Saturday, July 29, 2006

Teachers: Illinois standards sub-par

The following piece was sent to us by Kevin Killion of the

The weakness of the academic standards used in Illinois schools is no surprise to us, but when the American Federation of Teachers agrees, you know there's a problem!

In a brand-new report, the AFT says:

-- Illinois needs to create grade-specific content standards in reading and math for elementary and middle school
-- None of the Illinois' reading and math test documents match the standards
-- Reading and math standards are not grade by grade in grades 3-8 and the high school standards are weak.
-- The test documents for the elementary and middle level science tests do not match the content standards.

The next time some politician or school district honcho starts yammering about our "strong standards", just yell out, "The teachers don't agree!"

For more on the problems of the Illinois standards, and reviews of them by the AFT and others, see this page on the website.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Monies contributed to the Advance 300 group.

Thanks to our friends at the Family Taxpayers Foundation
for sending us the information below. Cal Skinner's blog McHenry County also has some great information pertaining to this same subject.

A couple of interesting notes:
·         A Pre-Election report covering 1/1/06 to 2/19/06 was required to be filed by 03/19/06.  It is therefore significant that Arndt made this contribution just a few days after 2/19/06. 
·         Another requirement during the 30 days immediately prior to the election, which in this case would be 2/20 to 3/20, is that contributions in an aggregate of more than $500 must be reported within 2 business days.  The report used to do this is called an A-1 report.  Not only did Advance 300 fail to file this report within the required time fram, they still haven’t done so.
·         Advance 300 was evidently aware of this requirement.  During the same 30-day pre-election period, they filed 11 other A-1 reports for 15 other contributions as required.  The Arndt contribution is the only one that was not reported as required.  Other A-1 reports filed were:
o        A1 filed 2/27/06  B & H Industries            Contributed $1,000 on 2/25/06
o        A1 filed 2/28/06  TWJ Associates LTD      Contributed $1,000 on 2/27/06
o        A1 filed 2/28/06  Franczek Sullivan PC     Contributed $3,000 on 2/28/06
o        A1 filed 3/1/06   Robert Arthur Land Co.   Contributed $5,000 on 2/28/06    
o        A1 filed 3/3/06   Testing Service Corp      Contributed $1,000 on 3/1/06
DRH Cambridge Homes  Contributed $10,000 on 3/2/06
o        A1 filed 3/8/06   Morganstein Sanford      Contributed $1,000 on 3/7/06
o        A1 filed 3/10/06  HPI- Elgin LLC               Contributed $5,000 on 3/10/06
PHI- Hampshire Inc        Contributed $5,000 on 3/10/06    
o        A1 filed 3/12/06  Christopher Stanton       Contributed $750 on 3/12/06
o        A1 filed 3/15/06  Brier Hil Crossing LLC    Contributed $1,000 on 3/15/06
Kimball Hill Homes         Contributed $5,000 on 3/15/06
o        A1 filed 3/17/06  Aurora Venture/Crown    Contributed $10,000 on 3/17/06
KB Home IL Inc             Contributed $20,000 on 3/17/06
o        A1 filed 3/20/06  Grand Pointe Homes Inc Contributed $2,500 on 3/20/06
·          The only In-Kind contribution received during the 30 days immediately prior to the Primary election was $500 from Aramark Corp.  This did not require an A1 report.  Isn’t Aramark the vendor whose representative was heard stating that Crates may have solicited a contribution for Advance 300 at the time that this vendor’s contract was being negotiated with D300?
·         A1s are required for aggregate contributions of over $500.  Interestingly, there were several individuals that contributed up to that limit but not over it.  They include:
o        Joseph & Lynn Cavellaro of West Dundee - $500 on 3/14/06
o        Fred Fox of Carpentersville - $500 on 3/3/06
o        Gateway Barrington of Dallas, TX  (same address as Housing Resources Co LC) - $500 on 3/3/06
o        Charles and Karen Henderson of West Dundee - $500 on 2/22/06
o        Housing Resources Co. LC of Dallas, TX (same address as Gateway Barrington) - $500 on 3/3/06
o        Schain Burney Ross & Citron Ltd of Chicago - $500 on 3/14/06
o        Nancy Zettler of Algonquin - $500 on 5/3/06  (Nancy is President of Advance300)
·         A couple of other contributions of note:
o        Chuck Bumbales, D300’s Operations Officer contributed $300 on 3/3/06
o        John Court, D300 Board President (at the time) contributed $300 on 1/28/06 (appeared on Pre-Election report)
o        Cheryl Crates, D300’s CFO contributed $450 on 2/14/06 (appeared on Pre-Election report)
o        Walter & Denise Hay of Crystal Lake contributed $450 on 2/22/06.  Walter, a D300 Asst Supt, made $122,385 in 2005.  There is a Denise Hay working for D-214 with a salary of $115,358 for 2005.
o        Marce Kersten of Crystal Lake contributed $200 on 3/14/06.  Marce is a D300 high school teacher who made $68,216 in 2005.
o        David & Jill Scarpino contributed $400 on 2/22/06.  David is also a D300 Asst Supt.  He made $135,058 in 2005.
Truly, this was a case of developers, realtors, and educrats versus the taxpayers.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Unions Defend Bad Teachers'Tenure - At Students' Expense

