By Nancy J. Thorner, cellist in the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra.

Sponsored post by Lake Forest High School Musicians and Lake Forest Civic Orchestra

From left, Ron Arden, Conductor and Music Director of the Lake Forest Civic Orchstra, and  Robert Bassill, Director of Orchestra & Music Theory at Lake Forest High School From left, Ron Arden, Conductor and Music Director of the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, and Robert Bassill, Director of Orchestra & Music Theory at Lake Forest High School

The Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, Ron Arden, Conductor and Music Director, will share the podium with Robert Bassill, Director of Orchestras & Music Theory, on Sunday, March 16, 2014, 4:00 p.m., at Lake Forest High School, 1285 N. McKinley Road, Lake Forest, in the 3rd concert of its 25th Anniversary 2013-2013 Concert Season, “Community Inspiration.”

Formerly the North Suburban Symphony, the name change took place at our 25th Anniversary concert this past November, and is in keeping with the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra’s association with the community, that we are volunteers, that we believe in making a place for everyone to play, and that we are in it for the long haul.

This season’s partnership with the Lake Forest High School Band and Orchestra Departments marks the third time the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra has partnered with student musicians for a joint concert, the first time in 2010, then again in 2012.

Robert Bassill’s two string orchestras will participate — the Concert Orchestra with 41 players and the Symphony Orchestra with 35. When asked about his string students and their achievement, Mr. Bassill gave this response: “The students have so many achievements in academics and sports I wouldn’t even know where to start! We usually have the smartest kids in the school involved. For example, the principal cellist is going to Yale next year. I am fortunate to work with such talented students.”

As an orchestra calls for woodwind, brass and percussion players, Lake Forest High School Band Director, Janene Kessler, requested that band members elect to participate by joining up with Bassill’s string groups and the forty members of the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra. Brian O’Connor, as instrumental music assistant, helped both Bassill and Keesler in concert preparations.

All excellent musicians and performers in their own right, Robert Bassill will perform as a member of both the violin and the viola sections when Ron Arden is at the podium conducting. Janene Kessler will join the Horn section and Brian O’Connor the percussion during the performance of Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5.” Lake Forest Civic Orchestra conductor, Ron Arden, will assist the viola section when Robert Bassill is at the podium conducting.

The March 16th partnership concert also involves a partnership of the players from Lake Forest High School and those of the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra. Whenever possible a Lake Forest High School musician will be seated next to a Lake Forest Civic Orchestra musician. High school musicians have also been assigned important solos in deference to the more seasoned Lake Forest Civic Orchestra players.

The “Holberg Suite” by Edvard Grieg will open the program. Grieg is considered Norway’s greatest composer. He was able to capture the people, the scenery, and the moods of Norway through his music. Subtitled “Suite in olden style,” the “Holberg Suite” consists of five movement based on 18th century dances. Grieg wrote this composition to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Danish-Norwegian humanist play write Ludvig Holberg. A charming collection of dances, Basill’s “Concert” and “Symphony” string orchestras will share the stage with members of the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra string sections.

Following the “Holberg Suite,” Dimiti Shostakovich’s powerful “Symphony in D minor, Op. 47″ will be performed by Bassill’s Symphonic string orchestra, selected player’s from Kessler’s band program, and members of the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra.

Shostakovich’s “5th Symphony” reflects the times in which it was written. Composed between April and July 1937 and first performed on November 21, 1937, it was during the height of the Stalinist Terror when over half a million people were shot and another seven million dispatched to the Gulag in just over a year’s time.

The four movements of the symphony are seeped in an atmosphere of mourning for those who had lost friends and family on a massive scale. With the “5th “Symphony” Shostakovich gained back favor with the Russian government, having fallen out of favor over a controversial opera he wrote in 1937 which didn’t display the heroic classicism demanded by the government.

As listeners you will be both pleased and surprised. The caliber of the Lake Forest High School musicians is outstanding. They are a credit to both their directors, Robert Bassill and Janene Kessler.

