Thursday, May 28, 2015

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By Nancy Thorner –

The upscale community of Lake Forest remains in a turmoil over what was to be a fast-track approval at a hurriedly arranged 7:00 a.m. Special Meeting of Lake Forest Board of Education District 115 on Tuesday, May 26, to discuss the hiring of Dr. Chala Holland, an African American administrator now serving as assistant principal at Oak Park and River Forest High School, as the sole candidate for the position of principal at Lake Forest High School. Ms. Holland was picked from a pool of 25 candidates. Eight were interviewed, culling the pool down to three. Through interviews conducted by teachers and administrators, Holland was chosen as the finalist.

The LFHS principal search began in March of this year to replace Barry Rogers (LFHS also has an assistant principal) who resigned from his LFHS position after only two years of what had been a successful tenure. Roger’s resignation was followed in short order with his appointment to another administrative position, that of an Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, a shared position in Lake Forest Districts 67 and 115.

Although the administration tried to keep Dr. Holland’s name a secret, even stating in an email to parents on May 25 that “it remains by necessity and law a personnel matter required to be confidential”, this was not to be. The leaking of Holland’s name as the administration’s #1 choice for principal happened on Friday, May 15.  It didn’t take long until concerned citizens in Lake Forest, wanting to know more about the administration’s #1 candidate for principal, used Google as their search engine. Links to Dr. Holland’s Facebook page, her website’s consulting firm of Holland Educational Consulting Group (HECG), and other social media accounts were found and examined.  Most disconcerting is that less than 24 hours after the Google search began all of Ms. Holland’s information had been scrubbed from the Internet.

Among the more inflammatory remarks on a recovered cache of erased Holland posts, doubly offensive because of the job Holland is seeking, purports that “tracking is a beacon of white privilege and institutionalized racism.” Regarding tracking, it separates children into various groups backed on their ability in coursework specific to AP honors, college prep and remedial.  A February 22, 2014 post on the HECG Facebook page showed an image of Malcolm X with this overlay quote in white letters: “Only a FOOL Would Let His Enemy Teach his Children.” Another HECG website post of January 1, 2013, focused on academic tracking, how it perpetrates racism in schools, and about white privilege and internalized racism.

The initial secrecy over principal candidate Chala Holland (pronounced Shay-la, who was in the audience at the Tuesday morning special board meeting), was further compounded by what the Internet search revealed.  As would be expected, the information spread quickly through social media. Accordingly, the stage was set for a standing room only, vocal crowd that filled the District 115 Board of Education meeting room at its Lake Forest West Campus on Tuesday, May 26.   Public interest was further enlisted through the initiative and courage of a LFHS Freshman who started an online petition late on Saturday, May 23rd, requesting signatures of those protesting the hiring of Holland.  By the morning of the special board of education meeting, Tuesday, May 26, over 546 signatures had been collected.  A bright, posed and well-spoken young man offered these comments during the time of public comments on Tuesday, May 26.

As to why the Special Board of Education meeting was set at 7:00 a.m. the day after Memorial Day, school board president, Reese Marcusson, explained:  “The candidate had been selected [interview process was complete] and action was called for.”  Continuing: “It is only at a school board meeting where business can be discussed outside of an executive meeting. Finding a time suitable for all board members to attend is difficult.  Schedules have to be rearranged.”

Remarks by Superintendent Michael Simeck informed the standing room only crowd about the very talented Dr. Chala Holland, who, by the way, is a step about Simeck in having earned her doctorate degree. As is indicative of the process used in the highly competitive school districts here in northern Illinois, and why salaries are so astronomical in comparison to the rest of Illinois, Simeck went on to say, “The more talented the candidate is, the more likely the candidate will be snapped up by another school district. Time is rarely your friend, so we had to move quickly.”

According to information received from “Open The Books” (A Project of American Transparency), following are the 2014 base salaries for 1) Superintendent Michael Simeck ($204,598); 2) Barry Rogers when principal at LFHS ($206,945); and the present assistant LFHS principal ($204,598).  Forty percent of teachers and administrators at LFHS receive salaries at the $100,000 to $100,125 level, while 21% are compensated at the $125,000+ level. These salaries represent only “pensionable” salary — the annual amount that figures into the eventual calculation of the employees retirement annuity and are not total cost which includes perks and pension benefits.

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The board and superintendent Michael Simeck listened to more than two dozen comments from residents of the community, as well as colleagues and neighbors of the candidate.  Comments were limited to three minutes; audience members were requested to hold their applause.  Some booing did erupt, which the board president nipped in its bud, when non-residents used the podium to speak in defense of Ms. Holland.  Despite rhetoric relating how successful Ms. Holland was when employed in Evanston and now at Oak Park High School, it was  concurred that Lake Forest residents should be given the priority in speaking.  As one Lake Forest resident remarked, “Outsiders need not preach to us, for how can they know what is best for the community of Lake Forest?

