District 428 & the Grassroots: Yeah, Right: Part 2

This is an “I told you so” diary. I wasn’t going to do it but am upset enough about the latest on the Facilities Planning Committee that it just seems fair at this point.

January 5th I wrote about the overlap between ReNew Our Schools and the Chamber of Commerce. It just seemed like ReNew was a Chamber project, not grassroots as advertised. The impression was reinforced a few days later.

The instincts were good, as we can see now that some of the ReNew Our Schools financial records are online.

So far as records are available at the Illinois State Board of Elections, unitemized (small) donations totalled $1225. If the typical small donation was about $20, the total represents about 60 donors. Could have been $10 or $50; who knows?

Itemized donations for ReNew our schools, according to ISBOE electronic records available as of today, total $23,739 spread out over a dozen donors.

Grassroots? I think not.

31 thoughts on “District 428 & the Grassroots: Yeah, Right: Part 2”

  1. Armstrong Torseth Skold & Rydeen Inc. (aka the architecture firm) gave $2,000 to the campaign. Interesting eh?

    William Blair & Company, a Chicago investment firm also gave $2,000.

    All the rest look like local players on first glance. Castle bank, Resource bank, Ntl Bank and Trust, Larson, and so on.

    Dekalb Associates gave twice, once under its own name and once under it’s d/b/a Park 88 LLC, for $5,000 total.

  2. Do not miss the donation by:

    Armstrong Torseth Skold & Rydeen Inc.
    8501 Golden Valley Road
    Suite 300
    Minneapolis, MN 55427 $2,000.00
    1/16/2008

    AKA: ATS&R

  3. This is pathetic.

    Those involved with the referendum campaign who took those donations should be ashamed of themselves. Any practices resembling pay-to-play politics do not belong anywhere near local schools. Any slim percentage of trust I had with this just flew out the window.

  4. I did not know Blair was an investment company. I am surprised that the policies of any bond company would allow such a donation, not to mention SEC.

    The anon comment rolled in before the others, but I just now allowed it– that’s why the duplications.

  5. I am less bothered by the local players donating because if the schools are better, they may indirectly profit from selling more houses, etc. But those donations by ATS&R and William Blair & Co. are like allowing the fox to build the hen house, and watch it.

    Dang! They must think we are a bunch of rubes not to catch those questionable donations.

  6. When the final report is issued and expenditures are listed there will likely be more angry questions. It will also be interesting to see “in-kind” donations. I can’t comment with more detail than that because while I saw preliminary budget projections, they were just that and those things change. I would not feel comfortable at all naming names.

    I can say that I worked at the grassroots, bottoms up level, for the referendum. I suspended some of my business services at considerable cost. My name nor my business, eWorldlinx, is not included in the revenue or expenditure reports. I gave my time, as did many others, who will not show on any reports.

    Until Board of Election reports I was not aware that ATS&R (architects) and William Blair (bond sales) had made substantial donations.

    Write, call, email the school board members. Tell them whose interests they should serve.

    http://dist428.org/admin/board.htm

  7. Done:

    Members of the DeKalb CUSD #428 Board,

    The Illinois State Board of Elections began releasing information on who donated to the recent referendum. There are two very questionable donations, which I find unethical and infuriating, which taint the trust that the citizens of DeKalb have in the schools. One is a donation of $2,000 from Armstrong Torseth Skold & Rydeen Inc. (ATS&R) and there is another donation of $2,000 from William Blair & Company. Who accepted those donations? Why did someone or a group accept those donations at all? Did whoever not consider how bad that conflict of interest looks?

    Pay-to-play politics does not belong in Springfield and it certainly does not belong in our school district. There should be higher standards for ethics in the schools. How does teaching our young people that it is OK to cheat in gaining highly lucrative contracts preparing them to contribute to a global society or are Mission Statements just lip service?

    Elected officials are supposed to represent the people of DeKalb, not contractors with unethical practices. After some checking of the election Web site, William Blair & Company donated to several other school referenda. Word is already spreading in town and this story has not yet reached the newspaper. Was it worth $4,000 to taint public trust?

