Hello to you too,
New DeKalb School Superintendent!
Comments: 4 Addendums: 1
It was a bad day for me yesterday. I read lots of news from lots of sources on lots of topics. The news coming from Iraq and Afghanistan was not good. It got worse when I read the Daily Chronicle.
Paul Beilfuss, apparently held his first press conference as the new superintendent of DeKalb School District #428.
Here was the news:
DAILY CHRONICLE: Talking to reporters on his first visit to DeKalb after his Monday night appointment, Beilfuss said there would be broad public input before the referendum. He said surveys were conducted in Wayzata to determine just how much the district would be willing to pay. He promised a vigorous effort to convince voters of the need to renovate schools.
Here are a few of his quotes (source: Daily Chronicle):
"We will try to get people together so they can agree on the numbers, then we will work hard to get out the vote."
"We will have a campaign, and it is a campaign, to get out the vote," he added. Efforts would be made to target voters in neighborhoods and age groups likely to support the plan.
"The hardest group [to convince] is the 50-65 age group." he said.
DAILY CHRONICLE: Those people are sending their children to college and don't always have money to spare.
"They also are planning for their retirement."
And here was the news to Mr. Beilfuss:
DAILY CHRONICLE: Voters in DeKalb have rejected referendums three times in the last two and a half years.
So what am I griping about?
Beilfuss was superintendent of the Wayzata School District near Minneapolis, before coming to DeKalb. During his tenure the school district asked tax payers three times, with success, to approve referendums to increase taxes for their schools.
Isn't it painfully obvious that the DeKalb School District paid the executive search firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates who knows what to find them the best referendum-passer money could buy?
Wayzata's enrollment is 9,500 while DeKalb's is 5,500. According to School Board President, Tom Teresinski, Beilfuss will be paid "slightly more" than he was at Wayzata, because "he had the experience we were looking for."
Beilfuss will be paid a base salary of $150,000. Full details of his contract have not yet been made public. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, if Beilfuss left the Wayzata School District in 2003 he could collect $198,869 in severance and unused vacation and sick leave. That's pretty good incentive for finding a better paying job.
Referendums pass. Referendums fail. Superintendents move on. Watch those exit clauses.
Am I too cynical?
I'm not against paying a great superintendent $150,000 or more. But the message clearly conveyed at his first press conference was, "I'm going to sell you a referendum."
A good superintendent, it would seem to me, would want to get to know the community and his staff a little better before asking for a tax increase. A week would have been nice.
So yes, I am cynical of the actions of the Board and Administration at School District #428.
The students, teachers and tax payers of District #428 deserve better. They pay for more.
A great superintendent would roll up his sleeves and earn his $150,000 paycheck. He would conduct personal research of conditions and circumstances of the schools. He would interview varying views of the problems, needs and solutions facing the district. He would demand more from his administrative staff in gaining accurate information.
THEN he would make a recommendation to the community.
Mr. Beilfuss, welcome to DeKalb. I wish we could have met in a friendlier manner. But I took a little offense to your hello.
Your 3-0 referendum record might get blemished if you follow the same strategy as the three failed efforts. They also targeted neighborhoods and age groups with voters likely to support a referendum. They got out those votes. The problem is that there are far more voters in those other neighborhoods and age groups that are likely to oppose another tax increase. And its not the money. We support our children. Its the lack of a financial plan based on real research and not on marketing strategies.
Perhaps, just perhaps, it is that marketing strategy that is to blame... for higher taxes.
Date: Saturday June 26, 2004
Time: 08:42 AM -0400
I am truly confused as to what our school board is truly thinking of, or really, a lack of thinking. There is no way that this new superintendent can even know what this district is truly about. There is no way that he can know where the problems are in this district, and how can anyone know, with all of the current construction going on, what is truly needed to move on. I would be more impressed if this man came in and rolled his sleeves up and used his experience to see what can be done with what we already have. Does he even have a desk with his name on it yet? It is evident that this man has been brought in to win a referendum for those who dearly want to feel the taste of a victory after 3 defeats. These people still do not get it. We need to think about the children, not just today, but tomorrow. We need the right plan, not just a plan. We need a plan that truly answers the futures questions and not just a plan so we can say we did something, but instead, what we have today is a superintendent hired to win a referendum and a school board that will rubber stamp anything he desires. This is not a plan, this is TROUBLE and this is exactly how we got into trouble before, remember? Here we go again.
