Saturday, April 22, 2006

Dist. 214 cuts take their toll

The following article appeared in the Daily Herald and on Students First. Hmmm how will this play out is the school district really trying to balance the budget or are they starting to board the threat train on the way to thefterendumville?

Dist. 214 cuts take their toll
By Erin Holmes
Daily Herald

For weeks, it's been about the numbers. The amount that has to be cut. The amount that can be saved. The budget.

On Thursday night, backed up by dozens of his co-workers, Tom Wiedemann stepped to the microphone and gave the whole scenario a human face.

Wiedemann, a Buffalo Grove High graduate who's worked at the school for more than two decades, is one of nearly three dozen Northwest Suburban High School District 214 staff members who got notices of possible termination this week - part of an ongoing effort to trim nearly $3 million from the still-pending 2006-07 budget.

In his role, Wiedemann does locker room security, works as a physical education assistant, bellows from the stands at football games as the "Voice of the Bison," is licensed to repair high-tech equipment in the weight room - he was there the night that room was dedicated; he helped raise the cash - and has done a plethora of other things at the school.

He's not sure how all those jobs can be eliminated, he says, but, beyond that, "I'm part of the family," he says simply.

His words drew a standing ovation from others in the district's support staff union - clerical staff, tech assistants, security personnel and others - who pushed the board to rescind any planned staff cuts and find different savings.

"Without these quality workers, some of whom have been with the district for over 25 years, the quality of education will suffer at our schools," union President Bob Kramer said.

The nearly 30 support staff notices represent the latest wave of a district-wide cost-cutting that Superintendent David Schuler said will impact all categories of employees.

The board in March OK'd 13 teacher layoff notices; the custodial maintenance union is next up for consideration. The administrative staff also has shrunk its ranks, in part by choosing not to fill positions that will be vacated in June.

But there will not be a full 30 support staffers laid off, Schuler insisted, saying that sum really represents "three or four times" the actual number of positions that will be officially nixed.

He could not say how many spots truly will be eliminated. Kramer put that figure around 13; Schuler said it most likely would be between six and 13.

Language in the support staff contract calls for those with high seniority whose jobs are terminated to bump those with less seniority out of their slots.

Since that has the makings of a domino effect, anyone who could potentially be affected is handed a so-called pink slip -the reason, officials say, for the larger number of layoff notices.

Schuler said a "vast, vast majority" of those who got the notices still will have jobs next year - just not necessarily the positions they're holding now.

No matter how many people get offered jobs again, though, Kramer pointed out some roles still will be lost, asking, "Who's going to do all this work?"

Beyond that, there's the sad reality of the bumping process: It's not exactly a great feeling to know you've pushed someone else out of a job, employees say.

Weidemann should know.

With so many years under his belt, he's got top billing.

But "How does that make me feel?" he said. "Pretty crappy."

Kramer and others will meet today with district leaders to go over some contract language and discuss the situation.

Friday, April 21, 2006


The below story is yet another example of how the current public education is failing to educate the students of Illinois.


By Jodi S. Cohen and Darnell Little, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Tracy Dell'Angela contributed to this report
Published April 21, 2006

Of every 100 freshmen entering a Chicago public high school, only about six will earn a bachelor's degree by the time they're in their mid-20s, according to a first-of-its-kind study released Thursday by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The prospects are even worse for African-American and Latino male freshmen, who only have about a 3 percent chance of obtaining a bachelor's degree by the time they're 25.

The study, which tracked Chicago high school students who graduated in 1998 and 1999, also found that making it to college doesn't ensure success: Of the city public school students who went to a four-year college, only about 35 percent earned a bachelor's degree within six years, compared with 64 percent nationally.

Researchers say they're not exactly sure why Chicago schools alumni graduate from college in such low numbers, but that poor preparation during high school and too few resources at the college level contribute to the problem.

"Just focusing on getting kids to survive in high school isn't going to be enough," said study co-author Elaine Allensworth, a researcher at the consortium, a group that works closely with Chicago Public Schools. "This report raises a lot of issues that the colleges need to struggle with."

