Senate Bill 16 controversy set to explode

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Expect fireworks at Conrady’s town hall meeting

Taxpayer anger appears to be building a head of steam this week over proposed state legislation that may result in the loss of millions of dollars in state aid to local public schools, cutbacks that include layoffs, and significant local property tax increases—all in the name of fairness.
That anger may burst like a factory steam whistle next week at two town hall meetings designed to examine the projected effects of Senate Bill 16, the School Funding Reform Act of 2014.
The events are set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Conrady Junior High School, 7959 W. 97th St., Hickory Hills, and 6 to 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 23, at Sandburg High School, 13300 S. La Grange Road, Orland Park.
Steve Walker, a resident of Hickory Hills, used a parallel from folklore to illustrate his take on the situation.
“I get angry when I read about the bill’s supporters calling where I live ‘a wealthy school district.’ I mean really, are they kidding?” he asked. “They seem to think they’re Robin Hood doing a good thing for the poor, but I’m here to tell you: I’m not the Sheriff of Nottingham. People in my town struggle to pay our bills, just like everyone else.”
Maria Hernandez said that she and her family “moved to Palos Hills seven years ago, in large part because of the good schools—but now we’re going to get cut like this? It makes no sense at all to me.”
“We’re getting fleeced in the name of fairness,” said Orland Park resident Dianne Brady, one of several local taxpayers who spoke Saturday outside the Jewel/Osco near 131st Street and La Grange Road. “Look, I’m all for poorer school districts receiving more state funds, but not at the expense of my children. Rather than change the way we slice the pie, why not work together to make the pie bigger?”
The featured speaker at the meetings will be Robert Grossi, Bloom Township treasurer and president of Crystal Financial Consultants, which provides financial advisory services to school districts throughout the state. A number of elected officials, school board members, school administrators, parents and other taxpayers are expected to attend.
The event is open to everyone living in School Districts 117, 118, 127, 135, 140, 146, and 230.

SB 16, which passed the Illinois Senate in late May, is expected to be considered by the state House of Representatives as early as January, according to the bill’s opponents—although SB 16’s supporters have scoffed at that and pointed to the spring session of the General Assembly.
The bill’s principal sponsor is State Senator Andy Manar, a freshman Democrat from Central Illinois elected in 2012 with support from the Illinois Education Association. A teacher by training, Manar is the former chief of staff to Senate President John Cullerton.
Manar describes SB 16 on his website as “a proposal to streamline the current hodgepodge of funding sources into one funding formula that would account for school districts’ funding needs. Today, only 44 percent of the state education spending is balanced against a local district’s ability to pay.

Winner and losers
In its current form, passage of SB 16 would mean annual state aid losses of approximately $7 million for Consolidated High School District 230, which features Stagg, Sandburg and Andrew High Schools.
Other Southwest Suburban schools would suffer losses, as well, including approximately:
• $1.4 million each for Palos School District 118 and Worth School District 127
• $1.9 million for Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123
• $1.6 million for Alsip-Hazelgreen-Oak Lawn School District 126
• $839,000 for Oak Lawn Community High School District 229
• $839,000 for Evergreen Park Elementary School District 124
• $364,000 for Atwood Heights School District 125
• $330,000 for Chicago Ridge School District 127-S
• $312,000 for Evergreen Park Community High School District 231
High School District 218 would see an annual gain of about $934,000 in state aid under the proposed re-formulation, but Palos Heights School District 128 would lose about $574,000.

Schools weigh in
Several local school officials have weighed in with expressions of concern.
SB 16 is a “disastrous” proposal that “would negatively impact class size and educational programs at each of our three schools,” wrote Palos School District 118 Superintendent Anthony Scarsella in an open letter to the community. 
The proposal “provides no additional funding for K-12 public education,” he added. “It merely redistributes the current inadequate pool of state resources. Senate Bill 16 pits school district against school district, community against community, and parent against parent as we all chase the same few state dollars that exist for K-12 education.”
In a letter penned by Palos Heights School District 128 Superintendent Kathleen Casey and signed by her and the school board, SB 16 was rapped because it “does not take into account those districts that have been financially responsible and maintained balanced budgets. It penalizes half of the school districts in the state for being in counties that limit annual property tax increases.
“SB 16 is strongly opposed by special-needs advocacy groups that feel it will negatively impact special needs education,” she added. “It does not ensure funding will end up in the classroom of the recipient school districts to improve student achievement. SB 16 may be modified to also include a shift in pension costs to local property taxpayers. 
“The loss of these revenues would have dire consequences on our educational programming and staffing,” Casey continued. “This bill would require significant cuts or else force the district to seek additional local funding through a referendum or increase in fees.”