One non-resident even suggested that Lake Forest, as part of a Global Community, must adapt to what is a changing society.

Residents offering comments were respectful in how they addressed the board, often expressing gratitude for the work of school board members.  Two resident speakers did suggest that Superintendent Simeck resign from his position.

Major concerns and questions expressed as public comments:

  •  “Why did Ms. Holland scrub her Internet sites to hide her opinions from the community?”
  • “Who told Ms. Holland to scrub her website and why?  It’s now down for maintenance?”
  • “Take a deep breath and delay hiring.  An interim principal can be named at Lake Forest High School (There is already an assistant principal in place.).”
  • “Superintendent Simeck seems to have his own agenda for Lake Forest High School.  If any administration has an agenda it wishes to put in place, it should start its own school.  I don’t want my children to be an experiment of some future idea that might not work.”
  • “The ideas and core values of the students must be considered and those of the community.  Does Superintendent Simeck believe he knows the core values of Lake Forest resident better than the residents themselves do?  An agenda is being pushed that is not in keeping with the core values of this community. Truth is like a lion.  You don’t have to defend it. Truth needs no explanation.”
  • In a tongue and cheek comment: “Could it be that all of Holland’s websites were removed for maintenance at the same time?”
  • “Superintendent Simeck’s action represents a hostile takeover of the Lake Forest School System.  Just say ‘no’ when it comes to renewing Simeck’s contract.”
  • “Were the views held by Ms. Holland known by Simeck when he recommended Holland?  What could Simeck have been thinking in hiring someone so obsessed with race?”
  • “You can see that I am brown.  It takes hard work to succeed.  My children fit into Lake Forest School System.  I don’t want compassion from anyone because of the color of my skin.”
  • As stated by an educated black Lake Forest resident and parent:  “My children are doing well.  I found Holland’s posts very divisive.”
  • “It’s about Holland’s character — end of story.  About scrubbing her social media — or who told her to do so — is proof of her character.”
  • “Ms. Holland may be brilliant, but she would be more effective in another situation given the right setting and circumstance.  Hiring Ms. Holland would be a disservice to the children.  It’s all about kids at the end of the day.”

Following the public comments the board and the administration went into executive session. Announced after the meeting was reconvened was that the discussion about Chala Holland’s candidacy would extend for several more days. Another public meeting will be held sometime between the evening of June 1 and the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on June 9th.

What happened in Lake Forest is an example of what grassroots activism can do through social media to rally individuals together for a common cause.  Although the saga continues in Lake Forest, it remains troubling that Chala Holland seems to view tracking as some kind of a white supremacy thing.  She might even be described as a revolutionary intellectual if her views weren’t in sync with what is so prevalent in today’s society by those on the Left:  an obsession by white supremacy and racism as a reflection of the ills of society.

Although offensive, this thought process does not describe Lake Forest High School, or the community as a whole, with its mostly white population.  It would not be impertinent to inquire whether Superintendent Michael Simeck is attempting to implement a major culture shift at Lake Forest High School?

Cultural shifts through experimentation that propose to bring fairness to all, especially to those perceived to be poor and less fortunate, are taking place across the spectrum of American society.  Public schools are not excluded from the perceived leftist philosophy that white students must be made to understand that being white is not a sign of privilege.  It is through hard work and effort that LFHS students do well academically, not because most of them are white.

Superintendent Simeck seems eager to jump on the band wagon for social reform. The question remains how to fit a square peg in a round hole if the board and Superintendent go their own way and hire Dr. Chala Holland as principal of Lake Forest High School.

The author would like to hear how other school districts in Illinois are dealing with the issues of white supremacy and racism.

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By Nancy Thorner – 

With all that is happening currently in Washington, D.C. with the blame game still being very much in the news as to those responsible for the partial sixteen-day shutdown of our federal government, just how do Common Core State Standards fit into the picture?

Simply stated, the intent of Common Core is to nationalize education, along with the minds of American youth, thereby  directing this nation’s future.  As totalitarian leaders have taught us in the past, whoever molds the minds of the youth can eventually command the population. It matters not if the transition takes a generation of two.

Many already perceive that this nation is currently on the road to Socialism, and perhaps even worse though the advancement of the Obama administration’s agenda. Should Common Core be allowed to take hold under the assumption that a one-size-fits-all educational policy is acceptable that advances a liberal, progressive agenda in schools nationwide — with students being taught what to think and not how to think — the result will insure that the next generation of Americans will be liberal in their thinking and in tune with whatever leftist philosophy they encounter as adults.

So it will be that Obama will have fulfilled his mission to reshape this nation into one where our Constitution is no longer relevant and where freedom and liberty have been replaced by government control of our lives.

