Setting the record stright with School District 115 and extending an olive branch

January 24, 2013

I am writing in response to Mr. Burgener’s 1-22-13 comments to my Patch post of that same date and also to extend an olive branch to Mr. Burgener and the entire Board. Regarding the LFHS Booster’s Diamond Anniversary Campaign (DC), pardon me for omitting the “public record” source for my information. It was a video posted on the Board’s website of the 7-17-12 Board meeting in which the background of the failed effort was discussed. http://www.lfhs.org/news/photo_gallery/boe_video_gallery.html (segment entitled “rejection of construction bids”).

I cited to the DC’s website only to address Mr. Burgener’s assertion that the DC’s offer “was to cover the cost of installing two artificial turf fields and NOT the track replacement.” In fact, the DC’s goal in 2011 was to raise, via cash and pledges, $2.5M to fund “two state-of-the-art synthetic turf fields and a new track field facility for use by LFHS teams, wellness classes, intramurals and the entire community, as well as new bleachers systems and a new press box.” http://www.diamondcampaign.org/Diamond_Campaign_Press%20Release_1M_Weigel.pdf

As I understand from the Board-meeting video, the only reason why the DC retreated from its initial offer to fund the entire project was because the Board wanted more cash in hand before committing. Keep in mind that by 3-12, the DC had raised over $1.5M in cash and pledges from residents as well as corporations such as the Walt Disney Company and the Lake Forest Bank & Trust, which generously agreed to be a “major contributor” and a “Varsity Gold Partner.” http://www.diamondcampaign.org/Diamond_Anniversary_Campaign_Press%20Release_LFBT_021312.pdf

In response to the Board’s requirement of more up-front cash and in an effort to salvage the project, the DC suggested a scale back in the scope of the project so that the cash it had in hand would have amounted to a larger percentage of the cost of the project. While this compromise plan was acceptable to the Board, the re-bidding process for the scaled-down project would have delayed construction until 2013. This delay was unacceptable to the DC not only because the integrity of the donors had been called into question but also because ¼ of the donors (those associated with this year’s senior class) would not have enjoyed the benefit of their donations thereby compromising the representations made in the DC’s solicitations.

The bottom line from this saga is that if the Board had not been so skeptical of the bona fides of the pledges, LFHS would now have two new fields and a new track without having to rely on the taxpayers to fund any of it. The Boosters is not a fly-by-night group; it is an organization that has long been fund-raising to support our sports programs, and its gift should have been graciously accepted not treated with such skepticism. I go into this detail to defend the integrity of my prior posts, not to beat a dead horse.

Regarding the LFHS renovations and proposed $5M of new spending, Mr. Burgener implies that inaccuracies remain in my blogs as well as that of Mr. Boese, who pointed out the extra $8M spent on the renovation that Mr. Burgener had omitted. I am open-minded and will stand corrected if the facts so warrant, but no specifics on alleged inaccuracies have been provided. Mr. Burgener’s point about accepting that others err is well taken. I concede that it is easier to criticize than to perform.

I also am grateful for the long volunteer hours that Mr. Burgener and other school board members devote to their oversight role. However, it appears to many of us that the boards are generally not open-minded to opinions and proposed solutions from citizens who think differently from the “party line.” We are met with grimaces or blank stares and seldom with any discourse when we take the time to provide input at Board meetings. As your 1-18-12 letter states, you listen to my “rants” only because you have an “obligation” to do so. I know many individuals from the “Advocates for Accountability” feel the same way (for readers unaware of that group, see http://accountabilityparty.us/).

Perhaps going forward we can all make an effort to be more collaborative than combative, better enabling us to achieve the goal all of us presumably have in mind: the achievement of excellence (not mediocrity) in our schools in the most cost-effective manner.

In closing, I promote once again my idea of the retention of an inspector general. A volunteer, part-time school board can only do so much. A full-time paid inspector general could serve as a friend, not a foe, to the Board in carrying out its vital oversight role.

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