Upscale Lake Forest School System hires a superintendent whose a clone of retiring Dr. Harry Griffith

March 11, 2012

Background information:  The upscale Lake Forest School System, which has two small school districts with a shared superintendent who was the highest paid superintendent in all of Illinois during the 2011 – 2012 school year (Dr. Harry Griffith), has just hired a new superintendent from the Berkley School System in Michigan (Michael Simeck) who will replace Griffith on July 1 with the retirement of Griffith on June 29.  Michael Simeck is not qualified to hold the position.  Further, Simeck is a clone of retiring superintendent, Dr. Harry Griffith. 

Curious after the announcement of Michael Simeck as the new superintendent in Districts 67 and 115 in the Lake Forest Schools, I did some quick research and came up with the following: 

Just by chance I heard about the Lake Forest School District 67 Board of Education Special Meeting the day of the meeting on Feb. 13.

I was dismayed over the small turnout, which should have been a standing-room-only event, given that the special meeting was to announce the name of the new superintendent and his employment contract to replace retiring Superintendent Harry Griffith.

Instead, the Feb. 13 meeting had all the appearance of a hurriedly arranged and basically unannounced West Campus meeting, which helped to fortify my pre-existing perception of the search process as lacking the openness and transparency promised initially to residents of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.

Not even the presentation by District 67 board member Rich Schuler, in which he detailed the search process used from start to finish in the selection of Michael Simeck, could quell concerns which still linger on. My concerns are not with the Executive Search Firm but with the community input and feed back which took place during the two-year search period. Was the community input and feedback really taken seriously in the selection of Simeck or was it just all for show?

After reading numerous news accounts of Simeck’s hire on Feb. 14, curiosity got the best of me. All of the accounts contained little more than what was released to the press by the Lake Forest Schools. I wanted to know more about Michael Simeck other than his glowing bio and statements presented at the Feb. 13 meeting.

Research led me to an article by Jack Lessenberry published on March 11, 2011, “Education Cuts Based on a Hunch.”

In the Lessenberry’s article, Simeck expressed deep concerns that Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, with his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget, would result in deep cuts to education and a sudden budget deficit of $4.9 million in his district.

What Michael Simeck feared did happen. The 2012 budget signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on June 21, 2011, called for $1.5 billion in budget cuts in fiscal year 2012 with a two percent cut in education.

Another incident in 2010 further points to a seemingly lack of satisfaction Simeck was experiencing from his Berkley shared superintendent position, and why Simeck was reported as being ecstatic when selected out of 99 other candidates for a similar position at Lake Forest Districts 67 and 115. It was in 2010 that Simeck attempted to pass at what may have been the largest bond ever during a time of recession.

Citizens took advantage of the public comment period at a monthly meeting of the Berkley school board to vent their displeasure with a ballot proposal which was ultimately voted down. The proposal would have authorized the board to issue bonds totaling approximately $167 million, to be paid for with the proceeds of an additional $4.27 million tax levy.

Michael Simeck was accused of handpicking members of a bond committee who would be willing to work as advocates, instead of finding community members, which he denied. At the time it was suggested that Simeck was seeking another position.

One job position Simeck did seek in 2010 was superintendent at Bloomfield Hills Schools in Michigan. The search narrowed down to two candidates, Robert Glass and Michael Simeck. In interviews over two days (one candidate each day) and arranged by the search firm, School Exec Connect, Glass was selected over Simeck by the Bloomfield Hills Schools.

Unlike the selection of Michael Simeck for superintendent in Lake Forest, there was an opportunity for community members to meet the two finalist candidates and to ask questions of Glass and Simeck when both were being considered for the Bloomfield Hills superintendent position.

My concerns are many as to how Michael Simeck was selected and the actual extent of promised community involvement over his selection, as well as the hurriedly arranged meeting to vote over and announce his selection.

Why wasn’t this done at one of the regularly scheduled meetings in February? Was there a reason to do it at a “special meeting” so the community would be caught unaware? Was it to avoid lumping it in with the Safer report at the Feb. 28 meeting?

It was refreshing that two of the District 67 board members did express their misgivings by voting “no” on approving Michael Simeck’s three-year contract, Laurie Rose and Bill Anderson.

Rose noted how the NYC Chancellor of Schools oversees 1.1 million students and earns $213,000, while Michael Simeck will receive a base salary of $220,000, augmented by an additional $30,000 for managing two districts, with further perks and additional benefits forthcoming, to oversee 4,000 students with the aid of four Assistant Superintendents and six directors!

How is it that Simeck needs $500 per month in auto reimbursement? It is appropriate to question whether Michael Simeck will be given the car assigned and paid for by the Lake Forest School Districts, as will Griffith, upon his retirement? Why don’t we just give Mr. Simeck the luxury automobile we gave Mr. Griffith to tool around town! How many luxury automobiles do we have to buy for our pampered Superintendents?

Although opinions about the hiring of Michael Simeck may vary, Mr. Simeck certainly deserves watching and observing as he assumes the shared superintendent position at Lake Forest Districts 67 and 115 this summer.


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