Two Curriculum Common Core coffees were recently held in my school district at the West Campus of Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, IL. Of great interest was the Common Core motto appearing on the initial e-mail invitation which announced the two curriculum coffees:  Preparing America’s Students For College & Career.

I attended the second curriculum coffee held on Tuesday, October 15th from 7 – 8 pm, organized to familiarize local residents and taxpayers with the Common Core State Standards Initiative as applicable to Illinois and, in turn, students enrolled in Lake Forest School Districts 115 and 67.

Lauren Fagel, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, Technology and Assessment (one of three assistant superintendents in the Lake Forest School System) moderated both curriculum coffees.  The topic:  How Common Core State Standards will challenge our students to become better critical thinkers and problem-solvers.

In so far as the mention of Common Core still brings a blank stare from many parents of school-age children, similar events are most likely being planned in many school districts throughout Illinois as Common Core standards are being rolled out in various stages of implementation across Illinois. This lack of transparency about Common Core has happened despite the 2010 adoption of Common Core by every state except Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia even before the math and language arts standards were written, enticed by the lure of massive federal grants.

Defenders of Common Core assert that Common Core is state-instigated and controlled. This could not be further from the truth. The federal government provided all the funding for the national tests and also gave major grants to nonprofit groups who wrote Common Core. Bankrolling the entire Common Core project were nonprofit groups and big funders of government expansion such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Microsoft also has a significant financial state in the national education markets.

While this nation may be a superpower in some ways, in education it lags behind in a recent comparison of academic performance in 57 countries.  Students in the US performed near the middle of the pack.  Finland overall came out on top.  Other top-performing countries were Hong Kong, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Japan and Korea.

To be determined:  Will CC raise the performance level of students?  Of concern to many is how Common Core education standards manifest a centralization of authority over the historically decentralized K-12 education system.  Even more troubling is that Common Core is devoid of any history where success was achieved before states signed on to Common Core in 2010 lured by federal grants.

As Lake Forest High School prides itself on its high academic standards and its high achievement rankings with other school districts within Illinois, I was curious how Lauren Fagel would present Illinois’ state standards initiatives so as not to impinge upon the already high academic standards already established in Lake Forest’s two micro school districts, District 67, K – 8th and District 115, 9th – 12th.

Armed with booklets, The Common Core:  A Bad Choice for America, by Joy Pullmann, a Research Fellow at The Heartland Institute, I arrived early to place a booklet on each chair in the meeting room. These excellent resource booklets about Common Core can be ordered through The Heartland Institute for distribution by calling 312-377-4000.

Although her request to me was congenial, Assistant Superintendent Lauren Fagel informed me that she would prefer to have the booklets removed from the chairs and put on the tables where other handout material was available for the taking. To her credit, Ms. Fagel did tell those gathered about the booklets placed on the table by Mrs. Thorner and published by The Heartland Institute.

Handouts on the table, along with Heartland’s published booklet by Joy Pullman, were a Parents’ Guide to Student Success, one each for Kindergarten through 8th grade, and a Parents’ Guide to Student Success (High School English) and Parents’ Guide to Student Success (High School Math).  The Parents’ Guides were produced by the National PTA.  For more information, full Common Core standards can be found at .

Stated predominately on the front page of each guide, which differed only when referring to the grade level of each hand out:

This guide provides an overview of what your child will learn by the end of kindergarten in mathematics and English language arts/literacy.  It focuses on the key skills your child will learn in these subjects, which will build a strong foundation for success in the other subjects he or she studies throughout the school year.  This guide is based on the new Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states.  These K-12 standards are informed by the highest state standards from across the country.  If your child is meeting the expectations outlined in these standards, he or she will be well prepared for 1st grade.

The hour time allowance wasn’t nearly long enough to find out much about Common Core other than what  Lauren Fagel presented through her slide presentation.  I felt very much alone as the only individual in the room who seemed knowledgeable about Common Core and the controversy surrounding its application as states, parents, and teachers are beginning to pull back from Common Core upon discovering what Common Core education standards would mean if fully applied.

In answer to a question before the start of the meeting, Ms. Fagel personally informed me that such a pullback of Common Core standards wouldn’t occur here in Illinois, or in the Lake Forest School System, as Common Core State Standards were sanctioned and adopted by the IEA, thereby making the implementation of Common Core mandatory in Illinois school districts.

First off, Ms. Fagel informed a somewhat pathetic low turnout of 20 or so individuals that a major change was taking place in many schools throughout this country, but not so much here in Lake Forest and in the neighboring Village of Lake Bluff, District 65, because Lake Forest and Lake Bluff already had in place high educational standards for their student population. Fagel continued, “We now have the opportunity to further enrich our students by having Common Core standards operate as guideposts along the way.”

In speaking about Common Core expectations, Ms. Fagel cited what appears on Common Core websites:  “To give students the critical knowledge and skills that they will need after high school.”  Accordingly, Common Core standards are geared to teach students to 1) Analyze, 2) Comprehend, and 3) Evaluate.  Ms. Fagel further described Common Core standards as representing the floor level, but in no way indicative of the ceiling.