Date: Monday June 28, 2004
Time: 08:50 AM -0400
Yeah, I think you've pretty much figured it out. Although, on the surface it seems as simple as supply and demand. We don't have enough room in the schools for the current enrollment let alone for the already committed increase from current developments underway. And I'm not creative enough to figure out how to generate the funds to build the schools without somehow affecting my own wallet. Something needs to be done and obviously, this (referendum) is the vehicle the school board is currently riding on.
Editor's Note: The chosen vehicle needs to be recalled by the manufacturer because its defective. The flaw seems to be an uncontrollable appetite for money. This vehicle has been running amok for more than three years and real opportunities to build new schools were missed.
Example 1: Rochelle and Genoa both applied for and received new school construction grant money. Genoa students are now enjoying their new high school and Rochelle students will start classes this fall at their new high school. DeKalb School District applied for this grant money but chose to apply at the end of the grant cycle as opposed to at its beginning, like Genoa and Rochelle did. The administration at #428 was too consumed in their efforts in planning and campaigning for the first referendum attempt.
Example 2: The school district turned down a west side elementary school at the urging of then DeKalb Plan Commission member, Dr. Herb Rubin, that would have been completely (including material and construction) donated to the residents of DeKalb. The implied threat was that if the school board "voted no to growth" the residents would vote "yes to schools." The voters overwhelmingly rejected the referendum (and would have regardless of whether or not the school district would have accepted the donation) and now parents living on the west side of DeKalb are complaining about have to drive their children to Malta.
Current development underway should have been planned for back when the tollway was brought through DeKalb. Water and sewage capacities were planned for. Parks were planned for. Roads were planned for. Schools were not. In fact, schools were mothballed and sold. Growth in administration's need for physical space requirements was met at the expense of existing classroom space.
A successful referendum will require a long-term financial plan that does not allow operating expenses to consume the entire budget. The county has a comprehensive plan. The city has a comprehensive plan. So does the park district. Why not the schools?
Its not about the money. Its the plan. The current school plan runs from budget to budget. It needs guidance from a long term financial plan.
Date: Friday August 13, 2004
Time: 09:39 AM -0400
So what is the answer Mac?
What do we do with all these kids that all the towns are approving to come here?
We have no seats for them. I agree that this should have been planned for when the tollway came through..but it wasn't and the school district has no say if the cities or towns approve the developments.
I think the fight should be in Springfield. Its time to get the schools off the property tax rolls.
Did you know the state is suppose to give the district 51% of their budget and last year they only got around 25%. If we dropped the schools from property tax and had a 1% increase on income tax, I am told we would have enough money to fund the schools correctly. Remember this new board inherited a lot of issues that they had no control over.
It is my understanding that the board hired the new superintendent partly because he had experience with growth, he has roots in Illinois and stated he would like to retire here. I am sure they looked at the referendums he has passed with favor, but they are smart VOLUNTEERS who know this community has shot them down 3 times. I ask that you go to a meeting and meet the guy before you judge ... based on what the Chronicle says.
Editor's Note: Melissa, first I thank you for your personal involvement and willingness to stand up and be heard in the community.
So what is the answer?
The first step, I believe, is to quit taking the path of least resistance. If the answer to funding our schools (and government services) continues to simply be more money then the citizens of our nation will become indentured servants to our government. Some would argue we have already become indentured servants. Public servants have made the public servants.
I completely agree with you that property tax is the wrong way to fund schools. I submit that the significant reason the state is only paying 25% of the budget, instead of 51%, is because the state could not keep up with the rate property taxes have been rising. Is the state supposed to raise their taxes every time a local school district raises theirs? The same constitution that demands that the state pay the majority of education costs also says that all children in the state of Illinois will have an equal opportunity for education. In fact, children who attend schools in wealthy communities have a better chance for a good education than those who do not. Property tax is the reason for this.
I would fully and actively support legislation that would eliminate property tax for school funding in favor of a one-percent or even a two-percent increase in state income tax. But the legislation must ELIMINATE school property tax, otherwise increased spending will only result in higher combined income and property taxes.