The following article was written by Michael Chapman, published and copyrighted by Investor's Business Daily - National Issue.on September 21, 1998. We found this article at the Waking

This article stands the test of time.

Unions Defend Bad Teachers'Tenure - At Students' Expense

The teacher was caught drinking in the classroom. But public school officials in Northern Virginia couldn't fire her.

Why? Tenure laws.

''Everybody in the county knows she's a drunk,'' one parent told IBD. ''But they can't fire her. Yeah, she's got a problem and needs help. But you have to draw the line -for the kids. It's a drug-free zone.''

Such stories are commonplace. Bad teachers, poor learning - nothing seems to change. And despite complaints, it doesn't look like teacher tenure in public schools will change soon.

''I don't see that forthcoming,'' said Chuck Sambar, a member of the Glendale (Calif.) Unified School District board. ''I recognize that the power and muscle of the teacher organizations in California are so dominant over the state Legislature that the legislators are not too inclined to mess with them.''

What about the students?

A University of Tennessee study found that student test scores are lower in classrooms run by incompetent teachers.

The effects seem to last. The study showed that fifth-graders who had studied under bad teachers since second grade scored 54 to 60 points lower on math tests than students under good teachers. Scores didn't change much when the poorly performing students were placed with better teachers.

''If an ineffective teacher isn't dealt with, children can be permanently harmed,'' said researcher William Sanders. ''They don't just bounce back.''

There are 2.6 million public school teachers. About 18%, or 468,000 teachers, are incompetent, according to Mary Jo McGrath, who runs McGrath Systems Inc. in Santa Barbara, Calif. McGrath, an attorney, has surveyed 50,000 school administrators and helped schools remove lousy teachers. Other estimates put the number of bad teachers at around 135,000, or 5% of the total. No one knows the exact number.

However, tenure makes firing bad teachers hard and costly. On average, it takes two to three years to dismiss a tenured teacher. Each case costs about $60,000. Appeals raise the costs.

A '94 study by the New York State School Boards Association found that it takes 455 days and $176,870 on average for a school board to fire a teacher in that state. If the teacher appeals, costs jump to $317,000.

Also, ''the public school bureaucracy controls the state legislatures' education committees,'' said Kay O'Connor, a GOP Kansas state representative. She's also head of the Kansas City-based Parents in Control, a school-reform lobbying group.

''Tenure is a very hot issue,'' she said. ''If a legislator brings it up, it's a battle royal. . . . Unless you're molesting children or robbing banks, you can't be fired. Unions fight for poor-performing teachers because then the schools hire more remedial teachers. More teachers equals more money for the union.''