Tickets can be purchased on the day of the concert or check out our Website: lakeforestcivicorchestra.org. Adults, $18.00; Seniors/Students, $10.00; children under 12 admitted free with a paying adult.

The final concert of the 25th Anniversary Season of the Lake Forest Civic Orchestra, “Imagining the Next 25 Years!”, will be held in the auditorium at Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest on Sunday, May 4, at 4:00 p.m. Featured will be music by Bartok, Stravinsky,Debussy, and Williams.

 

 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.
http://lakeforest.suntimes.com/opinions/letters/20804346-474/former-lake-forest-administrator-pension-at-university-levels.html

 

 

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.

I am responding to District 115 Board Member Burgener’s 1-18-13 letter to the Patch in which he excoriates the Patch, a Patch commenter and me for publishing/republishing the inaccurate amount of $75M for the 2008-2009 east/west campus expansion/renovations and for rabble rousing over what he considers to be “fringe” opinions, as reputations once lost are difficult to recover. http://lakeforest.patch.com/articles/letter-to-the-editor-lfhs-school-board-member-criticizes-patch-story

I learned of the erroneous $75M number from a citizen comment to a Patch article. I failed to verify the accuracy of this number and regret this error. I take great pride in researching the facts on which I base my opinions and will work ever more diligently to check facts in the future. However, to err is human. According to the 1-20-13 Patch follow-up letter by Mr. Al Boese, the $54M number Mr. Burgener himself published is also inaccurate; the amount spent “was closer to $62MM.” http://lakeforest.patch.com/blog_posts/war-between-d-115-board-member-nancy-thorner-and-patch

In any event, whether the actual number is $54M or $62M, we are still talking about a staggering amount of money and I still think it is a fair question to ask why the track field, the AC units, the boilers and the theatre rigging issues for which the District is now seeking another $5M were not taken care of for that price tag?

The list of renovations accomplished for our $54M/$62M, even put in the best light by Mr. Burgener, do not seem to justify the enormous investment. For example, he mentions “re-purposing more than 68,000 feet of educational space,” but what exactly does that mean? I understand that the old classrooms all stayed in tact, with no structural changes. Could changing a math classroom into a history classroom cost anything, much less lofty sums? Was it prudent to spend money renovating and now maintaining the west campus building for the primary purpose of relocating the burgeoning “Central Administrative Staff” when the economic times warranted truncation of that staff and keeping them housed at the Deer Path Middle School facility?

Mr. Burgener defends the renovations on the ground that the public voted for them. True enough, but the $54M bond referendum was sold to the public as the solution to two deteriorating campuses, not merely as the phase I of necessary renovations that it apparently was. Specifically, the plan was marketed as being “a long-range comprehensive plan” that would include infrastructure improvements including “Air Conditioning and heating,” the very improvements for which District 115 is now seeking funding! http://www.lfhs.org/facilities/qna.html

I also remain firm in my belief that the Board mishandled the generous fund-raising effort by the Diamond Campaign (DC). What I understand from the public record is that the DC proposed to fund, with up front donations and pledges, $2.9 million for “a new state-of-the-art track & field facility and two new synthetic turf fields.” http://www.diamondcampaign.org/overview.html

The DC proposed that the District fund the project with a loan that the DC would pay off over time. By March of 2012, the DC had collected $300,000 to $500,000 in donations and had over a million more in pledges, with a representation that it would continue its fund-raising efforts as new freshman classes cycle into the school. However, the amount of cash in hand was not good enough for the Board, nor was the word of the pledgers that they would be “good for” their pledges, a response that understandably created resentment.

Herein lies my problem with the Board’s handling of the matter. As the Board now concedes in seeking funds for a new track, the track needed to be replaced in 2012 as it does now. By alienating the DC, which I understand has already refunded all donations, the taxpayers are now left with paying 100% of the cost of the new track and the students are left with no new turf field for field hockey and lacrosse. Let’s assume that 50% of the pledgers reneged on their promises – an extraordinarily high assumption given the track record of similar booster pledges in other towns – funding from the DC would still have paid for well over half of what now must be paid for in full by the taxpayers. How can this be characterized as prudent?