Schools chief Arne Duncan said the grim statistics in the report and the variation in college rates among city high schools are no surprise--they are what is driving massive private investment in high school reform.

"When students here are unprepared for college or the world of work, they are condemned to social failure," he said. "We're doing everything we can to dramatically change the high school experience for our teenagers."

Among other findings:

- Students who graduated from high school with a grade-point average below 3.0 were unlikely to graduate within six years, lacking the study skills that contribute to college success. Only about 16 percent of students with a high school GPA between 2.1 and 2.5 graduated during that time, compared with 63 percent of students who had a 3.6 GPA or better.

- African-American and Latino students from Chicago high schools have the lowest graduation rates--lower than the national average for those groups and lower than their white and Asian peers from Chicago. Just 22 percent of African-American males who began at a four-year college graduated within six years.

Chicago high school graduate Nigel Valentine, 26, is on the 10-year plan. He graduated from Kennedy High School in 1997. After getting an associate's degree from Daley College in 2003, he is now a junior at Northeastern Illinois University. He expects to graduate next year.

"Originally, I was hoping to be out in four or five years," said Valentine, who is studying criminal justice. He says he blames himself and a school system that didn't ensure college readiness. "It's all about preparation. The structure of the classes in high school and elementary school were not up to par."

The study also found varying degrees of success among colleges in graduating students from Chicago schools.

Of the Chicago students who start as full-time freshmen at Northeastern, only 11 percent graduate within six years.

Northeastern officials said the study is unfair to the university, which primarily serves non-traditional students, including many part-time students who take an average of 9 years to graduate. Many students are older, low-income and work while in school, said Provost Lawrence Frank.

But Frank said the study does point "to things we need to address," particularly improving the experience for freshmen. The university next fall will require that all freshmen take a small seminar class with a maximum of 24 students. Sophomores will receive more advising about course selection and major.

To be sure, there were limitations to the study. It only provided graduation rates for students who enrolled full time in a four-year college. It did not include students from alternative high schools or those eligible for special education. Researchers also did not have graduation data from every Illinois college, and DePaul University, Northern Illinois University and Robert Morris College were among those left out.

The researchers used data from the non-profit National Student Clearinghouse, a group that collects data from secondary school officials who want to track their graduates. More than 2,800 colleges participate.

Carole Snow, an executive associate provost at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said many students start college unprepared in math and writing.

The university recently opened a math learning center where students can get tutoring and work on study skills.

About 46 percent of UIC students, including Chicago public school graduates, complete college within six years.

Loyola University has one of the highest graduation rates for Chicago students. About 66 percent complete college within six years, nearly the same as the school average.

Loyola Vice Provost John Pelissero attributes that success to individualized student attention, including mandatory academic counseling. All freshmen also get a peer adviser.

The researchers said that the study could help high school guidance counselors better advise students about where to go to college.

"Our kids could be making better choices than going to U. of. I. Urbana," said co-author Melissa Roderick. "That is a very significant statement on that college, and they need to be paying attention to that."

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where some of Chicago's brightest students enroll, only 42 percent graduate within six years compared with 81 percent of all students, according to the study.

Robin Kaler, spokeswoman for the Urbana campus, disputed the consortium's numbers and said the graduation rate for Chicago students is nearly 65 percent.

"It is still not acceptable to us," said Kaler, who attributed the low number to a challenging environment at U. of. I. "We work hard to attract and identify students that we think can succeed. ... There is no way to predict perfectly who is going to have the most success and who isn't'"

She said the university has worked on improving student advising, with several colleges now requiring it. The advisers are supposed to not only monitor a student's academic progress, but also connect them with career-focused clubs and other services. The university also started a program last fall called "University 101," which is intended to teach students how to study, conduct research, and locate programs and services at the university.

That program came too late for Crystalynn Ortiz, 19, who started at the Urbana campus in fall 2004 after graduating from Prosser Career Academy in Chicago with a 4.5 GPA. She dropped out of U. of. I. after the first year, and now attends nearby Parkland Community College.

"I wasn't prepared to go to U. of. I. I got my first bad grades and then I wasn't motivated to do well," she said. "I felt really unprepared in study habits, how hard it was going to be here."