A tenure reform in place in a few districts is ''peer review.'' Instead of principals watching teachers and deciding whom to fire, teachers evaluate teachers. It's a mentor- protege approach to tenure. Public school supporters see it as a plus. Critics, however, view it as a way for teachers unions to strengthen their hold over schools.

''Unions are aware of the criticism that tenure protects bad teachers,'' said education author Myron Lieberman, head of the Education Policy Institute. ''So, their attitude is, 'We'll take over the process.' If unions take over the review process, it'll make a worse disaster of the schools - if that's possible.'' He added that while such moves appear to be reform, they really aren't - the ''major practical effect will be to extend teacher union control over public education,'' Lieberman said.

About 80% of teachers have tenure. All states and the District of Columbia have tenure laws. The two major unions - the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers - negotiated these rules. The rules vary. However, most states require new teachers to go through a three-to five-year probation. Then they're tenured. Contracts may run to 100 pages.

School boards may try to dismiss a teacher for lots of reasons: incompetence, immorality, unprofessional conduct and, in California and Nevada, for teaching communism. Also, there are state and federal laws that teachers may use to hold onto their jobs or their teaching certificates.

Firing a bad teacher is tough. In Connecticut, for instance, superintendents cannot dismiss teachers without pay. This is ''tantamount to a paid vacation,'' reported the Yankee Institute, a regional think tank.

The suspended teacher gets full salary while the superintendent plans a due process hearing. This takes about six months. At the same time, the school has to pay for a substitute teacher. An Impartial Hearing Panel then must issue a recommendation. The cost of each hearing ranges from $400 to $750.

While this occurs, the teacher, backed by the union and its lawyers, may appeal. This delay raises the school board's costs, often by more than $100,000. Eventually, most schools either pay the teacher off or transfer him.

The Yankee Institute reported that a teacher in Ridgefield, Conn., continued to get a salary of $55,000 while suspended. The school board's hearing and legal costs totaled more than $250,000. The teacher then countersued under federal law, claiming age discrimination and alleged violations of free speech.

Another Connecticut teacher was essentially paid off. She resigned, withdrew her countersuits, and got $200,000 plus severance and legal fees.

''Our tenure laws protect ineffective and unmotivated teachers and administrators,'' said Republican New York state Assemblywoman Debra Mazzarelli. ''Removing a tenured employee from his or her position is so difficult, expensive and time-consuming that for all intents it is impossible.''
Mazzarelli introduced a bill in '97 to replace tenure with five-year renewable contracts. It didn't pass. ''The teachers unions were able to stop this,'' Dave Kinley, deputy executive director of the New York State School Board Association, said.

According to Tampa, Fla.-based Family First: ''Tenure creates an environment where there is simply no incentive to be a good teacher. . . . Serving time is what is rewarded, not teaching excellence. . . . Only truly egregious cases are likely to lead to attempts at dismissal. The reason is simple: It can cost local districts a fortune.''

Teachers may have needed union protection and tenure decades ago because of racial or religious bigotry. But there are so many laws to protect people today, Sambar says, teachers don't need the unions anymore. And the unions know this.

''The unions' mission is teachers, not children,'' said O'Connor, noting that there are more than 50 pro-union education lobbyists at the Kansas Legislature. ''They want as many teachers as possible making as much money as possible. This is why they support smaller classes. It means more teachers, more pay, more money for the union.''

Sambar agrees. ''Good teachers do not need tenure. Poor or incompetent teachers use it to protect their jobs.''
(The article " Unions Defend Bad Teachers" Tenure - At Students' Expense " was written by Michael Chapman,
published and copyrighted by Investor's Business Daily - National Issue.on September 21, 1998.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Excessive fees violate information act

Cyndi Klapperich has a great FYI column in the Northwest Herald.

Excessive fees violate information act

[published on Tue, Jul 25, 2006]
If you're a representative of a public body charging 25 cents or more per page for Freedom of Information Act responses, you should read this.