    I expect that steps will be taken so a situation like this does not happen again.

    Thank you for your time,

    Kay Shelton
    [address]

    cc. referendum@dist428.org

  8. I must admit that this is the first that I heard of these people donating money to the cause. I personally didn’t send in any money but did fully support the referendum.

    How many times did they say that this was a “grass roots funding referendum”? Is this really grass roots when the architect, who had a hand shake agreement from the get go, and now it looks like the bonding company did so also.

    I am involved in the FPC to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen but I guess it is difficult to know what happens in closed meetings or on the phone. This does not look good. ‘

    I will continue to push for cost savings and openess in this building process. I will also try to do a better job with updates in future meetings for all to read. We do need more community involvement to remind the school board that WE are still here and do hold them very accountable for their actions. Past, present, and future.

  9. I have to say I was vocally against this school referendum in the first place. Is there a chance we can get a ballot petition together to rescind this referendum?

  10. During the referendum process, the school board members who I contacted we’re extremely rude to me in every sense of the word and none of them deserve to be in the position they are in. I was proud to display my Green “VOTE NO” sign and will use it for the next round.

  11. Mark, you’ve got your hands full with repealing home rule but now I do wonder every once in a while especially the more I hear of what truly went on in the backrooms.

    I have a real problem with the architect and bonding company deal. I wish they would have been forth right about how they were involved. I know they spent many hours helping with concept drawings and such but to not honestly listen to questions and suggestions about materials and ideas that could save the taxpayers money down the road is just wrong.

    When does it come out what the committee spent the money on? It would be real interesting to see those numbers and to who received those dollars. It was a very well run campaign but now I know many of those who were still questioning yes or no and voted yes are probably wishing they would have voted different. I know, I’ve heard from about a dozen of them. That just tells me right now that the planned 2nd part of this vote being the next school referendum has no chance.

    Why do our community leaders constantly feel that deception works better than being up front and honest?

  12. No matter what sneaky, underhanded dealings happened with the money supporting the referendum, that cannot change how crowded the high school is. But, a clear and public message should be sent that sneaky time is over and pay-to-play will not be welcome here in the future.

  13. I have continually warned the FPC that we need to make sure that we do right by the taxpayers on the first referendum. If we do not, there will never be another school referendum passed.

    We all know the current high school just isn’t suited for a high school any longer and the need for a new school was/is real. We need to be smart about how we spend and remember that there is a difference from what is needed and what we wish we could have. Take care of the important items now and add the wishes as the years come along. Many on the FPC do understand that, we just have to convince the school board and some remaining FPC members.

  14. I received what I believe was a hastily written e-mail message back from School Board President Andy Small. I will give him an opportunity to re-read just what it is I wrote and a second chance to respond in a less hurried fashion.

    It was a prompt response, but of course, probably a knee-jerk response.

    ;-)

    I have really thick skin. :-)

  15. Andy Small is the vice president of the school board. He has listened and acted on concerns expressed in the FPC and CFAC meetings I’ve attended. I’m especially grateful for his input on items pertaining to the job description of the Construction Liason, his support of Brendon Gallagher’s proposal on the bond sales schedule and his leadership on getting a final recommendation from the FPC on the issue of General Contractor vs Construction Manager.

    I do believe the school board is attentative to the issues being discussed but they do need to hear from more than FPC members, staff and vendors. I believe we’ve reached a critical point in the decision making process thus my request for citizen input to the board.

  16. I plan on submitting the following letter to the Chronicle. I appreciate the hard work people posting here have contributed to the community, even if I don’t agree with the positions on all of this. I may do some last minute editing, but wanted to share the thoughts with you.