A slide presentation outlined Common Core Anchor Standards in Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening from K – 5, followed by the same Common Core Anchor Standards for grades 6 – 12. Math standards were likewise enumerated for each grade level. While Common Core standards delay Algebra until the 9th grade, LFHS will continue to keep Algebra at the 8th grade level.

I regret not having a chance to ask Ms. Fagel what would happen to the existing high standards in the Lake Forest School Districts given that states may not change Common Core standards.  They must adopt all of them at once and may only add up to an additional 25 percent to set Common Core requirements.

Although Ms. Fagel insisted that Common Core was not a curriculum as such, the issue of testing must be considered as a means for accessing student achievement.  Mentioned by Ms. Fagel was PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), and its race to develop assessments so teachers and administrators can evaluate student progress.

According to Ms. Fagel, PARCC has yet to bring its testing material to fruition so it’s ready for use; nevertheless, a national testing system based on the new standards is already being rolled out which will test students regularly from the third grade to ensure that their Common Core-based education is proceeding smoothly.  It is almost certain that SAT’s and ACT’s used nationwide in admissions to higher-learning institutions will be aligned with the new Common Core standards.

Somewhat strange to me, as one whose school days are more than 50 years behind me, are Common Core Anchor Standards in Writing as they relate to the range of writing to be covered by students:  Students must write arguments to support claims.  Less emphasis will also be placed on creative writing. 

Regarding Common Core Anchor Standards for Literature (K-5), students will analyze how and why individuals, events and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text with an emphasis placed on reading non-fiction.

A parent did complain how her first grade daughter had been turned off from reading because she did not like to read non-fiction.  What will happen when she advances to higher grades?   English and Language Arts Common Core standards place emphasis on reading dry technical writing, like government documents and technical manuals, as opposed to literary classics.  Under Common Core at least 50% of reading assignments must consist of informational texts.

In that Common Core standards focus on core conceptual understanding and procedures starting in the early grades, learning multiplication tables is most likely considered old-fashioned and obsolete?  And what about spelling and cursive writing?  Common Core State Standards do not require children to learn how to write in cursive.

Math and English standards were focused on initially as they were the two subjects expected to be he least controversial among the voting and taxpaying public.  Common Core standards are not being extended to social studies, science, history and more.  Suggested history textbooks are being accused of having a strong liberal bias.

In science, called the Next Generation Science Standards, students will be forced to learn a steady stream of controversial propaganda of everything from the theory of evolution to largely debunked theories advanced by alarmists about supposed human impacts on “climate change.”

There are also the National Sexuality Education Standards being written for Common Core.  They have as a goal to provide clear, consistent and straightforward guidance for sexuality education which is developmentally and age-appropriate for students in grades K-12.

It was Lauren Fagel’s goal to make Common Core sound palatable and reasonable, but whether Common Core has what it takes to elevate this nation’s floundering education system can only be determined when a comparison is made of student performance before Common Core standards and after Common Core has been fully implemented for a number of years.

Common Core might very well do some good in those schools whose students rate way below par academically, but will Common Core State Standards be able to work wonders on students who did poorly prior to the adoption of Common Core?  I doubt it.

As for high achieving schools such as found in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, Common Core might even result in lowering educational standards.  A substantial amount of retraining will be necessary for teachers to learn how to successfully teach the Common Core way in schools throughout Illinois. The implementation of the new standards could also cost cash-strapped state governments some $16 billion to implement.

Fair to question is whether this nation’s students are being used as Guiana pigs in a one-size-fits-all educational experiment that many feel is destined to perform badly or even fail? The vast majority of countries where students perform more poorly than they do in America have nationalized education.

Without question, Common Core standards fail to address the specific needs of a state or a child, but even most troublesome is that it is designed to produce a generation of progressive, liberal-minded adults and citizen activists who will see this nation in a way completely alien to what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they created a nation that offered such great hope and promise to future generations of Americans.

Monday, October 21, 2013 at 08:14 AM | Permalink

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By Nancy Thorner – 

The prestigious Lake Forest High School (District 115) located in Lake County, IL, has had its share of publicity, and not all good, in the past year.

Starting in the fall of 2012, Lake Forest High School teachers went on strike, walking the picket line, even though their average base salary was $106,500, along with other perks such as family health insurance, annuities, pension contribution payments, etc.

Ending the year was the arrest of the former theater manager at Lake Forest High School, District 115, Benjamin Davidson, for sex related crimes. Since then Davidson has pleaded not guilty to 18 sex crimes in the Lake County Criminal Court in Waukegan.

