Bill of wrongs

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Taxpayers receive ‘breathing room’ after announcement at Sandburg

Taxpayers who came to Sandburg High School Page-1-color-with-Bill-of-Wrongs-storycolor page1 4cols SB16townhall 103014District 230 Superintendent James Gay addresses the crowd at Sandburg High School Thursday night. Photo by Tim Hadac.ready for a fight last Thursday unclenched their fists a bit after hearing that proposed legislation that would strip millions of dollars from local schools will not be considered by the Illinois House of Representatives until next spring.

The announcement, made by Orland School District 135 Board President Joseph S. La Margo, was heard by more than 200 parents and others at a town hall meeting regarding the impacts of Senate Bill 16, the School Funding Reform Act of 2014.
The event was hosted by School District 230 and included officials, parents and others from school districts 117, 118, 127, 135, 140, 146, and 230.
The proposed state legislation, passed by the State Senate in May but not yet considered by the House, 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 and re-distributing middle-class tax dollars to impoverished school districts.
Those who oppose SB 16 have expressed fears in recent weeks that the bill’s supporters would try to slip the measure through the House in the lame-duck, veto session in January.
“This is encouraging news,” said Palos Park resident David Baumgarten, whose grandchildren attend District 118 schools. “The politicians pushed us, and we pushed back. We were afraid that the Democrats would play dirty and ram it through in January, but now it looks like we have some breathing room with this bill, time to right this wrong.”
La Margo called the tabling of the House bill good news, but added a note of caution.
“Until this bill is completely killed, we will continue to inform our communities of its financial impact to our districts,” La Margo said from the lectern. “We cannot presume that any changes or modifications will be made [before it is considered in the spring].”
After the meeting, La Margo warned against complacency.
“It’s always a concern that people are going to lay off a bit and assume that [the proposed legislation] will go by the wayside, but then the [proponents] may try to sneak it through, so we have to keep an eye on this,” he noted. “It’s important for all of us to stay on our legislators to make sure they stand with us in opposing this.”
La Margo, the father of three—and soon to be four--children in local public schools, added that if SB 16 were passed in its current form, the financially healthy district will have exhausted its financial reserves and be “out of money” within three to five years—assuming it does not cut services or lay off staff.
Parents at the event were clear and not shy about their opposition to SB 16.
“I have a huge stake in this,” said Orland Park resident Tracy Pelini, president of the District 135 Parents For Education (PFE) organization and a mother of four children enrolled in district schools—a seventh grader the three fourth graders. “I’m a taxpayer, I own a home here in town, and I want the taxes I pay—which are substantial—to go to my children’s education. My husband and I work very hard for the house own and the life that we have.
“We moved to Orland Park specifically because of the high quality of education, and I don’t want to see anything happen to that,” she added. “I absolutely agree that all children deserve a good education, without a doubt, but I think our legislators need to come up with a better way to fund education. What they’re proposing with this bill is not the way to do it. You cannot take from some to give to others.”
PFE members staffed two tables at the event, urging people to sign a petition against SB 16. By the time the two-hour event ended, volunteers had boosted their cumulative total to about 1,000 signatures. Those who have not yet signed but want to are encouraged to visit and conduct an “Orland” search of the website.
Keynote speaker at Thursday’s meeting was 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 and others were on hand to express their concern about the proposed legislation.
Grossi told the audience that if SB 16 is passed in its current form, the Southwest Suburbs will be negatively affected “more than any other area in the state.”
He added that a robust economic recovery would essentially solve the current school funding dilemma, but that with the state’s loss of population and jobs, he remains “skeptical about the future of education funding in Illinois.”
Pulling in the loudest applause of the evening was Hickory Hills resident Debbie Chaffee, a home-based business analyst an project manager, as well as mother of two children attending schools in the North Palos District 117.
Chaffee has been the lead organizer of a grassroots effort to stop SB 16. Via her website,, she has attracted statewide attention and helped muster parents, school officials and others.

Chicago Ridge fire chief wants to add versatile quint pumper to save money in the long run

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Chicago Ridge Fire Chief George Sheets promised to improve efficiencies when he took control of the department in July and he’s wasted little time working toward that goal.


Sheets outlined a plan at Tuesday’s village board meeting designed to reduce by 50 percent the department’s vehicle maintenance budget by upgrading the fleet of trucks.


The department currently spends about $60,000 to maintain 11 vehicles, a figure that set off the alarm button for Sheets. He maintains that figure is too high considering that the Oak Lawn Fire Department has a $50,000 maintenance budget for 18 vehicles. Sheets knows that first-hand because he also serves as fire chief in Oak Lawn.


Sheets called for Chicago Ridge officials to purchase a quintuple combination pumper, or quint, an apparatus that serves the dual purpose of an engine and ladder truck.


The name refers to the five functions that a quint provides: pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladders.


It’s almost like a baseball manager having a five-tool player in that it is versatile and serves many purposes.


“It combines several vehicles into one,” said Sheets, who added that the truck features that latest technology tools used in firefighting.


The vehicle does not come cheap. Sheets estimated that a demo unit would cost the village about $650,000. But state or federal grants could help offset the cost, he said.