To view the rest of the story go to the

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Winthrop Harbor schools in money trouble

Below is my response to Diane Rado's story "Winthrop Harbor schools in money trouble."

Dear Ms. Rado,

In your story below "Winthrop Harbor schools in money trouble" Supt. Tenbusch states that "they are not making this up".  If this school district was so poor why did they hand out raises to the teachers and administrators last fall right after they claimed poor in front of a Lake County judge?  The answer pure and simple,  is greed.  These groups always put their pocketbooks ahead of the very children they are to teach.  Funny how their pocketbooks books are more important than textbooks.   I really wish you would ask the school boards more questions.  Ask them why they give out such large raises or raises when the school is in "financial difficulty".   The only ones to blame for this problem is the school board and administration.  If they can't balance the budget find someone who is capable of balancing the budget and not on the backs of the students they are to protect and educate while not in parental care.

Schools across Illinois have a spending problem not a funding problem. They have a problem with greed not need. No matter how much money they get it is never enough.  It does not take a grade school math teacher to figure out the TRS is nothing more than a Ponzi scheme that is unsustainable and will bankrupt Illinois.  Sadly the legislatures are bent on catering to these groups instead of the taxpayers and students of Illinois.

Cathy Peschke

Winthrop Harbor schools in money trouble

By Diane Rado
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 20, 2006, 9:53 PM CDT

In a rare move, state education officials voted Thursday to intervene in the financial affairs of Winthrop Harbor School District 1 in Lake County, where budget problems are some of the most severe in the state.

The Illinois State Board of Education certified that the district is in "financial difficulty," a status that allows state monitoring and could lead to even stronger oversight down the road.

Such state involvement is highly unusual and has happened in only a handful of districts, state education officials said.

Winthrop Harbor Supt. James Tenbusch said he and a majority of board members support the state's intervention after four years of budget cuts, including eliminating staff and cutting $45,000 for textbooks.

The district's tattered textbooks, some held together by rubber bands, were featured in a Tribune story Sunday on old and worn schoolbooks across Illinois.

The state monitoring "serves notice to our community we are not making this up," Tenbusch said about the district's financial problems.

The district relies mostly on residential property for its tax collections and has low tax rates compared with neighboring districts, he said. Trying to make ends meet, the district has been borrowing heavily and running deficits in its operating funds.

Voters repeatedly have rejected tax increases, including the latest ballot measure in March, and the issue has divided the community.

Tenbusch on Thursday accused some tax-increase opponents of making false claims about how an increase would affect property owners, prompting concern by state board chairman Jesse Ruiz. The chairman asked state board attorneys to look into how the state could regulate organizations making false claims.

Such charges are not unique in the clash over school tax increases. Elsewhere in the state, opponents have claimed that ballot language is deceptive and fails to inform voters of the true cost of tax increases.

Winthrop Harbor now has to submit a financial plan to the state and agree to monitoring, including providing budget and other information at the state's request. If the district fails to follow the financial plan, the state can appoint a financial oversight panel.

Also Thursday, state school Supt. Randy Dunn said the state board is looking at ways to curb violence after incidents at Chicago high schools and news reports about when schools fall into the category of "persistently dangerous" as defined by federal law. The Tribune reported this month that not one school in Illinois meets the state's definition despite reports of gang fights, teacher assaults and other serious problems.

Dunn said after the board meeting that the state's definition of persistently dangerous may need to be "more robust," given that no schools are fitting the definition. A change would require approval by state lawmakers.

Dunn also reported Thursday that delivery of 11th grade state exams to high schools is proceeding "pretty well," following a debacle over the delivery of grade school tests this spring. There have been some delays in districts getting instruction booklets and student identification labels for the tests scheduled next week, but high schools have been receiving the exam booklets, Dunn said.

For the rest of the story go to the

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Textbook sticker shock - Yet another explotation of our taxdollars and a group jumping on the public education gravy train.

The following story appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Textbook sticker shock
By Diane Rado, Tribune staff reporter. Staff reporters Ana Beatriz Cholo and Darnell Little contributing.