Attempts at such legislation have been made. I believe the late state representative Dave Wirsing made such an attempt. The greatest opposition came from school administrators and from the teacher unions. While loss of local control was cited as their reason for opposition it is reasonable to question what is truly meant by control. Who's control?
Of the many school board members I have known and conversed with very few, if any, ran for the position for the purpose they are made to serve -- managing school finance. As volunteers, with often a six-year time commitment, they are asked to make financial decisions beyond their scope of expertise. They are then forced rely on the paid (and paid well) administrators' recommendations.
School administrators use a flawed finance system -- budget financing. This year-to-year financing is based on a snapshot in time. It does not anticipate nor plan for long term needs. Budget financing creates an urgency to spend whatever is budgeted or risk having that line item in the budget reduced in the next fiscal year. Staff is therefore discouraged, by the nature of the system, from reducing costs.
Schools should be guided by and held accountable to long term financial planning created and managed by experts, not volunteers.
Taking the path of least resistance leads to comparison analysis. Instead of research and analysis of real numbers from local data, governmental units employ a strategy of comparing what other communities pay for services to arrive at what they should charge for services. How often do you hear what communities west of DeKalb pay compared to those in the affluent suburbs? What consideration is given to how much local residents can afford?
Comparison analysis leads to irresponsible cost determinations. For example, DeKalb School Board President, Tom Teresinski, says that it costs around $22,000 per student to build a new school. Luke Glowiak, Sycamore School District assistant superintendent of business affairs, says is costs around $13,000 per student to build a school. Why is it so much cheaper to build a school in Sycamore than it is in DeKalb?
If the DeKalb School District would ever consider local data they might acknowledge that the largest percentage of new students are from neighborhoods that are typically lower income. In the past ten years or so there has been more Hispanic children moving into the school district than there has been from new construction. The types of jobs taken by Hispanics are often not high paying. Ignoring this results in not addressing a real need nor exploring available funding sources.
School administrators claim that residents of new construction do not pay enough in impact fees and annual property taxes to pay for their children's education. They project an illusion that existing homeowners are having to subsidize residents in the new subdivisions. New construction homes are priced considerably higher than existing homes. The residents of those new homes pay several thousand dollars in property tax each year than those of existing homes. It is then reasonable to wonder if school administrators are not really asking new construction to subsidize existing homes. And it certainly is prudent to ask if spending is responsible.
Pointing the finger at new construction is the path of least resistance from a politically correct standpoint. It is the strategy adopted by school districts throughout northeastern Illinois (and spreading). It enables governmental units, including schools, to exact substantial upfront fees from residents of new construction which drive the prices and therefore the property taxes higher and higher. It also quietly raises the property taxes on existing homeowners too.
"Make those greedy builders pay!" is their rallying cry. And its working. Public sentiment has swung completely in the intended direction. The governmental units get more money, the blame is on new construction and accountability is not questioned. Lost is the fact that residents pay those upfront fees and increased taxes.
The answer is accountability. That requires long term planning AND implementation. That also builds trust. Without trust a referendum is doomed to fail.
ADDENDUM: FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE
Last update: June 22, 2004 at 9:55 PM
Wayzata schools chief takes Illinois job
June 23, 2004 WAYZATA0623
Wayzata schools superintendent Paul Beilfuss has resigned to take the school superintendent's job in DeKalb, Ill.
Beilfuss, who was Wayzata superintendent for 10 years, will stay with the school district until July 30. He's expected to start his new job in mid-August.
Beilfuss is originally from Illinois and began his education career in north-suburban Chicago. He will go from a district with 9,501 students to one with 5,500 students. DeKalb is about 60 miles west of Chicago.
During Beilfuss' superintendency, the new Wayzata High School was built and voters approved three tax levy increases for more school funding. Beilfuss also oversaw the conversion of two junior high schools to three middle schools and district participation in the West Metro Education Program, a voluntary desegregation program involving Minneapolis and 10 suburban school districts.
Under the provisions of his contract, Beilfuss gets a half-year's salary, $74,207, when he leaves. He has accrued 142 unused vacation and sick days, which will earn him an additional $94,343 on leaving, for a total payout of $168,550. That figure will drop if Beilfuss decides to take some vacation time before he leaves.