You might want to invite Terry Mutchler of the Illinois attorney general's office out for a training session before a citizen complaint draws her attention your way.

Here's the law.

The Freedom of Information Act permits a public body to charge a reasonable copying fee "not to exceed the actual cost of reproduction and not including the costs of any search or review of the records."
That means it's acceptable, when a posted fee structure is in place as also required by law, to charge for the cost of your paper, ink and the operation of your machinery. It is not acceptable, in fact it is illegal, to charge for staff time.

If you truly believe that someone is using the Freedom of Information Act purely to harass, again, call Mutchler. It does happen. She knows. But she also can help you get beyond it without breaking the law in the process.

A message I received on my answering machine recently from Lakemoor Village President Virginia Povidas indicated that confusion reigns regarding the Freedom of Information Act and fees. And I'm certain Lakemoor is not alone in its confusion.

First, there's the fee itself. Lakemoor charges 25 cents a page, about 17 cents more than is charged by any of several for-profit printing companies I contacted in the McHenry area Monday. If a place that's out to make a buck charges 8 cents a page, and Lakemoor charges 25 cents, well, you do the math.
Lakemoor routinely has charged the Northwest Herald this fee in recent weeks, although a request for documentation of its copying costs was fulfilled for free.

Those documents show that Lakemoor pays less than a penny a page for its copying paper. It's more difficult to calculate what its per-page ink costs are. But one receipt, from Canon Business Solutions, indicates a cost of slightly more than a penny and a half per metered page.

Further, Povidas said in a voice mail she left me that the decision to charge was because of the "time it's taking the girls to gather all of this information." Please reread the act, Virginia, or peruse it for the very first time. Charging for staff time is prohibited.

A quick check of just a couple of other public bodies indicates that Lakemoor is not alone in charging beyond what could reasonably be considered "actual copying costs." The village of Johnsburg also charges 25 cents a page, and Huntley School District 158 charges 50 cents a page.

Mutchler, the public access counselor for the Illinois attorney general's office, said anyone who believed that a public body was charging more than was legal under the act was welcome to file a complaint with her office. A few sentences generally suffice.

Call (217) 782-1090 or visit for information.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Letter to the editor: Teachers not cutting it

The following letter appeared in the Northwest Herald and on Students First.

Letter to the editor: Teachers not cutting it


Northwest Herald

Why on earth does this poor child need to have tutoring if the school is adequately educating him? How can the school continually push him through?

He is in the special-education program, which should be a very individualized program, yet he is catching up with tutoring. How sad. Five grade levels in one summer.

This boy seems to be teachable, and Greg Buchanan needs to know that learning is obvious and proven, not an appearance.

As a professional, I know that true knowledge cannot be staged. If this boy is learning with a tutor and moving up in grade-level comprehension, maybe Buchanan's objective data isn't so objective.

Maybe some of the teachers are simply doing a poor job. Buchanan needs to re-evaluate the program for students who aren't succeeding.

Tutoring should be as the story states, a means to do better. No one should need tutoring to move up five grade levels.

Deborah Foster

Crystal Lake

Monday, July 24, 2006

Nation’s first equestrian high school close to opening

Canned public schooling is failing American children. New Hampshire has an innovative school opening this fall. The following article appears in the New Hampshire newspaper the Union Leader.

Nation’s first equestrian high school close to opening
Union Leader Staff
Sunday, Jul. 16, 2006

ROCHESTER – With federal grant money finally in the bank, what’s envisioned as the nation’s first public equestrian high school is much closer to becoming a reality.

Susan Hollins, superintendent of the New Hampshire Equestrian Academy charter school, deposited $189,000 in school accounts last month. The money will be put to work immediately, as school officials scramble to meet a self-imposed deadline of opening in September.

“This is the first school of its kind we can find in the public sector,” said Hollins. “There’s a great need and interest for a school like this, but the facilities issue is daunting. It’s understandable that a school like this doesn’t exist.”