Now newly-elected LFHS School Board member Ted Moorman of Lake Forest starts off his term with an unnecessary cloud hanging over him.  Moorman, who ran as an independent on a platform advocating more Board oversight, transparency and accountability, has been sued by former Board president Sharon Golan in connection with statements he allegedly made during his election campaign.

As reported in the Gazebo News, Golan’s lawsuit accuses Moorman of defamation and invasion of privacy and seeks $500,000 in damages for allegedly causing Golan to experience severe emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, and injury to her reputation.

Golan’s lawsuit claims that Moorman made false and misleading oral and written statements concerning her participation on the Selection Committee for the construction manager for the $50-million-plus renovation of LFHS.  The contract was awarded to Pepper Construction, a company owned by the uncle and cousins of Golan’s husband, Stephan Golan.  Bringing family ties full circle, Mrs. Golan is represented in her defamation lawsuit by her husband’s law firm, Golan & Christie.

As an outsider looking in, it appears that Golan’s lawsuit could be nothing but a very expensive exercise in hair-splitting.  Golan indisputably put herself in a position that smacks of, at the very least, an appearance of impropriety.  She does not dispute the essentials of the matter:  1) that her husband has close familial ties to Pepper Construction; 2) that she accepted a position on the Selection Committee; and 3) that Pepper’s bid was selected by the Board.

What Golan does dispute are the peripheral facts of whether or not she “publicly” disclosed her familial relationship to Pepper and whether or not her immediate family had any financial interest in Pepper.  Golan claims that she disclosed her family ties to her fellow Board members once she learned of Pepper’s bid, but it is debatable whether this constitutes a “public” disclosure.  Is the Board considered the public?  Was the disclosure made during a public meeting or was it made behind closed doors?

Golan further claims that the Board’s lawyer gave her the green light to continue her participation in the selection process because her immediate family had no financial interest in Pepper.  Did the Board’s lawyer do an independent investigation of Golan’s financial interests or did he accept her assertion that she had none?  Did the Board’s lawyer explore whether Golan’s husband’s law firm represents Pepper, in which case the contract award could well have been at least an indirect financial benefit to her immediate family?

Regardless of whether Golan’s disclosure can fairly be characterized as “public” and regardless of whether Golan had any financial interest in Pepper, the uncontested facts reveal that her involvement on the Selection Committee may have been inappropriate.  Indeed, Golan’s act of recusing herself from the final Board vote on the award showed her hesitation.

The Golan/Moorman lawsuit does bring front and center a fundamental problem that exists on many school boards throughout Illinois.  Candidates for school board positions are chosen and supported by local caucuses, but not before vetting has been done to make certain the candidates are in tune with what the administration and superintendent wish to happen.  This is why very seldom does an independent candidate get elected to a board position, especially one who will not toe the line or rubber stamp every issue brought up for a vote.

Having a reformer like Ted Moorman on the Lake Forest District 115 School Board is a breath of fresh air.  For too long school board members of Lake Forest District 115 have functioned as “yes” men and women for whatever the superintendent desired.

Author’s Disclaimer: Mrs. Thorner endorsed Ted Moorman for Lake Forest District 115 School Board in the recent election.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 08:30 AM | Permalink



With little discussion and just one dissent, the District 115 School Board approved on Tuesday, July 11, for the 8th year in a row a consulting contract for the retired Lake Bluff Middle School principal (District 65), Ms. Kathy O’Hara. Ms. O’Hara’s contract is for the position of Student Service and Community Coordinator at Lake Forest High School, a position that did not exist prior to her retirement and that was seemingly created just for her by prior superintendent Dr. Harry Griffith.


The lone dissenter, Board member Ted Moorman, is new to the Board and ran on a platform of greater accountability for spending of taxpayer funds. Mr. Moorman raised the issue as to the need for O’Hara’s position, as she replaced no one when she was hired as a consultant in 2005. In the future, other Board members should follow Mr. Moorman’s lead and vote against consulting contracts such as Ms. O’Hara’s that are of marginal need and add to the already bloated administrative staff of Districts 65 and 115.


There is no question about Ms. O’Hara’s fine reputation and service to the community of Lake Bluff.  A Gazebo post dated July 21 of this year noted an event at which Lake Bluff Village President Kathy O’Hara (as of May, 2013) would be one of the featured speakers — along with the Lake Forest Mayor Donald Schoenheider– on July 23rd at the annual Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce Municipal Undate: Lunch with the Mayors at the Deer Path Inn.


In the Gazebo article Miss O’Hara was described accordingly:

Nonetheless, the question remains whether the perpetuation of Ms. O’Hara’s consulting position is a prudent use of taxpayer funds, particularly in these hard economic times.  Although compensation for O’Hara’s ten-month a year consulting contract at $53,000 is far less than that of other lofty administrative salaries in our school districts, it is still a very significant amount of money (top 50% of all wage earners) for a job that appears to be of marginal need and one that is duplicative of existing LFHS positions.