Dems vs. GOP
Political support for SB 16 has mostly fallen along partisan lines, with support from Chicago area and downstate Democrats and opposition from suburban Republicans.
Notable exceptions to that include 18th District State Senator Bill Cunningham, a Chicago Democrat whose district includes a number of suburbs. Earlier this year, he broke ranks to vote against the measure.
Also bolting the Democratic Party on SB 16 are 35th District State Representative Fran Hurley and 36th District State Representative Kelly Burke.
Burke said she finds the proposed legislation “troubling” and that the re-formulation is flawed in that it assumes that local school districts “are wealthy, when they are not, for the most part. They are middle class.”
She also said that SB 16 merely doles out more state aid to certain school districts without requiring accountability regarding how the funds will be spent.
In a standard response to constituents who asked, 14th District State Senator Emil Jones III—who voted for SB 16 last spring—noted that the bill “is by no means perfect and will not become law in its current form.”
He added that the kind of education a child receives should not be dictated by “the ZIP code where he/she lives.”
Beyond politics, Jones added that the proposed legislation has “started a debate we are having now on how to better educate all of our students and prepare them for the future.”


  • Written by Jeff Vorva

jv taljk Jeffs Col Impressions

Four face drug and assault charges after violent sting operation in OL

  • Written by Bob Rakow

In a story eerily similar to a script of “Breaking Bad,” four men are facing federal drug charges after being nabbed last Friday in an undercover sting in Oak Lawn, authorities said.

Charges were filed in federal court against Abelardo Dominguez, 59, of Mexico; Francisco Narvaez, 29, of Chicago; Peter Pietrzak, 44; and Montrail Key, 37, both of Joliet, for attempting to possess with intent to deliver a controlled substance—methamphetamine, according to a criminal complaint.
Narvaez and Key also were charged with forcibly assaulting a Drug Enforcement Agency agent, the complaint said.
The incident took place last Friday afternoon at 105th Street and Cicero Avenue near the Huck Finn Restaurant moments after Drug Enforcement Agency agents conducted a transaction with the four offenders in the parking lot of McDonald’s, the complaint said.
Following the transaction and a brief pursuit, two of the four offenders attempted to run over federal agents with their vehicles and agents fired their weapons, striking Narvaez, who was treated at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn before being released into police custody, the complaint said.
The altercation began after several DEA surrounded the offenders’ two vehicles and exited their cars.
Narvaez put the pickup truck he was driving in reverse and smashed into the car driven by Key. Key accelerated, causing the car to jump the curb and head toward two agents, the compliant said.
One agent was pinned against a light pole, and the car then headed toward a second agent. The pickup truck also jumped the curb and drove directly toward the agents, who opened fire on both vehicles, the compliant said.
The pickup then fled, heading west on 105th Street. Moments later it turned down a dead-end street, where Narvaez fled on foot, the complaint said. Pietrzak was arrested in the back of the truck. Narvaez was arrested moments later in a nearby residential area, according to the complaint.
Dominguez was arrested at McDonald’s. The other car, driven by Key, was stopped 15 minutes later on 95th Street by Evergreen Park police. Key was arrested at the scene, the complaint said.
The four men remain in custody.
According to the criminal complaint, the investigation goes back to early August when agents from the DEA’s Mexico office informed Chicago agents of a narcotics broker in Chicago.
The DEA agents in Mexico were told by a confidential informant, who works for a Mexican drug cartel, that the informant was instructed to go to Chicago to find a buyer for 10 pounds of methamphetamine, the complaint said.
The informant told the DEA that he knew Dominguez, a drug broker, as he was a long-time friend of his from Mexico, the complaint said.
The informant traveled to Chicago on Aug. 21 and informed Dominguez that he had 10 pounds of methamphetamine to sell. Dominguez expressed an interest in purchasing the drug, which cost $15,000 per pound, the complaint said.
On Oct. 1, Dominguez called the informant telling him he was prepared to purchase the drug. The informant arranged a transaction between Dominguez and an associate, who in reality was an undercover DEA agent, according to the complaint.
On Oct. 2, Dominguez called the undercover agent and agreed to meet him the following day at an Oak Lawn coffee shop. Dominguez told the undercover agent that he did not have enough money to purchase 10 pounds of methamphetamine, but could get enough money to buy four or five pounds, the complaint said.
The undercover agent agreed to sell the smaller amount at $15,000 per pound. Dominguez said he needed to collect the money from a couple of associates and would return shortly.
Several hours later, Dominguez and the agent agreed during a phone call to meet at McDonald’s at 105th Street and Cicero Avenue to consummate the transaction, the complaint said.
Dominguez arrived at McDonald’s at 2 p.m. in a pick-up truck driven by Narvaez, the complaint said. They entered the restaurant and met the undercover agent.
Moments later, another car, driven by Key with Pietrzak as a passenger, arrived at McDonald’s. Pietrzak, who was carrying a medium-sized drawstring bag, placed it in the pickup truck, the complaint said.
The agent walked with Dominguez to the pickup truck. He observed five bundles of cash in the bag in denominations of $100s and $20s. After seeing the cash, the undercover agent called a colleague and instructed him to bring the methamphetamine to parking lot, the complaint said.
In fact, the agent delivered a cooler full of “sham” drugs packaged to resemble methamphetamine.
The cooler containing the sham drugs was placed in the pickup truck and Dominguez drove away as did the undercover agents. Dominguez then re-entered McDonald’s.