Hollins compared the academy to schools for tennis or music prodigies, but she emphasized it will be first and foremost a college preparatory high school.

“It’s a college prep program with a complete equine studies career program,” she said.
Students accepted

Leslie Bryan, president of the academy’s board of trustees, said seven students had been accepted for the fall prior to a recent open house. That event proved successful, as the school now has 18 ninth- and 10th-graders lined up for the fall.

It will begin with those grade levels and expand to a full, four-year high school as the first class progresses toward graduation.

Although it doesn’t have its own facilities yet, the academy has a home thanks to the donation of land and use of buildings from Dr. Grant Myhre, owner of the 110-acre Myhre Equine Clinic.

Myhre runs the only large referral hospital for horses in New England. Over the past several years, he’s refocused his practice from veterinary surgery to primarily high-tech diagnostic work.

He said he has always been involved in education — he’s taught university courses and regularly holds continuing education conferences for farriers and veterinarians — so playing host to the equine academy feels like a natural fit.

Until the school can build its own facilities, Myhre will donate half a house for classrooms and two barns which now sit largely unused.

Grand plans
Through grant money and fundraising efforts, school officials plan to eventually build an academic building/conference center, an indoor arena, a small stable with school-owned horses, and a small building for equine studies classes.

Bryan said the academy must now hire two teachers qualified not only in various classroom disciplines, but who also meet criteria to lead the equine studies program.

A major hindrance in marketing the school and finding teachers to staff has been financial uncertainty, said Bryan.

Getting the grant money is nice — it’s essential — but she wishes it had arrived awhile ago. A little over $200,000 more will come the school’s way as part of the nearly $400,000, 36-month federal grant.

The state will also give the school about $3,700 per student, roughly one-third what “mainstream” public schools receive on average.

While money will probably always be a source of concern for charter schools, Hollins and Bryan said other aspects of the equestrian academy are on solid ground. Most importantly, they said, a challenging curriculum is being finalized.

“I wanted a high standard high school,” said Bryan, “where students would not only be prepared for any college in the country but they would also have a portfolio of work. The students we attract are incredibly bright students who also have a passion for horses.”

Heavy course load
Equestrian academy students will be expected to take more courses than their peers at other schools because there will be no drop-off in traditional classes and an additional requirement in equine studies.

Traditional classes will also be tweaked with an eye toward equines. For example, said Bryan, students will look at the role horses have played while studying world history, and literature choices will have an equine theme.

The academy will have an equestrian team, but Hollins emphasized that it shouldn’t be considered a riding school. “At least four of the students enrolling have said they want to be veterinarians,” she said.

The students, said Bryan, have come from across the state. A couple are planning to carpool each day from Keene. It’s that kind of commitment, she said, that will allow the academy to prosper.

“Horse people are just very creative and driven,” said. “We have done almost no advertising, but we have had interest, not only in New Hampshire, but all over the country.”

Hollins envisions the academy flourishing and becoming a drawing card for the area.
“The potential of this school to have an impact on the New Hampshire economy is really significant,” she said. “This is an events kind of school. Events planning and management is going to be one of the courses.”

Good example
As a model, Hollins points to the Big E, the huge two-week agricultural exposition held each fall in West Springfield, Mass.

“This school has many possibilities to help the state that people won’t realize until it’s open and running,” she said. “The potential to help Rochester and to help students develop the background to open their own business, should they chose to do that, is huge.”
For more information, email

Sunday, July 23, 2006

State rips school district

The following article appears in the Chicago Tribune.

Jo Napolitano did an excellent job reporting on this story. The story below is not an uncommon story. Research and investigate your own district and you will find waste, fraud, corruption and/or patronage. Many people are doing this across Illinois. The find it to be enjoyable, educating and an enlightening experience. It is also tough work at times because you will might a wall of resistance. School districts will get away with whatever they can unless someone is watching over them. This all can be done in as little as one hour a week.