“We’ve got a number of different ways to pay for it,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said.


The village board did not approve a purchase, as some trustees expressed a desire to see the quint up close. Sheets, however, was authorized to negotiate a deal for the truck with the manufacturer.


The chief told the trustees that a 4 percent increase in the purchase price of a quint is expected soon. He added that demo models do not stay on the market for long because of the discounted price.


“We need to consolidate some of the apparatuses,” Sheets said. “It will make us more efficient. Vehicle maintenance costs can’t continue to escalate.”


Specifically, Sheets proposed removing from the fleet an aerial truck and two pumper trucks, one that is badly rusted and requires significant repair.

Sheets said he was offered $164,000 for the three trucks, but is holding out for more.


“I think we can do better,” he said.


Sheets recommendations to upgrade the department’s fleet are the latest step in his efforts to improve department efficiencies.


In September, he called for stiffer penalties for false alarms after learning that the firefighters responded to 86 such calls in 2013.


Sheets called for stiffer penalties and increasing fines 300 percent. He said that a village ordinance lacked the teeth to reduce false alarms. The ordinance required business owners to pay $25 for each false alarm beginning with the seventh call.


The fee is now $100 beginning with the second false alarm, Sheets said.


Sheets also recommended an increase in the ambulance rate after realizing that the village’s rate was one of the lowest in the region. The fee had not been increased in six years.



Two takes on burglary stats in Oak Lawn

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Sports analysts like to go “inside the numbers” to support a point and so does Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen.


“Let’s talk facts. The facts are, we do not have a rising crime rate in Oak Lawn,” Deetjen said.


And the village manager seemingly has the number to support his contention.


There were 112 burglaries in the village in 2013 compared to 96 through September 2014, Deetjen said. The numbers are comparable to 2000, when the village experienced 101 burglaries, he said.


Deetjen finds himself discussing crime statistics following Trustee Robert Streit’s recent remarks regarding the number of burglaries in Oak Lawn during September.


Streit said at the Oct. 14 village board meeting that his review of police reports indicated that there were 25 burglaries during a 28-day period last month.


He believes an increase in patrol officers is an “obvious solution” to the problem.


“Every day more than 30 percent of the police force that is on duty is not on patrol,” Streit said.


He suggested rotating into the patrol roster police officers from other divisions, such as investigations. He added that the officers would welcome the opportunity to go on patrol, and the regular patrol officers would appreciate the support.


“I believe this would go a long way toward making our community safer,” Streit said. “To me, it makes common sense.”


Deetjen does not support the idea, saying non-patrol officers are committed to other responsibilities.


“It’s a subject to talk about, sure,” Deetjen said. “I think our patrol officers do an excellent job. There is no spike (in crime). We don’t have a spike.”


Deetjen also said that while Streit portrayed September as a high-crime month, he failed to mention that “the vast majority (of burglaries) were in garages.”


Additionally, he said, police recently arrested a man they believe responsible for several garage burglaries.


Deetjen said taking a snapshot of a single month’s crime activity is not the appropriate way to measure it. Rather, he said, the village relies on the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report.


But Streit said the number of burglaries is not important.


“Larry misses the point,” Streit said. “It’s really not about is my number right, is Larry’s number right. People don’t feel safer.”


He added that a string of burglaries—home, car or business—indicates that criminals do not fear operating in the village because the police presence is not sufficient.


“I think it would be a huge mistake to dismiss the increase in burglaries,” Streit said.