Ms. O’Hara and her paid part-time assistant perform a variety of service-related duties.  They provide students with a list of school and community volunteer opportunities and log students’ service hours. However, these duties are duplicative of, and certainly could be absorbed by, the five LFHS student service clubs, each of which has one or more teacher advisors who are paid extra for that role.


Moreover, if we are trying to teach our children that volunteerism is laudable, then why not set an example by having the adults who are organizing/supervising volunteer activities be volunteer themselves?  There is no shortage in this town of parents who are willing to volunteer their time for school-related activities.

Ms. O’Hara and her assistant also organize a once a year Service Award Banquet and a once a year career day (10% of the student population participated this past year, up 30% from the prior year).  The planning of these events could be absorbed by one of the many student clubs or by parent volunteers.


Ms. O’Hara is also the advisor of the peer tutoring club and the co-advisor of three other clubs.  A teacher could assume the role of advising the tutoring club and the other three clubs could function adequately with just one paid advisor.  All over the country teachers and other core school employees are being laid off (e.g., as close to home as Chicago). We simply do not have the luxury of sustaining a marginal job, even if it is for a person such as Ms. O’Hara who has served the community very well for many years.


Of interest is that Ms. O’Hara is drawing a yearly pension of $123,328 from her 36-year tenure at Lake Bluff Middle School, while at the same time she is receiving compensation for her consulting position at LFHS.  Ms. O’Hara is not the only consultant drawing both a salary and a pension.  When our school system is looking to eliminate costs, as it should be, marginal positions held by retirees collecting a pension should be primary candidates for elimination.


Again, this author means no slight to Ms. O’Hara’s esteemed status and service to the community.  The author merely advocates prudent spending of taxpayer funds.


Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 03:00 PM | Permalink



 Updated: June 27, 2013 4:56AM


Lake Forest and Lake Bluff typically pride themselves on being at the top of lists, but one might not be pleased to know that the former district 115/67 superintendent, Harry Griffith, ranks 48th out of the top 200 of all Illinois pension recipients.


Stats for Griffith (according to research done by Champion News) include: annual pension of $231,109; retired at age 61; total pension collected to date of $168,418; estimated lifetime pension payout of $7,668,570; employee contribution of 4.4 percent of that estimated payout.  (Lifetime payout assumes a life expectancy of 85 and a 3 percent cost of living raise compounded annually.)


Griffith’s pension is among mostly people who worked at the university level, which demonstrates that most towns understand superintendents need not be paid such a high-figure salary.


Consider also pay scales of Lake Forest High School teachers and administrators (collected from Freedom of Information requests): 10 now earn salaries in excess of $150,000; 30 earn between $125,000 and $150,000; all will join the ranks of $100,000 plus pensioners upon their retirements.


Taxpayers have a right to know how much Illinois’s government retirees are being paid and the astronomical accumulations of those payments over an average lifetime, with payouts dwarfing actual contributions.


In the meantime, Illinois has the worst credit rating and the highest unfunded pension liabilities of any state, with a pension system that could collapse by 2015.


Yet in Springfield Democratic leaders of both houses are crafting so-called pension reform which offers little other than favoring union bosses who keep them in power.


Contact state Sen. Julie Morrison at 847-202-6584 and state Rep. Scott Drury at 847-681-8580 or your own representatives.  Tell them real pension reform must include: raising the retirement age to 67; increasing employee contributions by 10 percent; increasing health care contributions to 50 percent; cost-of-living increases in line with those given to Social Security recipients; replacing the defined benefit system with a defined contribution system for all new hires.



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. (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.”

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.”

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

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.

My continued scrutiny of Lake Forest High School District 115 is not unlike what is surely happening at other high schools in Illinois where things have gotten out-of-hand.

Passivity is not a good thing to be found among taxpayers, as can seen up here in Lake County in a wealthy area where taxpayers have become indifferent to what really exists at Lake Forest High School, District 115. Many taxpayers feel that more money directed toward education must equal better of every thing! How wrong they are.

Just days after my opinion piece aired at Illinois Review on January 7th questioning the need for so many administrative positions at Lake Forest High School, a Lake Forest Patch article posted by editor Steve Sadin on Jan.11, 2013 raised further questions about improvident school spending.

Sadin’s article describes a $5 million capital-spending plan currently under consideration by the LFHS (District 115) Board of Education, $1.5 million of which would come from capital reserve funds and the remaining $3.5 from the sale of bonds. According to the article, ” The most expensive part of the project is replacing the approximately 20-year-old six-lane track at Lindemeyer Field with an eight-lane banked oval and building new storage facilities to replace those currently located under the bleachers.” Other updates include a “Dectron” unit to improve air quality of the swimming pool, new air conditioning units, new hot water boilers, and a new rigging system for the theatre.