Moments later, the pickup truck, driven by Narvaez with Pietrzak in the rear seat, exited the McDonald’s lot, the complaint said. A car, driven by Key, drove behind the pickup truck.

Jeff Vorva's ImPRESSions: As RIchards exits, new owners hope to make their Mark

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col Impressions

“Every issue of the paper, you have to give your readers at least one thing they can’t get anywhere else.’’

Those were the words of wisdom from Charles Richards.

The guy who used to own this newspaper.

The guy whose family owned this newspaper and the Regional for decades.

It’s no longer Charles in Charge around here.

On Friday, Richards signed the papers that sold the papers (and a building that includes everything from the press to the rusty paper clips in a drawer that probably hasn’t been open since the 1970s) to a group led by Mark Hornung and Steve Landek. Regional Publishing will be known as Southwest Regional Publishing Company – or SRPC.

One day, we hope that we will be as popular and well known as other folks who share those initials – the Secure Remote Payment Council, the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada, the Saudi Research and Publishing Company, the Stones River Pony Club, and, of course, the Stillwater Rifle and Pistol Club.

For now, we go through a transition. It’s both a scary and exciting time for us.

We think the new owners like what we’re doing here. We think that we’ve been making strides informing and entertaining our readers at these two papers. And we know darn well that it’s a lot more than once that we give our readers something they can’t get anywhere else.

Amy Richards will stay on as the publisher, which is good because we know her and she knows us and she knows the nine communities that the two papers serve. It’s not like some hotshot from parts unknown is going to come in here making a bunch of demands and suggestions even though he or she couldn’t find Harlem Avenue if you gave them a GPS.

So there will be a Richards still overseeing the ship.

Meanwhile, for Charles it will be a bittersweet first week away from a business that’s been in his blood for years.

A big part of him will miss it. A small part of him will be glad to be rid of all the headaches of running in a newspaper in these lousy economic times.

Hornung, on the other hand, appears to be an aggressive go-getter who will be dishing out the headaches rather than receiving them. The other papers he runs – including the nearby Southwest News Herald and Desplaines Valley News – have a heck of a lot of ads and the papers have a nice look to them.

The past couple of weeks have been historic, emotional and frankly, a little weird for us with the changes afoot. But we will soldier on and keep trying to give the readers a reason to look forward to Thursdays.

As for Charles? I’ve only known him for two years and while most of the people here have known him longer and have better stories to tell, I’ll leave you with this one:

In late July, he was in the middle of some important business and as he was about to go into an office for a power meeting, he said something loudly. Me being one of the human jukeboxes in the office, I sang whatever line it was that he said.

Well, that didn’t go over too well.