Saying ND isn't a Chicago school gets my Irish up

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Did you go to Notre Dame?”
I’ve heard that question many times over the years, usually when I’m wearing my ND garb or talking Irish football. And I own a lot of ND apparel and talk lots of Irish football.
The answer, of course, is: “No, I certainly did not go to Notre Dame.” That’s laughable. I did my time at the local community college after a stellar run at Brother Rice High School.
I am, however, a huge Notre Dame fan. A member of the subway alum, as it’s known.
We weren’t Notre Dame students, but for one reason or the other grew up rooting for the Irish. It’s tough for some people to understand, but I thought I’d try to explain my allegiance to the university.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago and attending St. Thomas More School, Notre Dame is all I knew. We related to Notre Dame on a variety of levels—Irish, Catholic and it was close by.
A friend from my grammar school days recently posted on Facebook that guys like me drank the ND Kool-Aid. He’s a Michigan fan, so I will forgive his senseless observation.
Another friend, a Marquette University alum, has argued with me for years that Notre Dame sports are overplayed in the Chicago media. He’s even done research that shows there are more Marquette alums in the Chicagoland area than there are Notre Dame alums.
It’s not a Chicago school, he maintains, so why in the world does the football team get regular newspaper and television coverage in Chicago? I’ve argued with him unsuccessfully that Notre Dame is (though not geographically speaking) a Chicago school.
The Chicago area is loaded with Notre Dame fans who are passionate about the football team and, to a lesser extent, the basketball program. Many of them are fans for the same reason I am. Never attended the school, but have a huge rooting interest.
And, Notre Dame benefits from a dearth of other major football programs in the area. OK, there’s Northwestern, but for years students would storm the field if the Wildcats won a single game.
Northern Illinois University football fans are bound the make a case for the Huskies, but the team is not in a major conference. The University of Illinois will field a decent team now and then, but Illini fans never have struck me as passionate.
We live in Big 10 country, but for years the conference was comprised of the Big 2 (Michigan, Ohio State) and the Little 8. New additions to the conferenced have changed that a bit, but who in Chicago is rooting for Penn State or Nebraska?
My wife, Annette, often groans about “more football” when I flip through the television channels on a Saturday afternoon looking for a good game. But after attending her first Notre Dame game a few weeks ago, she was talking about going again.
What led to that conversion?
The game day experience, of course.
My wife, on her feet, screaming, “Go Irish.” Never thought I’d see the day. She’s always been a passive fan because I like the team, but this was different.
“It’s a special place,” a friend and ND fanatic related, when I mentioned Annette’s “odd” behavior.
Indeed it is.
Annette and I arrived well ahead of game time and heard the band play on the steps of the School of Architecture. We walked to stadium, took our seats and waited for the moment when the team took the field. Seeing the players with the golden helmets emerge from the tunnel will never cease to excite me.
Mix in the various cheers, songs the band plays, the 1812 Overture before the start of the fourth quarter and singing of the alma mater immediately after the game and you’ve got yourself an afternoon.
And who can forget the safety announcement—the clever play on words delivered by Mike Collins, the voice of Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the third quarter?
Traditions are by no means exclusive to Notre Dame. They can be found all over the college football landscape and they define the game.
I’m no Michigan fan, but I dig the traditions. The extra seat reserved in honor of legendary athletic directorFritz Crisler, the “Hail to the Victors” fight song (sorry, ND fans, I like it) and No. 1 jersey, worn by only 12 players in the history of the program.
I think the Ohio State marching band forming script Ohio is very cool. It goes back to 1936, and the highlight is when a sousaphone player dots the I.
There’s plenty more traditions in the game, too many to mention here. But they’re what draw folks to college game. Good season or bad, they provide a connection to the team that fans grew to love as students or simply as fans, like me.
As the last line of the alma mater goes, “Love Thee Notre Dame.”


D218 boss rips ACT process

  • Written by Kelly White

What is the purpose of taking the ACT?

That was a question – and many others -- posed by the CHSD 218 school board president, Marco Corsi, at Monday night’s school board meeting. He is at the point where he wondered aloud if students at Shepard, Richards and Eisenhower High should even take the test at all.

“Is there a penalty if our district decides to no longer have our students take the ACT?” he said.

The ACT scores, based on a scale from 1 to 36, are used my most colleges to determine admittance. Students are allowed to take the test over to try to get a higher score, but Corsi questions the process in which test takers only see a score and not what they got right or wrong on the test.

 “With the standardized testing demonstrated in the ACT, both students and teachers are unaware of the questions that were answered wrong,” Corsi said. “This is a senseless formula without any feedback.”

According to the 10-year ACT Profile history at District 218, there has been a decrease in student performance in test scores. The class of 2012 had the lowest ACT scores in the district with a composite score of 18.1. Scores have not plummeted that low since 2004 with a total composite score of 18.4. In 2013, test scores picked up again with an 18.7 average. The class of 2006 and 2010 mark the district’s highest composite score at 19.1.

Corsi criticized the process in which the ACT counts the number of questions on each test that the student answered correctly. It does not deduct any points for incorrect answers and there is no penalty for guessing.  The student’s raw scores are converted to scale scores.  The composite score and each test score, English, mathematics, reading and science, range from 1 to 36. The composite score is the average of the student’s four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.

The test should be broken down, by each section, informing both the teacher and student which questions were answered correctly and incorrectly, Corsi said.

“We also need to examine which types of students are answering certain questions wrong,” he said. “Are there a large number of non-English speaking students struggling with a certain question or are there honors students struggling with a certain question? How can we prepare our teachers to work more on certain areas of a subject to better prepare for the test? With this system in place right now, we will never know. All we receive is a data profile with each subject and the composite score totaling a simple number for each school year.”

In 2013, District 218 received average scores of 18.2 in English, 19.2 in mathematics, 18.2 in reading and an 18.9 in science. This year’s students are scheduled to take the ACT in the spring; however, Corsi questions the motive of the test.

“If we cannot distinguish what a student is having difficulties with, what is the purpose of the test?” he asked.

Corsi would like more informative feedback for the district and students regarding personal test scores and if that cannot be provided, he is left pondering the over the ACT in general.

The ACT, originally an abbreviation of American College Testing, college readiness assessment is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States produced by ACT, Inc. Students taking the ACT receive a number of different scores in their student report referred to as subject test scores in English, mathematics, reading and science.

Corsi has questions and he wants answers – including answers on the test.

“Let’s say if a large number of students got question number six wrong, we need to determine if there is something wrong with the question itself and then if there is not, we need to break it down even further than that,” Corsi said, “Our teachers are unable to help students better prepare for the ACT because the test does not provide results stating which questions students answered right or wrong.”