Chicago Tribune

In Illinois, books that cost $600 online can be $800 at school as fees and markups drive up the prices

By the time Loryn Kogan got out of the New Trier Township High School Bookstore in August, the bill was nearly $800 for her two sons' textbooks--materials that are free to students in most states.

What disturbed the North Shore mother the most, however, was that she later found the same books at for nearly $200 less. She quickly bought the books online and returned the others to New Trier.

Kogan didn't know it, but the district contracts with a private company to run its bookstore and allows the firm to mark up new books by 20 percent over cost.

The contract is unusual because private booksellers usually are found on college campuses. But markups as high as 25 percent are not uncommon in some of Illinois' largest public school districts, a Tribune investigation has found.

High schools in the Oak Park and River Forest, Glenbard and Elmhurst school districts, among others, also mark up books sold to students, though they run their own bookstore operations.

According to state law, districts can charge extra to cover shipping and handling, but how those costs are defined is in question.

Districts say they can tack on the cost of salaries for staff involved in bookstore operations, saying that fits into the definition of "handling." But schools already collect local property taxes to pay salaries for school employees.

The law is "far from crystal clear" on the matter, said Jonathan Furr, general counsel of the Illinois State Board of Education.

In general, Illinois law seeks to control costs to ensure the best deals for students, he said.

"I certainly think the state board is going to have concerns about potential abuses in this area, and I think we would be interested in looking at the specific facts of these cases and reviewing whether or not those costs should be allowed," Furr said.

Illinois pays for public education mostly with local property taxes, rather than state dollars, and the $29.1 million state budget for textbooks has been flat to declining since 2000-01.

With most districts struggling with deficits and voters rejecting tax increases, nearly all districts rely on parents to buy their children's books or pay fees to offset book purchases.

Too few books, and they're old

Even with parents' help, however, districts are struggling with book shortages and texts that are outdated and worn, a Tribune investigation found in a survey of 50 districts of varying wealth and size across all regions.

Illinois collects more textbook revenue from parents than any other state, about $74 million in 2002-03, according to the most recent federal data. Twenty-eight states collect no textbook fees.

Updated figures from the Illinois State Board of Education show districts collecting $87 million from book fees or sales in 2004-05, three times more than the state provides for textbooks.

The figure is likely an underestimate because it excludes some districts, such as New Trier, where the private Follett Higher Education Group had sales of about $1.3 million, according to the district. Chicago Public Schools also did not report book revenue because individual schools collect their own fees.

Elmhurst District 205 did not report $548,186 from high school book sales because it was accounted for separately and excluded from state financial reports, said Patricia Palmere, assistant superintendent for finance. Students got $169,888 in credits for future purchases by selling books back, she said.

Districts typically have such buyback programs. They also waive book fees for impoverished students and offer installment plans so parents to spread out book payments.

Still, some parents are shocked by the price tag for attending a public high school.

Prices add up for parents

Laura Font paid $442.26 for her freshman son's books this year at Elmhurst's York Community High School; that didn't include other fees that pushed the bill to more than $500.

"When they totaled it up, I couldn't believe what it cost," said Font, a public school teacher in DuPage County. "If you have two or three high school students, you're talking about $1,500 to start school, and you haven't even bought shoes or clothes."

Not all parents pay that much. More than 500 districts, most of them Downstate, reported collecting $50 or less per student for textbooks on average in 2004-05, according to state figures.

Fees are steeper around Chicago, with about 70 districts, mostly in the six-county suburban area, collecting at least $100 per studenton average. A dozen districts reported at least $200 per student for textbooks, though some said their revenue included other fees unrelated to books. The Illinois Constitution states that education in public schools "shall be free," interpreted by courts to mean free classes and instruction--but not free books.

Elsewhere, education officials were surprised that Illinois charges for books. "That is illegal in California; textbooks have to be free," said Tom Adams, a top curriculum official at the California Department of Education.

Illinois educators said books tend to be replaced more often when districts charge parents rather than rely on state funds.

Cheryl Witham, chief financial officer in Oak Park and River Forest high school district, said she has worked outside of Illinois and has found that when fees weren't charged "over time, that curriculum became stale."

