2012

Please come if this is your kind of thing:

Frederick Law Olmsted Society


“Olmsted’s Design Lessons for Today”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Riverside Town Hall

1:30 to 2:30 pm

Randy Blankenhorn, Executive Director, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

Ed Uhlir, FAIA, Executive Director, Millennium Park Inc.

Beth White, Chicago Area Office Director, The Trust for Public Lands

Ferhat Zarin AICP, Ginkgo Planning and Design Inc.

This lively forum will discuss how Olmsted’s naturalistic and community-focused designs are relevant for today’s communities.

“These panelists bring an extraordinary depth of experience in today’s issues of sustainability, population growth, land use and historic preservation,” says Cathy Maloney, FRED Co-Chair and author of Chicago Gardens: The Early History.

“Having their knowledge of Olmsted’s lessons and Chicago’s challenges promises an insightful and informative discussion.”

Questions from the audience encouraged.  Please register for the panel discussion — and any other FRED activities — by visiting:

A reply to Lisa Marciniak

August 6, 2012

Here is a note i posted over at Riverside Town Connection, after considerable back-and-forth between Lisa Marciniak and Jerry Buttimer over my note “Tim Scanlon and the Future of RB”:

I agree w Lisa—about focusing on what is happening right now at RB:
1. Governance – always important
2. Audit of the construction program – apparently on August agenda, after a massive document organizing project by Mike Welch and Garry Gryczyn
3. Compliance disclosure by Boosters / RBHSEA / Patrons’ Council – was up in July, coming back in September
4. Investigation into illegal campaigning – presumably coming up via dismissal of the lawsuit

…And I also agree with Jerry – if the school and the district do not “come clean,” then, even if they restore integrity, the community will not know, and future support for RB will be unnecessarily limited.


Back to Lisa – “I don’t think [Chris’ retellings about Tim Scanlon] present an accurate reflection of past events…”

If inaccurate, please correct. I have recited a bunch of governance-administration-Tim disasters. There are many others. Please take your pick. The better hold we have on the past, the more common ground we will have for future improvement. This gets me to…

Calls to action

“Chris’ original post is accusation after accusation with no call to any action that should be taken…”

First, most of what i wrote is straight from the public record, not “accusations.” I stand by every word. Second, the post says it is to put Tim’s actions in relief, and remove him from the Landmark’s hagiographic glow. In other words, the post calls us to face what actually happened.

Third, each section of the long version of the post (above) has its own moral. For instance, “Tim Grants Indicted Pusher Access to Our Kids and School” says, ‘Run the IHSA, RB Bd of Ed and ISBE volunteer background checks and let chips fall where they may.’

Most importantly, I point out that this was our fault, not Tim’s. The Herbst crew hired Tim Scanlon on Jack Baldermann’s recommendation. Jack brought Tim to be his thuggish inside Number Two, and Tim performed brilliantly. He reliably executed the junta’s decisions. We were no more going to change Tim into a diligent community representative than we were going to make the Des Plaines River run to Schaumburg.

Tim’s abuses are our fault for failing at governance. We hired the Herbst crew. If that does not sound a “call to action,” then perhaps some among us need four-foot painted block letters, “Get governance right to alleviate many concerns and grow community support.” (Basically, this is all I ever say.)

Personalities do not matter

Lisa then scores me with, “if you were truly concerned with the kids at RB, then you would stop complaining about grown-ups you do not like.”

But I am not complaining about grown-ups: “Full disclosure: I do not know Tim Scanlon personally, but have observed him and his official acts while studying the school.”

It’s not the individual adults who matter, it is their actions, and, specifically, their official acts. I also made this point several years ago when I went on against former athletic director Otto Zeman, a person I have never met and thus against whom I cannot have personal animus.

I cheerfully acknowledge both Tim’s service to my family, and to others, as part of the human glue that keeps a place like RB pulled together. This is to say that Tim is not “all bad,” it is that portion of his actions that have hurt kids at RB and the 208 community which is of concern.

As long as a sliver of credibility is invested in what was a fundamentally corrupt and spendthrift era, I will remind folks of the official actions – and actors — that led us into the mess our current board confronts. That is how we face the past to build a stronger future.

Tim and the audit

Lisa says I do not get the Tim and audit matter, because Tim lacked authority to promise, let alone deliver, the audit he promised at Komarek.

But Tim was surrounded by his superiors when he made the promise, as is clear on the videotape.

Dr. Bonnette, Mrs. Bylsma, and several board members were there. Not one of them interrupted Tim, or overruled Tim’s promise. Of course not – they were asking us for the biggest tax hike in local history. For any one of them to have said, “Tim is not authorized to promise an audit, there will be no audit of the $58 million you taxpayers gave us,” would have been impolitic in the moment. So they kept quiet, assented to Tim’s promise – and stiffed us later on the audit.

[This type of story-shading by Lisa, omitting the key detail in a way that benefits her narrative, causes me to believe her accusation, that I present inaccurate retellings, may in practice go a bit both ways.]

Lisa and Boosters

Lisa then seeks to rehabilitate Boosters. She says, in so many words, ‘the end justifies the means.’ “I’d say that was a pretty good return on investment,” she writes about their campaign contribution morphing into a leaky gym.

Here is my central disagreement with Lisa, as far as I can tell.

If the RB board, representing the District 208 community, gives a group authority to use RB’s name, a free telethon with RB equipment and personnel, and other special privileges, such as gate receipts at all home games, postage, office and clerical support, etc., and if that group raises funds from RB parents under the cloak of that status, then RB has every right to insist that the group actually observes corporate formalities, and displays such observance, in the form of its by-laws, minutes, submissions to IRS, the Illinois attorney general and the Illinois secretary of state, on its website. These are documents the groups must create or file in any case, posting them to a website is no burden whatsoever.

But Lisa writes: “Let’s remember that the Boosters are their (sic) own entity. They (sic) are not responsible to the public or the school. They (sic) are responsible to their (sic) members.”

This is flat wrong. Worse, it is exactly the approach that Tim and RB’s corrupt leadership sustained for its decade of error.

Boosters acted as though it was both a private association, able to do or spend as its members pleased–just as Lisa asserts. But at the same time it also claimed to be a section 501 (c) (3) IRS-registered non-profit, which status would subject it to federal requirements. And it claimed to be an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, too.

In fact, it had registered as an Illinois corporation, but failed to maintain that status. After years of telling the community it was IRS-recognized, and under pressure from a few of us who asked deeply unpopular questions, it reversed course, and announced its claim was unsupported.

So, Boosters enjoyed numerous benefits from RB, and took money from RB families, under false pretenses. Then, without authority from its members or anyone else, it spent $15,000 on a political campaign. (I supported the same side in that campaign, by the way.)

Lisa’s Darwinian, caveat emptor, boys-will-be-boys approach, namely, ‘check the Boosters not-for-profit status yourself, it is your problem, not RB’s and surely not the Boosters’, gets all of this upside-down. If the RB board grants special access, then there should be no reason for busy RB parents to question a group’s status. One should go with the other. Lisa’s let-the-donor-beware prescription misses the point entirely.


For all of our disagreements, the dialogue is essential. Much of what I have written is over at, and i invite folks to decide for themselves if my posts hold up over time. There is considerable good news coming out of RB, such as the unexpected surplus, thanks to the new board’s and Dr. Skinkis’ determination to air the place out and create much higher expectations.

About this, there should be no disagreement, since all of us seek a most highly distinguished school that meets our kids where they are and takes them as far as they can go.

That vision will require considerably more support than the school now enjoys, and the only way to get there is, in Lisa’s words, to stay focused and, in Jerry’s words, to come clean.