Friday, January 26, 2007

U-46 board should dump too generous offer to Neale

The following editorial appeared in the January 26th, 2007 edition of the Daily Herald. The editorial staff is correct and school boards across the state should take to heart the message in this editorial. It times for boards to tell both administrators and staff to stuff it.

U-46 board should dump too generous offer to Neale
The definitions and details may be in dispute, but there’s absolutely no doubt the Elgin Area District U-46 Board of Education has tentatively approved a 2006-07 superintendent compensation package for Connie Neale that will exceed $400,000.
The board, which has firsthand experience with financial trouble, appears to have developed a sad case of fiscal responsibility amnesia and forgotten the sacrifices made by many along the way.

Consternation over his own acquiescence last Saturday in the large pay-out drove school board member Daniel Rich of Elgin to resign Monday night, saying he felt it was excessive and the result of a “shakedown” of the board by Neale. Rich said Neale said she might leave if she didn’t get what she wanted.

Neale said Tuesday she never made such a threat. But board members acknowledged they spent part of their Saturday discussing a possible superintendent succession plan, something they wouldn’t have done without the possibility of a Neale departure on the table, especially given their glowing review of her performance.

Neale also contended in public statements that she doesn’t negotiate with the board about her pay package, but only provides context.

“I didn’t say I deserved anything,” she told a Daily Herald reporter. But her own words, as found in the submission she gave board members, argue differently.

“I believe those are remarkable feats and more than justify this special recognition,” said her statement to the board regarding an “Immediate Performance Bonus” of 10 percent to 20 percent.

“I believe that doesn’t fairly represent my work or the challenge of U-46,” Neale said of her salary in the “Immediate Salary Realignment” portion of her submission, where she noted she was significantly underpaid compared to other superintendents. If those aren’t arguments that she deserves more, what exactly are they?

And what were those “remarkable feats” Neale identified as deserving of a bonus? Elimination of the deficit and all elementary schools making annual yearly progress in 2006.

Yes, those are laudable accomplishments, and we’ve said so in this space. But they also are the duties for which she was already being paid handsomely. The school board fell victim to Neale’s “this is the market for superintendents” sales pitch and failed to ask the far more pertinent question: Can we afford this market and the financial expectations it will raise across the district?

Though the answer to that question clearly is “no,” the board agreed to a $20,000 raise from a salary of $242,000 to a salary of $262,000, backdated to last July. It OK’d a 10 percent tax-free bonus on top of that, another $26,200 or so plus the tax bill. That $46,200 increase would represent about a 19 percent hike for the year. That’s not likely to sit well with district employees who believe they’re the ones doing the real work. Nor will it sit well with Elgin taxpayers whose 2005 median annual household income of $51,232 would barely exceed Neale’s increase alone.

And those numbers don’t include the additional $133,000 or so tax dollars that will fund Neale’s time-in-service step increase, multiple pension plans, a retirement bonus, multiple insurance plans and automobile expenses.

Neale is, of course, free to ask for anything she likes in terms of compensation. But she ought not be offended if the public responds to her request by noting her greed and her lack of interest in its ability to pay. For bowing to those demands without a whimper, though, the school board is wholly responsible.

Board members also seem to have forgotten it was Neale who led them into the morass of a multimillion-dollar discrimination lawsuit, not because of overt discrimination during boundary discussions so much as disregard for residents of all colors. That behavior hasn’t been forgotten, and apparently hasn’t changed.

Still, the board is ultimately responsible for contract terms. It must reverse course before this deal is finalized and make a deal with which the public can live, even if it means Neale’s departure.

Quote of the day.
"Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough." Janwillem van de Wetering

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Squelching your right to speak out. Coming to a school district near you?

The following editorial appeared in the Daily Southtown and was posted on the Students First website.

Editorial: Residents have a right to speak


Daily Southtown

The issue: West Harvey-Dixmoor school officials warn residents not to speak "harshly" about the school district and its employees.

We say: Considering the cloud the district is under over questionable spending practices, citizens have a right to speak up about district operations and demand answers.

A true sign that a public official does not have a handle on what democracy is all about is when that official tries to stifle free speech.

The president of the board of embattled West Harvey-Dixmoor School District 147 read a statement at a recent board meeting that indicated he and his cohorts did not want to hear any discouraging words about the job they and other district officials are doing.

"At this point, we would like to caution everyone not to speak harshly or inadvisably about the board of education or the administrators in the public," board president J.C. Smith said. "Remarks made that are unsubstantiated, inappropriate or slanderous will be dealt with, and you might have to substantiate your statement."

Residents within the district have spoken up in the past, but after Smith's statement at the meeting, only one person spoke -- and that was to gush praise on the board.

But if people wanted to speak "harshly" about District 147 these days, they certainly would be justified. Last summer, a state audit uncovered questionable spending of grant money within the district. And last month, Cook County investigators raided district offices and the home of Supt. Alex Boyd and confiscated financial documents. They also arrested Boyd and charged him with not having a firearm registration card after a gun was found in his house.