Districts defend markups

Her district marks up new books by 25 percent for shipping and handling, which she said can include bookstore employee salaries, based on the advice of the school district's attorney. Elmhurst District 205 has a 25 percent markup to cover overhead at its bookstore.

Glenbard High School District 87 in DuPage County has a 20 percent markup on new books, and Township High School District 113 in Lake County charges a 15 percent markup, plus shipping costs, on new books. District 113 officials said they don't exceed 15 percent because of a lawsuit in the late 1970s over unreasonable charges for books, and they cap book prices at $85, regardless of cost.

District officials stressed that their markups are over discounted prices they get from publishers, so students should still be able to get textbooks for less than retail prices.

But Kogan, of Wilmette, was able to find better prices on

She said she bought mostly new books for her sons at New Trier, because used books get snapped up quickly and sometimes aren't available. She wanted to bring the books home before shopping online to make sure she could find exact matches.

Kogan found several better deals, she said, including a $63.49 advanced biology book on that cost her $98.95 used at New Trier.

Follett, which operates college bookstores around the nation, pays New Trier a $40,000 annual commission to operate on campus, said Donald Goers, the district's assistant superintendent for business.

After the Tribune began asking questions about the arrangement, Goers said it may be re-examined.

"We were trying to look for a novel approach" for bookstore operations, he said. "We do need to go back and re-evaluate to see if this is still the best way."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Money won't improve schools

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Northwest Herald.

Money won't improve schools

[published on Mon, Apr 17, 2006]
Money won't improve schools

To the Editor:

Thirty years of experience has shown us that spending more money doesn't produce better schools.

The "it's for the kids" argument is losing its effectiveness, as most education referendums have failed in recent years.

Rather than promise what they can't deliver – better schools – the new strategy of the education establishment is to threaten to make schools worse if referendums don't pass. Threats of unnecessary cuts in extracurricular activities fill the news.

Rational people know that a public school system capable of decades of mediocrity certainly is capable of shortchanging students even further.

Because busy people don't have the time or energy to demand change, they give into threats.

Taxpayers continue to increase revenue to public schools at a rate that outpaces both inflation and enrollment growth.

But because of the Illinois public school finance culture, no increase in funding ever will be enough.

Very few certified public accountants, or people with master's degrees in business administration or serious private-sector business experience sit on school boards or serve as district chief financial officers.

The Illinois Constitution calls for an "efficient system of high quality."
Public schools lack the proper incentives to fulfill this mandate. We need school choice.

John Biver

Monday, April 17, 2006

Money won't cure spenders

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Northwest Herald. To read this story in the Northwest Herald. Click on the title of the post.

Money won't cure spenders

[published on Mon, Apr 17, 2006]
Money won't cure spenders

To the Editor:
Dig deep; property tax bills are due in a few short weeks, and guess what? The new school taxes are retroactive to last year.

Surprised they raised your taxes for last year, too? They're going to skyrocket every year now.

The con men in your school district are laughing all the way to the bank.

Be sure to attend the next school board meeting; the agenda is "bigger raises for everyone" (and a super bonus with perks for the great administrator, too).

Does anyone think we've cured the education money problem? They've already planned the next referendum.

I really do feel sorry for our elderly; they've given everything, and now are forced to move because of education's taxing greed.

In a few short years, all the brainwashed students who celebrated this past election will realize that they can't afford a house or apartment, thanks to education insanity.

With 90 percent of your property tax going to education, how long before we have monthly property tax bills more than $1,000? Weekly?

It's a disgrace, criminal and has bankrupted the county, state and our future.

I do feel sorry for our schools. They are sick, and money won't cure them.

Bill Russin

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dr. Phony Ph.D.

How many teachers or administrators purchased their degrees on-line in your district? The below story appeared in the Daily Southtown newspaper.

Dr. Phony Ph.D.


By Kati Phillips

Daily Southtown

Special ed director had fake degrees

The director of one of the state's worst elementary school special education programs purchased her Ph.D. for about $250 from an Internet diploma mill specializing in metaphysical theology.
This is one of three apparently fake credentials on Judith Blakely's resume, the Daily Southtown has learned.