Mr. Bergener’s letter is a seeming attempt to intimidate the Patch and me into not publishing articles and opinions that reflect poorly on the Board. He makes the petty, juvenile accusation that my opinions are “foolish” and reflect “fringe thinking.”

I thank Mr. Boese for coming to my defense in his 1-20-13 Patch letter. While some people may well disagree with my opinions, I can assure you that many share them. In fact, many members of the public have reached out to me, either via anonymous letters or in person, asking me to research and inform the public about various issues pertaining the schools. I don’t know how many times parents have told me that they would raise the issues themselves but fear reprisals against their children.

I intend to continue keeping a keen eye on issues of importance to taxpayers. I urge the Patch to continue doing the same. With the Patch, the public finally has a forum for exchanging opinions on matters of importance in the community (the Lake Forester now limits opinion letters to one 250-word letter per person per month and has no mechanism for comments to those letters).

It was largely due to the Patch’s coverage of the LFHS teachers’ strike and its willingness to publish blogs and comments on teachers’ salaries that the public rallied in support of the Board’s taking a tough stance in negotiations. Had the Patch been around a decade ago, it is doubtful that the public would have tolerated former superintendent Harry Griffith’s reign of excesses.

Regardless of what improvident decisions might have been made in the past, going forward we cannot skimp on future necessary spending on our schools. For the sake of the students and our property values, we must ensure quality facilities. We also need a better system of checks and balances than we have had in the past. For example, as I have previously suggested, it would be prudent to retain a full-time, paid inspector general to assist our part-time volunteer Board members in their oversight role.

Unfortunately this does not seem to be in the cards for District 115. As told to me in no uncertain terms at the January District 115 board meeting on Tuesday, January 8th, such a hiring was not warranted as the board had done its job in curtailing excess expenditures during the past several years.

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.

The culture of this nation, one driven by the unionization of teachers back in the 1960’s coupled with public indifference and inattentiveness to spending, has resulted in the gross over-staffing of our schools with attendant excessive spending.

The cost per pupil of educating a District 115 (Lake Forest High School) student is now a staggering $22,003, with a budget for the 2013-14 school year being a behemoth $43+ million, the bulk of which is to be spent on salaries and benefits.

Last month, District 115 once again requested and was granted the maximum-allowable five percent increase to the tax levy for the 2013-14 school year, a step in the wrong direction. In these hard economic times, a reduction in taxes has for most taxpayers become a need, not just a want.

A frequently used solution to trimming an education budget is to cut teaching positions and increase classroom sizes. But there is a better solution: Reduce the fat from non-teaching “support” positions, such as multiple layers of administrators, by eliminating positions that are in excess of what is required to serve reasonably the student population and by ensuring that administrative salaries are not out of whack with those commanded in the private workforce.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Lake Forest ranks first among average salaries for administrators, averaging $175,375 per year. The high cost of administrators, however, is just part of the problem; the other part is the explosion in the sheer number of administrators and other non-teaching support staff.

All told, there are over 120 administrative (non-teaching) positions to support LFHS, a school that has only 140 teachers and a relatively small student population of 1,765 students. This nearly 1 to 1 ratio of non-teachers to teachers is quite disturbing given that teaching, after all, is the raison d’être of schools.

There are so many administrative positions that it is somewhat difficult to discern who does what, but here’s the general picture:

To begin, LFHS District 115 shares 50/50 with District 67 the cost of a cadre of administrators housed in the West Campus Administrative Office, starting with “Superintendent” Michael Simeck, who commands a starting base salary of $250,000 a year, down substantially from that of his predecessor Harry Griffith, who was paid an astounding salary of $362,339 (the highest in all of Illinois).