My gripe is not with the bona fides of the claimed needs. Rather, what I am perplexed about is why, less than six months ago, the Board turned down private donations and pledges totaling almost $1.7 million to build the very track the Board is now seeking to fund with taxpayer funds. I am also disturbed that $5 million is needed for infrastructure repairs less than six years after taxpayers spent $75 million to renovate the LFHS’s infrastructure!

The history associated with the turned-down private donation, which would have been the largest gift in the history of Illinois public schools, is succinctly summarized in a comment to Sadin’s Jan. 11 Patch article:

“1. The School Superintendent and the School Board were aware of and supportive of the Diamond Campaign (DC) from its earliest stages.

2. The DC plan was to replace the current track, add a turf field, and replace/upgrade the surrounding facilities.

3. The DC received about $1.7 million in written pledges from credible Lake Forest residents, over $300,000 was cash with the balance pledged in equal amounts over four years.

4. The School Board had planned to support the DC plan with an additional $1.2 million to complete the project.

5. After the DC fund raising was complete, the School Board changed its position and turned down the gift. This was in the summer of 2012.

6. The recently voiced School Board plan to replace the track will cost $1.6 (a portion of the $5 million). This is substantially more than the district would have spent had it accepted the DC gift — and we won’t get the new turf field with the new School Board plan.”

Why did the Board see fit to look this gift horse in the mouth?

In addition to this imprudent snub of an enormous private gift, the proposed $5 million in infrastructure improvements raises another question about Board decisions. It has been less than five years since taxpayers spent a whopping $75 million to renovate the east and west campuses of LFHS. Why weren’t the track, a-c, boiler, and theatre rigging issues addressed during the “big spend” that was sold to taxpayers by Harry Griffith and the Board as solving the problems of the two outdated facilities?

Many taxpayers are left wondering just what did the taxpayers get for their money? As I pointed out in a Patch opinion piece back on Nov. 27, 2012, the $75 million renovation “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.”

Let’s look what we seem to have gotten from the big spend: The east campus building was spiffed up but it is essentially still an old building with the same old classrooms, the same old lockers, the same crazy-quilt hallways, and the same old indoor and outdoor athletic facilities. To boot, there is a woefully insufficient amount of parking and insufficient space to accommodate the multitude of top-notch sports teams LFHS has built, requiring droves of athletes each day to be transported to west campus facilities.

The renovated east campus does now have a 2-story edifice that connects two buildings. This edifice reportedly makes for a very cool hangout area for students, but seems to fall short of expectations from a $75 million renovation, prompting one citizen to comment in the Patch in response to the suggestion of $5 million in new expenditures: “They already own $75M for the ‘apple store’ hallway they built.”

To be fair, in addition to improvements of the east campus building, the $75 million did also cover renovations of LFHS’s west campus building, but those renovations appear to consist of little other than a new weight room and new offices to house the vast District 67/115 administrative staff that formerly occupied a wing of Deerpath Middle School.

There is one crown jewel emanating from the big spend: a beautiful new football stadium erected at west campus, arguably the only part of the big spend that truly meets expectations.

It is a shame the taxpayers and students didn’t get for the $75 million a new, state-of-the-art high school and new sports facilities in a locale that would have accommodated all academic and extra-curricular needs and lasted for many decades without further expenditures on infrastructure. $75 million could easily have bought just that. According data from Reed Construction, the cost estimates in 2008 to build a two-story, 130,000 square foot high school using union labor ranged, according to construction types, from $17,945,690 to $21,384,440.

Even tripling those estimates for more square footage, parking lots, and outdoor sports facilities, $75 million would surely have done the trick.

This, unfortunately, is “spilled milk.” We must move on from here to do whatever is necessary and right for our schools and taxpayers alike. However, we must learn from our mistakes as we move forward. There seems to be an air of denial present among Board members, who heretofore have been able to convince enough taxpayers that they are and have been good stewards of taxpayer monies. For whatever reasons, they have not been.

What our school districts need is a full-time, neutral inspector general to delve deeply into finances and ferret out abuses, such as the turning down of the Diamond Campaign’s gift and enormously bloated administrative costs.

At the January 8th District 115 Board meeting, I called upon the Board to appoint an inspector general to trim the fat that the Board has turned a blind eye to gaining. Almost laughably, the Board’s response was that it has determined that doing so would not be “cost effective.”

Tax dollars that are devoted to education should be spent for one reason and one reason only – to provide a quality education and quality facilities for our students, not to enrich administrators or contractors. If the taxpayers want to ensure that our tax dollars are being spent for that reason, they should insist that the Board re-consider and hire a paid, full-time inspector general, one who should be independent of, but work in concert with, our volunteer Board members who understandably cannot devote full time to their oversight role.

Published initially at Illinois Review on Monday, January 14.

District #115 board members are deserving of praise for holding the line against intense pressure from parents who wanted LFHS to stay open for their own children.