If you were a taxpayer in District 147, wouldn't you like to know what the heck was going on? Of course you would. And one of the ways to get information is to speak up at public meetings and request it. Yet, when citizens are met with intimidating statements like Smith's, they might be reluctant to speak up, lest they be "dealt with." That's not how democracy should work.

If Smith and his fellow board members don't want to be criticized by the constituents they are supposed to serve, maybe they could do a better job overseeing business being conducted by employees on the public payroll in the first place. For example, where were they when the district was spending $2.2 million in state grant money -- money that was supposed to be spent in the classrooms -- on such things as expensive meals, limousine rides, Lake Michigan cruises and "clown service"?

Folks, we're talking about a school district that is one of the poorer ones in the area. A total of 97 percent of the students are classified as low-income. But state grant money, according to the audit, went for such things as "a large alcohol bill," meals at the swank Ruth's Chris Steak House, candy, televisions, cameras and fruit snacks.

And what does the board know about why prosecutors thought it important enough to take district documents back to their office for close examination?

Time will tell if those documents lead to further action by prosecutors. As for the audit, Smith claims a hearing later this year will clear the district of any perception of misspending.

Until then, though, the district remains under a microscope, and the people who live there deserve answers and should not be denied their right to speak up. Keep that in mind, Mr. Smith.

Public officials long have tried to silence the public and the press -- including this paper -- when they have had the temerity to question how they operated. We always refuse to back down, and we urge the citizens of District 147 not to back down because it's your right to demand answers, and you'll never know what you'll learn.

There was one Southland superintendent who a few years ago did everything he could to thwart the press and the public from learning about his fiefdom. In the end, courage and persistence paid off. And if you want to hear more of the story, feel free to contact that superintendent. His name is Thomas Ryan. He ran the school district in Sauk Village. Nowadays you can reach him through the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Quote of the day.

"There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government, the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions." Ludwig von Mises

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

D-300 closes out the public

What is next, will yes voters, parents and taxpayers learn? If we do not learn from history the referenda that Arndt is planning for 2011 (only 4 years away) will pass. District 15 in McHenry promised to pay back taxpayers several years ago. They reneged, never paid them back and asked for more with another referendum. The District 15 referendum passed not because many parents trusted the board but because they felt they had no choice. The board and district held the taxpayers' children's education over their head, many felt they had no choice but to vote yes. The result of spineless yes voters is only to ensure districts will use the same tactics to pass future referenda.

The article below appeared in the Northwest Herald editorial section.

D-300 closes out the public

District 300 officials have needlessly closed meetings, locking members of the public out of the public’s business.

In doing so, the district is being disrespectful to its constituents and risks violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act. District officials sorely need a reality check. On this issue, they have lost their way.

Let’s make a couple of things clear: Although the Open Meetings Act states that public bodies can sometimes close a meeting, it never states that a meeting must be closed. The law simply states that there are times – exceptions – when a public body can choose to close a meeting.

The intent of the law is for governmental entities in Illinois to conduct their business in public. Even when there might be cause to close a meeting, public officials should consider whether closing the proceeding really is necessary. Unfortunately, instead of looking to keep as many meetings as possible open to the public, officials often will do the opposite and search for any excuse to close the proceedings.

Generally, meetings can be closed for reasons such as personnel matters, land acquisition, and pending litigation. District 300 officials have interpreted this to mean that they can close any meeting relating to Superintendent Ken Arndt meeting his goals for the district because that information will be used to evaluate Arndt.

By this logic, just about every meeting District 300 has should be closed to the public. Clearly this is not a correct interpretation of the law. In another instance, district officials closed a meeting to discuss lightning in relation to an outdoor graduation ceremony. The reason given to close the meeting? Security.

District 300’s practice of closing these meetings creates the perception that it is trying to hide something – or things – from the public.

District 300 officials need to, individually, read the Open Meetings Act. They then need to change their thinking and policies relating to when a meeting should be closed. A safe rule of thumb for District 300 is this: When in doubt, keep the meetings open.

Quote of the Day

Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery. -- (1874) Benjamin Disraeli

Monday, January 22, 2007

Much A Buzz in District 300

Last year many people put in a good fight against the District 300 referenda. Those who spoke out against the referenda were not only vilified by the press but those who supported the referenda. The truth is prevailing but much too late. The Northwest Herald is painting a great picture as why not to support or trust school districts with future referenda, but alas it is too little too late. The Northwest Herald was the only paper to encourage a yes/yes vote for the referenda. But we all know the primary reporter who blatantly supported the referenda is now working for District 300.

We suggest the following as well titled Lower enrollment might not delay D-300 request in the Northwest Herald.

If that is not convincing enough how about Growth numbers fall in D-300
Year after referendum, projection falls almost 50 percent also in the Northwest Herald.

Not Settled in But Still Fighting

Dear Friends,

We are not settled in our new home in New Hampshire as we have not sold our home in Illinois. We are spending time in both homes. Until our home in Illinois is sold we will continue to fight for education reform and education spending reform as we are still paying taxes for schools.

We have started our new taxpayer advocacy/education reform group in New Hampshire called Croydon Citizens for Reasonable And Fair Taxes.

America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation. ~Laurence J. Peter