    To the Editor:

    As I follow the aftermath of the recently successful referendum to fund a new high school and resolve other needs in the DeKalb school district, I have to express concern. Circumstances don’t often allow me to attend meetings as I would like, so I follow progress through the meeting minutes of public bodies and alternative reporting on the internet. Often, there is more detail on those sites than is often available through traditional media sources. May I share some of my concerns with you:

    1. Planning the new buildings: It seems that there may be a less costly way of building the new school buildings by using precast concrete as opposed to brick and other materials. Committee participants who come from the construction sector seem to support this or at least explore the possibility further. The architect, who gets paid based on the cost of the project, is vehement in its opposition. Please contact the school board members and tell them the community approved this referendum and their architect thus works for the community. I had the opportunity to sit in on a focus group selected by the DeKalb School Board and meet the two candidates for superintendent. The second candidate and my favorite for the position pointedly told us that “If I never see you people again, the best advice I can give you is don’t let the architect design your schools. You in the community need to do that.” He then listed ways in which a state of the art building could come to pass well within budget.

    2. I am concerned that now that election reporting records are coming to light, the “grassroots” campaign seems to have been more like crabgrass campaign. The architect and a company which would sell the bonds approved in this effort both were leading contributors to this effort. This was followed by the local banks and builders, all of whom would profit financially on the backs of the taxpayers approving this referendum. This rather smells like the current governor’s pay to play practice. Donor information is available at http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/CommitteeList.aspx. Click on “Renew Our Schools” and review the large contributors to this committee.

    3. It is my understanding that the Facilities Planning Commission at its April 30 meeting wanted to delegate the building details to a subcommittee while it concentrates already on the second referendum that was put forth as part of the plan. That phase was originally thought to be 3-5 years out. While a successful effort requires early planning, this is a cart before the horse strategy. Please spend the current money wisely before coming back and asking for more.

    If you have difficulty getting out to meetings, then review board minutes, articles, search for information on the internet and talk to your neighbors. Call or email your school board members. They serve us, but they are also our neighbors and friends. Bring your concerns to the table however possible to create the best possible school for the children AND community of DeKalb.

    Paul Greenlee

  17. I couldn’t agree with you more Paul. I’ve been telling the FPC that we really need to make sure that the 1st referendum get handled correctly. This means doing everything we can do NOT to spend every dollar that this community voted yes to in the referendum. There are many ways to save money and still give the community the school they deserve and expect.

    Architects are paid a percentage of the total project cost, period. It is to THEIR advantage to run of the cost. My concern is that the numbers for enrollment are going to be less than previously predicted. The homes that they are planning for within the next 10 years is just NOT GOING TO OCCUR in DeKalb. Cortland unfortunately is an unknown but several of their developers have just recently filed bankruptcy and another one is potentially just around the corner. Malta had a developer just bankrupt but there will be someone to replace them eventually. That is the point, this is all going to happen later than earlier thought.

    The new high school may actually have to be designed for 400 less kids with a downsized core structure. We also want to make sure that all is in place to easily add to the new structure down the road which could be 15 to 20 years. This is just my opinion and look on this matter. I do have to say that there are a few other FPC members who are asking some of the same questions now.

    I just want to say, that I would rather spend a little more time now asking the hard questions and taking a little more time to make sure that we are using the right materials and saving dollars where we can. We DO have the time to do it right.

    I do wish to add that the advise that was given by the one superintendent being interviewed should be weighed heavily. This school board has a very big responsibility to the taxpayers of this community who voted YES and also to those that voted NO. They need to regain the public’s trust and do what is right. If we fail with the first of the two referendums, there will never be a second referendum passed.

    Thanks again Paul and I wish that you would also submit this letter of yours to http://www.dekalbcounty-il.com.

  18. Paul, if you already are not aware of it. The newest committee that was recently formed to review and discuss materials is meeting May 28, 2008 at the school district offices at 3:00 in the afternoon.

    The regular meeting of the FPC is still on for 7:00pm that evening of May 28th. A packed day it will be.

    The architect is to bring their “specialists” on materials for construction and how the buildings are to be finished. This meeting at 3:00 pm should prove to be an interesting one.

    I invite all that can attend to please do so.

  19. Paul, great letter. Please print it in the Chronicle and I’d like to print it on DeKalb County Online. The City budget woes are getting a lot of attention now but the school issue is just as important, if not more. I’m spread about as thin as I can get, as are others but the public is starting to finally pay attention.

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