Other administrators in the Administrative Office include: an “Assistant Superintendent” whose salary registers $206,469, a “Deputy Superintendent for Finance & Operations” who takes in $237,599, an “Assistant to the Superintendent for Finance and Operations” who earns $61,624, a “Director of Communications” costing just under $200,000, an “Assistant Superintendent of Business Services” commanding $212,836, and a “Director of Buildings and Grounds,” earning $115,433 (these salaries are from the school year 2012 as set forth in a blog by Bill Zettler, Director of Research for the Family Taxpayers Foundation and author of “Illinois Pension Scam.”)

In total, these seven administrators cost the taxpayers $1,283,961 plus several hundreds of thousands in benefits and perks, so let’s conservatively call it a yearly price tag of $1.5 million. In addition to these 7 administrators, there are 13 “Human Resources” and “Business” staff members in the West Campus administrative offices, with a conservative payroll cost of another $1 million, making a total cost of $2.5 million.

A whopping $2.5 million ($1.25 million of it paid by LFHS) should be more than enough to pay for the administration of LFHS, right? That is not the case. There is yet another large layer of administrators and support services on the premises of LFHS.

For administrators, LFHS has a “Principal” ($195,817), an “Assistant Principal” ($182,091), a “Director of Personnel and Instruction” ($112,020), and an “Athletic Director” ($141,862). In addition, each of the thirteen LFHS academic departments has a department head paid extra to administrate their departments.

The administrative positions at LFHS continue, and include: a “Comptroller,” a “Director of Technology,” a “Fee Specialist,” a “Registrar,” a “Service Coordinator,” an “Assistant to Service Coordinator,” a “Bookstore Manager,” a “Communications Assistant,” a “Nurse,” a “Health Attendant,” an “Attendance Taker,” a “Facilities Usage Manager,” a “Student Resources Officer,” a “Manager of Buses and Field Trips,” a “Transcript Manager,” a “Pool Manager,” a “Cafeteria Manager,” four deans, eight guidance counselors, four social workers, seven librarians, fourteen secretaries/receptionists, a staff of ten in the Athletic Department, 15 in the Cafeteria and 15 in Maintenance.

The excesses in administrative positions are palpable. To name a few:

We have too many highly paid administrators who are seemingly doing little other than overseeing a staff of people who are doing what the highly paid administrators’ jobs should encompass!

In the “olden days” we did quite well with just one superintendent managing a school much larger than Districts 115 and 67 combined.

We employ both a pricey Director of Communications and a Communications Assistant. With the amount of money we pay our two superintendents, shouldn’t the taxpayers expect them to do the “PR” that is needed?

The Dean’s Office staff lists 16 individuals, comprised of four deans and 12 miscellaneous support positions. Working in one of these spots is akin to wining a lottery! The staff seems to have an incredible gig doing work that does not require a college degree. All get paid tidy sums. At least one study hall proctor and 3 of the 4 deans are paid over $100,000! Whatever happened to teachers proctoring study hall in their off periods and ill-behaved students going to the principal’s office rather than to one of many deans? It would be surprising if there were more than a dozen misbehaving kids per grade level, a very small number for so many deans.

An excess of guidance counselors likewise seems to exist, six in all, to make sure students are taking all the requirements for graduation and to facilitate class changes. They also counsel for college exams and college selection, basically amounting to nanny-state positions. These are six figure positions, not an incidental cost.

Do we really need to be paying a school nurse, who reports to work no more than 184 days per year, a salary ($120,567) that rivals that made by many general practitioner physicians who work year-round? Does she really need an assistant (do students come to the nurse’s office coughing two by two)?

Might we be able to reduce or eliminate parent-paid fees if we eliminated the full time position of “fee specialist”?
Should an athletic department for one relatively small high school have a staff of eight people in addition to its director and a host of gym teachers and coaches?

Do we need a full-time position of manager of a school bookstore, particularly when a far less costly (and hassle-free) option for parents would be on-line ordering of books?

Have kids nowadays become that much more needy or have our school systems gotten out of control with way more administrators and other support services than are warranted, with taxpayers footing the bill through higher and higher property taxes?

