Beware: The Griffith Lake Forest School System debacle may already prevail in your school district!

November 28, 2012

Recent articles by Lisa Black in the Tribune and Paula Skaggs in the Lake Forest Patch about “big benefits” for ex-superintendent Harry Griffith are painful reminders of just how improvidently our tax dollars were spent under his reign.

Some will say that Griffith’s boondoggle existence is old news and that it’s best to allow sleeping dogs to lie. However, lest history repeat itself, it is imperative that the issue of squandering tax dollars remain in the forefront, even more so if a request is made by the Lake Forest School System for increased funding through its 2013 tax levy which should be made public at December board meetings.

It appears that the root of the “Griffith Gone Wild” problem is that our school boards enabled his every action. The boards allowed at least three major gaffs to occur in Griffith’s era: his grossly excessive compensation; his botched handling of the Steinert sexting scandal, including his proven lies to the community; and the huge increases in teachers’ salaries from 2009 to 2012, in which the majority of Lake Forest High School teachers (and administrations) received percentage increases from 19% to 33.114%, helping to propel LFHS to the #2 rank in top Chicago-area High School Districts in cost to educate per student.

In a Chicago Tribune study, Niles Township CHSD 219 ranked number one at $22,915, with LFHS a close second at $22,003. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/ct-met-report-card-economy-20121031,0,6334118.story

Revelations in the Tribune article suggest even more sinister goings on during Griffith’s tenure, including conflicts of interest with his position as a Board member of Lake Forest Bank & Trust and overpayment for the purchase of a house used as a worksite for the renovation of LFHS – a renovation that itself is viewed by many taxpayers as an improvident expenditure of an enormous amount of money, putting a Band-Aid on an antiquated (though admittedly lovely) building that is unable to accommodate all athletics and all parking needs, adding considerable ongoing waste of student time and taxpayer and parent funds and necessitating future large capital expenditures for repairs and further renovations.

It is heartening the districts have a fresh start with a new superintendent in place, Michael Simeck. In that same vein, the community should start fresh with new board members. Both District 115 (LFHS) and District 67 have 4 of 7 board members up for re-election. It is time to replace them with residents who will commit to being forceful advocates for the welfare of all residents rather than simply pawns of the new superintendent.

For Lake Forest District Board 115, terms expiring in 2013 are for Julia Wold, President; John Julian, Vice President; Laurie Rose, Secretary, and Jeff Pinderski. On the Lake Forest District Board 67, expiring terms relate to Sharon Golan, President; Jim Carey, Vice President; Todd Burgener; and John Scribner.

Lennie Jarett, editor at Championnews.com, has set up a website, http://forourchildrensfuture.com/, for those who might be contemplating running for District 67 and 115 school boards. His website sets out exactly what is required to run for school board, what school board do, and how to file to run with the filing deadline given as Dec. 17, 2012 to December 24, 2002 at the district office of the school district The election will be held on April 9, 2013. Lennie Garrett will contact those signing up on his website and will walk them through the process.

Yet another cure for the ills of the past would be the creation of the new position of “inspector general,” an oversight position accountable to no one but the public. Residents are simply too busy to attend every school board meeting; moreover, many meetings take place in executive sessions. A paid inspector general could fill this void.

The cozy relationship between the boards, the administration and the teachers to date has resulted in colossal taxpayer expenses that must heretofore be carefully scrutinized. An investment of $50,000 a year for a part-time inspector general, who would ideally be a retired lawyer or corporate executive, would likely save the community tenfold without compromising the quality of education an iota. There is ample precedent for such a position both in the private and public sectors.

Just one of many examples of an expenditure that warrants further scrutiny is that of $183,000 for public relations consultant Anne Whipple.

Without casting any aspersions whatsoever on Ms. Whipple’s competence or her performance to date, it is fair to ask: Why do public school districts 115 and 67 need to retain someone to put a positive spin on facts to the public? Did the position of public relations consultant exist prior to Ms. Whipple? Why aren’t Ms. Whipple’s duties encompassed within those of our very highly paid superintendents who should be well qualified to interface with the media and the public? When, why, and at whose behest was Ms. Whipple retained? Was her retention another request by Griffith that was rubber stamped by the boards?

Arguably, since Ms. Whipple has performed many of the duties a superintendent should handle, her compensation should be added to the compensation of the superintendent. Adding her compensation to that of superintendent Griffith yields a yearly tab of over $670,000! ($363,000, Griffith’s salary; ≈ $36,000 cost of his health insurance; ≈ $18,000 cost of his car, gas, and repairs; ≈ $6,000 cost of his meals; ≈ $5,000 cost of his travel; ≈ $50,000(?) cost of his pension; ≈ $10,000 for miscellaneous perks; $183,000 cost of public relations consultant).

It is past time for a new paid inspector general position to be created in the Lake Forest School System to do what our boards have failed to do: be a watchdog for taxpayer interests to ferret out such excesses.

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