Having attended the District 115 board meeting last night (Sept. 11), it quickly became evident that most of the Public Comments offered were from individuals who, as taxpayers, wanted board members to show some spine in their dealings with the LFEA.

In one way the strike by LF District 115 teachers can be linked to the make up of the District 115  Board over the years in having agreed to the demands of the  local teacher union, the LFEA, which, in a large part, takes its marching orders from the IEA, of which LFHS teachers are members.

The salaries of teachers in LF District 115 can be easily found at  Most of the teachers at LFHS earn in excess of $100,000.  This is their base salary and does not include other perks such as family health insurance, annuities, pension contribution payment, etc.

The base salaries of the 25 highest paid teachers at LFHS range from $168,740 for a Physical Education teacher, Anthony Filippo, down to $129,965 for Mary Beth Nawor who teaches Environmental Science.

According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune on September 12 by Lisa Black and John Keilman, the average base salary of a teacher at LFHS is $106,500, compared with a statewide average of about $65,000,0,3276944.story

District 115 Board is proposing a 2.6% increase in FY 2013, while the LFEA is asking for 5.6%.  Proposals for the following two years:  FY 2014, Board (3.4%) – LFEA (6.5%); FY 2015, Board (3.4%) – LFEA (5.6%).    As can be observed, the LFEA proposal is more than double the CPI.

The percentage of increase proposed by the Board is in line with, and even slightly above, what is being negotiated by other school districts in the area — a 2.5% increase for teachers — in their contract negotiations.  With the amount of increase proposed by the Board, LFHS can remain competitive with other area school districts in the hiring of good teachers for its student population.

In regard to Health Insurance, LFEA is asking that existing employees continue to receive, without charge, HMO Single and Family Premiums and PPO 750 Single and Family Premiums.  This would mean that the Board would have to pay more for 5 of the 10 health insurance plans offered to LFHS teachers.  Four plans are already 100% Board paid.

Not to be forgotten is that teachers can retire at age 55, and many do.  In ten years teachers making over $100,000 a year at LFHS will be drawing at age 65 the same pension as the salaries they were making during their last year of teaching.  Additionally, their pensions will be automatically adjusted each year to reflect the COLA increase of 3% for the rest of their lives.   This isn’t even true for SS recipients.

Out of five pension systems in the state of Illinois, the Teachers’ Retirement System is the largest and the costliest of Illinois’s pension programs.  In March of 2011 Tribune reporter, Diane Rado, indicated that the TRS “is now almost $40 billion short of what’s needed to cover future benefits — the deepest financial hole in 20  years of state records.”

With Illinois lawmakers looking to rein in the massive costs of public programs, teachers at  LFHS should be worried that the nest egg they’ve always considered a sure thing might shrink.  More and more school districts have concerns that local taxpayers might have to start picking up more of the tab for teacher pensions.

What happens when a union in a private sector business insists on a pay scale and other benefits for its members that cannot be supported financially by the company?  The company will eventually go out of business.  It may even end up going overseas to save the company, where workers can be employed who are not demanding “the store.”

In a free enterprise system there is competition.  Businesses who are obligated to increase the cost of their products to cover the cost of increased union-negotiated wages and benefits for its employees, do not fare all that well in Illinois. .

But what happens, if through teacher union bargaining, teacher demands become too rich to support existing conditions?  Schools certainly do not go out of business!

If teacher unions are permitted to continue their heavy-handed bargaining as in the past, Illinois, an already financially challenged state, will continue to go further and further into debt, a debt that is now unsustainable and approaching financial Armageddon.

And let’s not forget about all the taxpayers, not only here in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, but throughout Illinois, who pay handsomely to fund schools, wanting the very best for the children in their communities.

Even though LFHS is located in what is known as an upscale area in northern Illinois, not everyone is doing well in this down economy.  Like elsewhere else, there have been many foreclosures and job losses. Teachers have little fear of losing their jobs under ordinary circumstances as they have tenure.

Teachers seem to forget that they work for the public and that their jobs are public sector jobs paid for by taxpayers.  A large portion of our property taxes go to fund our schools.  As was indicated at the District #115 Board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 11, the largest chunk of the FY2012 budget now being drawn up is for salaries.

Just as tax payers must pay for LFHS teacher salaries, etc., they must also pay for the Board Attorney, Mike Hernandez, who does not come on the cheap!  He is present during all board negotiation.  He was also at the meeting last night giving details of the strike conditions.

I commend the District 115 board for remaining firm.  For LFHS teachers, when is enough, enough?  You already teach in the best high school in the entire state with the highest teacher salaries.  You are looking quite silly to outsiders who must be shaking their heads in wonderment..

Teachers at LFHS have positions that many other teachers can only dream about.   It is a given that there are many qualified teacher out there who would jump at the chance to teach in Lake Forest District 115.