What is needed is a paid Inspector General position to serve both District 115 and 67 (which has an administrative staff even larger than District 115’s). An Inspector General, who must be experienced and independent, should take a close look at job descriptions, work loads, and compensation and determine what positions could be consolidated, what positions are being paid significantly more than their private sector counterparts, etc. The cost per pupil at LFHS can undoubtedly be substantially curbed, over time, without hurting the quality of education one iota, by reducing the massive administrative staff.

Let’s start teaching our children fiscal responsibility by practicing it.

Published initially at Illinois Review on Monday, January 7, 2013.

A made to order day greeted the 18th annual “A Wonderful Life in Lake Bluff” day-long Christmas and Holiday celebration on Saturday, December 1st.

Although the scheduled activities were much the same as in years past, there were many opportunities to experience the activities including food, fun and shopping in fresh and new ways, as I joined in the merry-making, mingling with parents with children in tow, whose contagious-like excitement was an added bonus to an already festive day.

Carriage Rides ~

Walking the few blocks from my home in Lake Bluff, my arrival was timed to the start time of horse-drawn carriage rides at 11:00 a.m., courtesy of the Lake Forest Bank and Trust. I quickly spied Lyla, resplendent in black hat and red jacket, waiting for the carriage to load so the lucky ones could experience an old-fashioned ride around the block, pulled by Pawnee, a beautiful black horse decked out for the occasion with a striking red plume.

I was informed by the owner of the Antique Coach & Carriage Co., Debbie Hay, which rents Horse Drawn Carriages for all occasions, that although the rentals are mostly seasonal, rentals do take place all year long, with weddings being a specialty. This was a busy day for the Antique Coach and Carriage Co. After Lake Bluff the day called for two more gigs, one of them in the community of Olympia Field.

I was further informed that If you missed the Lake Bluff carriage rides, Antique Coach and Carriage Co. would be in Lake Forest. Although not definite, it was thought to be three December Sundays in a row, the 9th, 16th, and 23rd, from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m to further promote the Christmas and Holiday season in Lake Forest. http://www.antiquecoach.carriage.com

Chestnut Roasting ~

A familiar sight was to see Albert Vgolini roasting chestnuts in front of Peg Ann & Kompany. Ermanno Amidei, owner of the alley-like market place behind the formerly Marshall Field’s building and across from the Lake Forest Post Office, sponsors the chestnut roasting events in communities near by to Lake Forest.

Vgolini orders his chestnuts from Italy, which he claims are the very best. It was doubtful whether the ship bringing the chestnuts from Italy would arrive in time as Hurricane Sandy prevented the ship from docking. But the ship did dock in time to unload, so the fragrant and delicious roasted chestnuts could be enjoyed by many who were drawn to the site of Vgolijni’s roasting area in front of Peg Ann and Kompany. Sometime next week Albert Vgolini will be doing the same in Highland Park.

Santa arrives at the Lake Bluff History Center adjacent to the LB Library on a LB fire truck ~

At 12:00 noon on the dot the siren rang out, the signal that the Lake Bluff fire truck carrying Santa was on its way. I dashed to the corner of Center and Scranton and was rewarded by a smiling Santa who waved as he passed by on his way to the Lake Bluff History Center where a decorated Christmas tree, a Santa-throne, and eager children with parents all awaited his arrival.

Arriving inside the Lake Bluff History Center, Santa was greeted by two of his elves, Julia Malhee and Abbie Logan. Elf Abbie helped Santa organize his special one-on-one listening sessions with children, many of whom seemed star-struck in Santa’s presence.

Music fills the afternoon ~

Music abounded in the afternoon. Groups of singers expressed the joys of the season through the beauty of their voices. Gatherings of various choral groups could be heard and seen in front of businesses as well as inside their establishments. Wherever gathered, it wasn’t long before strollers found their way to enjoy first hand the music of the carolers.