Blakely, who earns $75,000 a year as director of student services at Calumet Park School District 132, claims to be a 2000 graduate of the business ethics doctorate program at the American College of Metaphysical Theology, according to a copy of her resume obtained by the Southtown.

The suburban Minneapolis, Minn., outfit advertises a Ph.D. for a fee of $249 on its Web site, up from the $199 deal it offered when Blakely purchased hers.

The school has no campus, awards credit for "life experiences," and boasts most students graduate in 60 days.

Getting a Ph.D., according to the school's Web site, could mean increased salary, enhanced prestige and heightened credibility for recipients.

"Psychologically, the title 'Doctor' and the word 'healing' have a natural affinity in one's mind," it reads.

The Daily Southtown performed a background check on Blakely - turning up this fake degree and other false information - after reviewing state reports that outlined compliance problems within the Calumet Park School District 132 special education program, many of which predated her hire in 2003.

The Illinois State Board of Education is threatening to "nonrecognize" the district and withhold as much as $6.7 million this year and next if the issues are not corrected.

Blakely oversees $500,000 in grant money and the 1,300-student district's special education, bilingual and tutoring programs.

The ISBE has found that grant expenditures were not tracked, teachers were not certified in special education, and speech therapy and social work services were not provided to students.

When reached at the telephone number listed for her education consulting firm Thursday, Blakely declined to comment on the problems with the District 132 special education program on the advice of her lawyer, whom she declined to name.

Attempts to reach American College of Metaphysical Theology to verify Blakely's doctorate were unsuccessful.

A 1-800 number listed on the Web site rang to a woman who said she knew nothing about the college. The college did not respond to an e-mail request for verification.

Calumet Park School District 132 Supt. Doris Hope-Jackson, hired in 2004, was not surprised to hear Blakely had misrepresented her background.

Hope-Jackson said she had recommended the school board send Blakely for additional special education training because of ongoing problems in the program.

"I told (board president) Mr. Connor, I'm concerned. Things she should know, she doesn't know," Jackson said. "He said to let it go."

The phony Ph.D. is not the only fake degree on Blakely's resume, and Blakely did not respond to requests for information about the errors on her resume.

The Daily Southtown provided Blakely's maiden and married names, a partial Social Security number and partial birth date to other institutions she listed on her resume.

Two other degrees appear to be falsified.

Blakely claims she earned a "Master Online Teacher Certification" from the University of Illinois at Chicago, in 2003.

The title puzzled spokesman Bill Burton, who said that program did not exist. He checked variations of the title with university officials.

The university does not offer a master teaching certificate online nor does it offer a degree in online teaching, he said. And there was no record of a Judith Blakely Riggins attending the school in 2003 either, he said.

In addition, Blakely's resume lists two doctors of education degrees from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - one in higher education in 1998 and one in school leadership in 1993.

But spokesman Gariot Louima said Blakely received just one doctor of education degree in education leadership and that was in 1995.

Some educational experience listed on Blakely's resume checks out.

She did receive a master's degree from Governors State University in 2002. A spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education confirmed Blakely holds elementary and early childhood certificates and both superintendent and general administrator endorsements. She also has approvals for learning behavior specialist and building administrator for special education, he said.

A Chicago State University spokeswoman did not return a call last week to confirm Blakely received a master's degree there in 1985 and a bachelor's degree in 1980, as stated on her resume.

Prior to being hired as the director of student services at District 132, she was a well-regarded head teacher at Worthridge School, which is part of the Eisenhower Cooperative.

She is an adjunct professor at City Colleges of Chicago and DeVry University and is the executive director of the Best Practices in Education Consulting Firm in Homewood.

BPE LLC was approved in 2003 by the state to provide continuing education and professional development units to teachers, a state spokesman said.

On Supt. Hope-Jackson's recommendation, the District 132 school board on a recent 4 to 3 vote did not renew Blakely's contract for next year.

Blakely has not returned to work at the district since the state issued an 11-page non-compliance report in March. She has missed more than 90 days of work due to vacation and illness.

To view the rest of the story go in the Daily Southtown click here.