Lake Forest School Districts #67 and #115 – Communications Consultant Whipple: Compensation Third Highest In District

April 5, 2011

The Lake Forest Schools paid Director of Communications Anne Whipple of Lake Forest a combined $41,876 through Whipple Consulting LLC in July of 2010.  A summertime check of this size is not unusual for Whipple.  Let’s take a closer look at this situation.

Based on Anne Whipple’s contract which was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Whipple acts as Superintendent Harry Griffith’s public relations specialist whose job has been “to plan and implement communication systems for the Lake Forest schools” and manage communications emanating from them.

Whipple has been under contract to serve Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115 for years. She currently has an annual ten-month contract consistent with the school year. Under this contract, she is entitled to work days and hours at her own discretion. The particular $41,876 payment in the summer of 2010 included Whipple’s usual combined monthly retainer of $13,406. However, the incremental amounts are not documented in the contracted agreement for her services between Whipple and the school districts.  These payments include an additional “summer retainer” of $8,470 and a “special board retainer” of $20,000. These payments do not seem consistent with usual and customary payments to School Communications Directors, regardless of whether they operate as independent contractors.

As Communications Director for both Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115, Whipple is compensated over $200,000 per year in cash payments. Of special note is that during these difficult economic times, Whipple negotiated a 15% increase in her base compensation from her prior year contract. This increase took effect despite Superintendent Griffith’s public statement that “…all administrative salaries would be held flat this year.”  In addition, Lake Forest High School faces a $1.5 million dollar deficit, tenured teachers are being laid off and the high school’s cash reserves are at a dangerously low level (http://triblocal.com/highland-park-highwood/2011/03/31/school-district-savings-accounts-differ-on-north-shore/).  In sum, the Lake Forest School Districts are compensating Whipple at a rate that is 15% higher than last year, along with additional payments of retainers to retain her services that have already been retained.

According to her contract, communications expert Whipple is not “eligible for, and shall not participate in, any employee pension, health, welfare or other fringe benefit plan of the school district” although she has received benefits. Further, due to IRS restrictions for independent contractors, employers are not supposed to provide independent contractors with benefits.  It appears Whipple has repeatedly received benefits due to her position.  She has received a “Board annuity” of $20,000 and an annual bonus.  These provisions are not included in her signed annual contract.

Staying Healthy
Considering the IRS restrictions noted above and the specific stipulation in her contract concerning perks and benefits, it is noteworthy that Whipple also receives a Lake Forest Health and Fitness Club membership at a cost of $936.00 ($78 x 12) which is not provided for or mentioned in her annual contract. The health club dues are paid out of the school administration account. In a personal communication, Assistant Superintendent and treasurer Allen Albus stated that all but one of the employees participating in the health club benefit will or already has reimbursed the district.  The question remains why would a contract employee participate in an employee health club benefit?

Contractor versus Employee
Based on publicly available information, Anne Whipple receives the third highest compensation in the school district and seems to act in the capacity of an employee and not an independent contractor. Lake Forest Schools appear to be Whipple Consulting’s primary client. It’s puzzling that her school title “Director of Communications” is consistent with that of an ongoing regular staff member – and not that of an independent contractor. She is a prominent staff member on both school districts’ organizational charts with a straight line drawn to a box parallel to Superintendent Griffith. Whipple is listed as a Staff member in both school district directories with an internal phone number and she has a school-based email address. Whipple has a staff assistant and office space at West campus. This seems to indicate she acts more as an employee than a contractor.

In my role as a Liberty Leader at the Illinois Policy Institute, and inspired by its 10-point Transparency Program http://illinoispolicy.org/content/?section=503, I was motivated to look into transparency as it was being practiced by my local Lake Forest School Districts #115 & #67.  Countless transparency projects are being conducted throughout Illinois by Liberty Leaders.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests and responses, all facts presented have documentation, as were the facts in my previous three TribLocal articles about Districts #67 and #115.  As such I have allowed the sun to shine on information that was previously hidden from taxpayers.

Although the facts uncovered might be uncomfortable for some, it is too much to ask that board members and administrators  act responsibly, perform their fiduciary duties in an effective manner, and act in the best interests of the children, the taxpayers and the community?

More articles will follow, as I sift through hundreds of pages of documents, mindful always of the public’s right to know.

*Anne Whipple’s contract was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
*Anne Whipple’s bonus, retainer and annuity payment information was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The following documents were obtaine

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