Featured groups from Lake Forest High School were the Madrigal Singers under the direction of Timothy Haskell, Choral Director at Lake Forest High School, and the Bel Canto Singers, an all girl’s group, directed by Randy Casey.

Curious as to why Randy Casey had charge of the LFHS Bel Canto Singers, a few questions to Timothy Haskell informed me that Randy Casey is the hired accompanist for all Haskell’s LFHS choral groups. In regard to the Bel Canto Singers, Haskell formed this group years ago, but then found he didn’t have time in his schedule to conduct the group himself. The responsibility was accordingly given to Haskell’s accompanist, whoever the accompanist was at the time, of which Timothy Haskell has had five over the span on his teaching career.

The Buckthorns, known for its Acapella singing from rock to folk, country to doo sop, Broadway to gospel, and contemporary to classical, performed Christmas favorites and gems of the season inside the Inovasi restaurant lobby. Founding members of the group, organized in 1995 for charitable purposes, are Sandy Turner and Suzie McMurray. Suzie is the proprietor of Viola in Lake Bluff. Over the years the Buckthorns have raised $40,000 for charity. Its membership varies from 12 to 13 members, divided among those who sing soprano, alto, tenor and bass. “Mary had a Baby” — a favorite of mine — featured Suzie McMurray, while soprano Carmen Gunning sang in German the first verse of “Silent Night,” after which all the Buckthorns joined in for verses two and three.

The Buckthorns’ rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” pleased young and old. It was evident that the Buckthorns enjoyed performing “Jingle Bell Rock” as much as those assembled enjoyed “rocking along” with the rhythmic and popular Christmas song first released by Bobby Helms in 1957. Adding dazzle to the group’s performance were the flashing necklaces worn by the gals.

Santa’s reindeer visit Lake Bluff ~

Hearing there were two reindeer and their elf handlers positioned in front of the Memorial plaque on the Village Green, I hurried to the site where many had already gathered to meet Santa’s reindeer and elf handlers — five-year-old Angel with elf handler Sparkles, and six-year-old Poinsettia with elf handler Abbie.

Questions asked of the elves by children who were indeed curious about the reindeer, many eager to touch them while their moms and dads were busy with their cameras:

Question: “Are the reindeer from the North Pole?” Answer: “They are, but they were brought from the North Pole by Santa Claus to visit a spa at Summerfield Farm and Zoo in Belvidere, IL, to rest up before beginning their long journey around the world with Santa delivering gifts to boys and girls.”

Question: “Why is Poinsettia missing one of her antlers?” Answer: “She was too rough in playing reindeer games at the North Pole.”

Question: “Where is Rudolph?” Answer: “He stayed at the North Pole so he doesn’t wear out his nose before Christmas.”

Question: “Can reindeer fly?” Answer: “No, Santa’s magic is needed to make them fly.”

One precocious child informed elf Debbie that she didn’t look like a elf, but instead like a regular girl!

Gazebo lighting celebration of the Green ~

With darkness closing in with the approach of 5:00 p.m, I crossed the Village Green to witness what was the perfect finish to “It’s a Wonderful Life” in Lake Bluff day-long celebration, the lighting of the gazebo. Cathy O’Hara officiated over the lighting of the gazebo. Lake Bluff Middle School students, under the direction of choral director Ann Cvitkovic, know fondly as Miss C, entertained the large assemblage of folk with songs of the season.

Lake Bluff Middle School students ended the celebration as they sang what has become a favorite of Lake Bluff Middle School students over the years, “Children Go Where I Send Thee.”

As a former orchestra and choral music teacher, it delighted me that here in Lake Bluff and Lake Forest Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs can still be performed side by side, without attempts made to remove any reference to God or Jesus. There are schools in Lake County which no longer allow anything related to the religious nature of the Christmas season to enter the classrooms.

The Lake Forest/Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce sponsors yearly Lake Forest’s annual day-after-Thanksgiving tree lighting event and Lake Bluff’s annual event held the Saturday after Lake Forest’s tree lighting ceremony.