He shouted “Shut up!” to me and slammed the door. There were chuckles from the others in the office about that. Vorva was in trouble.

A few minutes later, he came out with a rolled up newspaper and I was thinking “Geez, I wonder if he’s going to hit me with that paper…” He said in a stern voice “Let me tell you something…”

I was all ready for a lecture about either office decorum or about how bad my singing voice is.

Instead he spent a few minutes complimenting me on how much he loved a previous issue of the paper.

You never know what you are going to get from Charles.

I do know this -- I received some interesting insight on the world of newspapers then and now from the man. I didn’t always agree with him, but I learned from him. And so did a lot of others in this building.

The Reporter and Regional will go on without him. But a part of him will stay with this place forever.

And in his honor, I will do my best to keep giving the readers something they can’t get anywhere else.


Palos Hills - Check next water bill to learn how to jam scams

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

The Palos Hills Police Department has a message it wants to get out to residents and is using the city’s water bill as the means to do so.
  Public Safety Committee Chairman Alderman Marty Kleefisch told the council last Thursday that all homeowners will receive a double-sided newsletter containing crime prevention tips inside the October water bill. The newsletter was completely funded by the police department, Kleefisch said.
  The heart of the newsletter is a section alerting senior citizens to the growing number of scams targeting the elderly. Kleefisch said the latest scam involves a youthful-sounding person calling a senior citizen claiming to be a family member who is having an emergency in a foreign country and needs to have money wired to them.
  “They are professional con artists,” Kleefisch said. “I’ve gotten calls like this too, but now I usually don’t answer them and that’s what I encourage our residents to do. If they leave a message call and report them to the police.”
  Palos Hills Police Chief Paul Madigan said telephone scams like this are being reported to the police department “on a daily basis.” He said one senior citizen from Palos Hills recently fell victim to this type of scam and sent $2,000 to the caller. It was only when the caller phoned again asking for an additional $1,000 did she become suspicious and notify police.
  “Thankfully she didn’t send the extra $1,000 but she was already out the $2,000 that she sent earlier,” Madigan said. “These calls all come from overseas so it’s almost impossible to track down the person making the calls.”
  Madigan said one way to ensure the caller is legitimately a family member is to call them back at a known number.
  “We’re telling people to never send any money until they can verify the story,” he said.
  Madigan also warned residents to be on the alert of email scams from the “stranded traveler” asking the recipient to send money.
  “Our advice is don’t open the email if you are unsure who the sender is,” he said.
  The newsletter also includes information on identity theft and winter traffic safety.

‘Couldn’t stop smiling’
  In other news, Mayor Gerald Bennett thanked residents for the outpouring of support they displayed in writing letters of appreciation to World War II veteran and former Public Works Commissioner George Lutz to read during the mail call portion of last month’s Honor Flight Chicago.
  Lutz, 94, has outlived most of his comrades and never joined an American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post, according to his son, Charles. So when Charles learned the vets are presented with a bag of letters to read from family and friends on the return flight from Washington D.C., he feared his father would be embarrassed by receiving only a handful of letters while others received upwards of 500 letters.
  Charles sent an email to Bennett a few weeks before his father’s trip on Sept. 10 asking if city employees and others who knew his father wouldn’t mind writing a quick note. Bennett went one step further by not only asking city employees to write a letter but also reaching out to North Palos School District 117 to see if the students wouldn’t mind penning a note of thanks.
  The grassroots campaign resulted in George Lutz receiving an Honor Flight record of almost 2,000 letters for mail call, Bennett said Thursday.
  “It really turned out nice,” Bennett said. “[Charles Lutz] sent me an email of the events that day and he said George couldn’t stop smiling. He said his father plans on responding to all 2,000 letters and knowing George Lutz he probably will.”
  Lutz held the rank of major in the United States Army Air Corps. He was stationed in India for a majority of his service flying over the Himalaya Mountains into China to supply troops, fuel and other supplies to the Chinese and American troops fighting the Japanese.
  Honor Flight takes veterans on a one-day trip to the nation’s capital to view the memorials and monuments.
  “What a great honor to him,” Bennett said. “[George] is quite a humble guy, but also a remarkable man. At age 94 he’s got to be one of the last pilots that flew during that [World War II].
  “I thank our residents and everyone else who pitched in to make it such a special day.”