State rips school district
Harvey-Dixmoor told to repay millions

By Jo Napolitano
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 20, 2006

The Illinois State Board of Education wants West Harvey-Dixmoor Elementary School District 147 to return more than $2.2 million in federal and state grants, saying the money was either unaccounted for or misspent.

It is unclear how the cash-strapped district would repay the money, but state officials say it could be deducted from future grants.

An inch-thick report from the monthslong investigation into how the district spent about $10.2 million in grants over a 3-year period ending in 2005 was released Wednesday. It includes numerous rebuttals from the district, although state officials deemed most of the claims "inadequate."

Robert Wolfe, head of the state board's external assurance division, said his office has a legal and moral obligation to make sure the grants "get to the kids who need it the most."

Although many of the district's employees may be working hard to educate children, the spending and record-keeping practices are unacceptable, Wolfe said. The state plans to regularly monitor the district, although no formal plan has been established, he added.

District parents say they are disgusted but not surprised by the findings. David Scott, father of two students, said Supt. Alex Boyd and school board members should be held accountable.

"I think [Boyd] should have stepped down a long time ago," Scott said. "And the school board needs to step down because they allowed it."

Kevin Gordon, an attorney representing the district, had not yet seen the state report but said the district stands by its claims.

"The school district's position is that it has not misspent those monies and that it will be reviewing this matter with the state board," Gordon said.

Neither Boyd nor Assistant Supt. Laurice Geanes could be reached for comment.

The state's attorney's office has asked for a copy of the report and is conducting an investigation of the district, said a source familiar with the probe. State officials say the $2.2 million includes more than $119,000 in meals, $157,000 in travel and $211,000 for salaries and benefits, none of which is allowable under terms of the grants. The district spent $119,491 on items including clown services, cameras, televisions, furniture and T-shirts, which are also not allowed.

Records show the state found more than 200 questionable expenditures in Title I funds alone. That money is earmarked for children from low-income families to help them meet state academic standards.

Almost 97 percent of the district's 1,715 students are considered low-income, and only 36.2 percent passed the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests in 2004-05. Statewide, almost 70 percent passed.

The district used Title I funds to purchase $250 worth of costumes and wigs for an end-of-the-year party, $562 for Fannie May candies and $471 for a pizza party for students with perfect attendance, records show. Thousands more was spent on electronic equipment, including a $328 digital camera.

School officials used the same grant to pay a visiting speaker about $7,200 to talk about student achievement. An additional $2,400 was spent on baby-sitters to allow parents to attend a school meeting.

Then there's the food.

Mini-Kaiser sandwich trays, chicken, salads and rolls and other meals added thousands more; a lunch cruise in February 2005 cost $1,800.

The district also spent hundreds on Christmas stockings, furniture and tote bags. Officials had trophies engraved, spent more than $1,200 on catering and flowers for a teachers' meeting and bought a mini-fridge, all with grant money.

They took numerous trips but didn't keep adequate records or receipts, state officials said. It's hard to tell who went where and for what purpose in some cases. As a result, the state has urged the district to come up with a more formal travel reimbursement policy.

School officials have long complained about a shrinking tax base and deteriorating state aid, but critics believe officials have squandered the funding they did get.

Scott said the district's leaders lost sight of their purpose--to serve the children of West Harvey/Dixmoor.

"It's about our students and their education," he said. "Are we concerned about our students at all? I think they deserve a chance."

Wayne Tellis, who lives in the district, is weary of what he termed the school board's double talk.

"I just think it's unconscionable that the officials have taken the citizens for fools," he said. "I'm not totally surprised because there were so many indications. I just had in the back of my mind, `There's something wrong here.'"

Tellis, whose wife teaches in the district, and Scott said they were suspicious of the district's spending practices in light of the reluctance to hand over certain financial documents that should be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

Even school board members have said the district's leadership is unwilling to share basic financial information.

Board member Bonnie Rateree said she had not seen the state's report, but would research the matter on Thursday.

"That's my job; to find out and to hold people accountable."


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune