D96 board continues to stonewall questions

Dear supporters of the Open Letter to School District 96 Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Lamberson: I am disappointed to report back to you that the board meeting last week Tuesday did not go well.

A great many of you attended last week’s meeting because you thought the board would address the community’s concerns raised in the open letter. The board refused to say anything beyond one board member’s acknowledgement about the need for improved communication, and decided to stonewall instead.

In short, we are asking questions; the board refuses to answer. We have formulated six specific recommendations; the board does not acknowledge, let alone openly discuss, any of them.

It seems as though the board is assuming that engaging in delaying tactics will make the issues go away.

What we did hear last week was one board member stating that “parts of the open letter do not stand up to her scrutiny” without addressing what parts of the letter she was referring to or offering any insight of what she might disagree with.

Another board member is quoted in the Aug. 12 RB Landmark saying “I don’t think they have all the facts,” referring to the 171 the open letter signers, when the main purpose of the letter is to get to the facts and improve communications.

If you ever wondered about the meaning of irony, search no more.

Considering the board’s joint opinion published in the Landmark starts out with the statement, “In any school district, the most important decision the board of education makes is hiring a superintendent,” it appears that everyone, including the entire board, agrees: gravitas of and prudence relating to any decision involving the superintendent dictates that a lot of time to prepare and debate are required.

How much in advance of the closed session meeting was the superintendent’s second contract shared with the board members, and was there a rush to adopt that contract?

Another fair question to each individual board member is whether they think that granting the retroactive 20-percent pay bump for school year 2008-09 meets the spirit of the Illinois state legislature’s rules and penalties imposed to the statewide educators’ pension system.

The board’s position that such action is legal and available, and has been common practice in other districts, represents an unwillingness to assume responsible leadership which, in my opinion, is an embarrassment to a district with a mission to foster respect for self and community.

When the story about Dr. Lamberson’s salary first broke, I decided to try to engage the District 96 Board of Education in a dialogue, or whatever form of communication that would best serve the purpose, by a desire to help improve District 96.

I know the same is true for all school board members, evidenced by their willingness to serve on the board, for no compensation, and spending untold numbers of hours reviewing policies, working on committees and attending meetings.

To my great disappointment, the letter so far has failed to achieve, let alone come any closer to, the goal of improving collaboration and elevating the level of debate. Nothing illustrated this more acutely than school board President Nancy Jensen’s characterization of the open letter as an attempt to coerce the board into action.

There must be a better way forward, a way that fundamentally is built upon the highest standards of open communication. This issue is not about individuals, it is about the common good, today and in the future.

President Eisenhower once said that “the true purpose of education is to prepare young men and women for effective citizenship in a free form of government.” Let’s exercise our oversight role by attending board meetings, asking questions and insisting that they be answered.

Please come to the next District 96 school board meeting on Tuesday, September 15, 7:30 p.m., at Ames school and join the growing network of D96 constituents who have unanswered questions, by sending an e-mail to district96taxpayer@yahoo.com.

Tom Jacobs

Nice work if you can get it

Upon reading the article pertaining to Riverside-Brookfield High School’s athletic director/football coach, Otto Zeman (“RBH S athletic director calm under fire,” News, Aug. 5), I am totally amazed that the fact he is merely a part-time employee earning a combined income of $92,012 (on top of his pension) was never made an issue.

The article also stated that, according to the Illinois Teacher Retirement System, Mr. Zeman is not allowed to work more than 120 days or 600 hours and still maintain his pension. If Mr. Zeman does work the fully allotted 120 days, that comes out to be $766.77 per day or $153.35 per hour. That’s a very nice part-time job.

How can the school board, in good conscience, retain such a position? Especially in these hard economic times, how can the school board justify this? School board President Jim Marciniak should know that this is one of the things that he and the rest of the school board should also be doing, not just listening at those focus meetings.

At the very least, a person who is available to work in a full-time status should be retained. Even so, it still seems like a lot of money.

Is this how the money is spent on a routine basis? Maybe there are more positions such as this that should be examined for cost savings to close the budget gap. This certainly doesn’t look like fiscal responsibility to me. I am sure it doesn’t look that way to plenty of others as well.

To quote Mr. Zeman from the article, “I think there is a lot of people that don’t know what is going on in the athletic department.”

He’s absolutely right. I think there are a lot of people who don’t know what’s happening to the money allocated and spent as well. We do now.

I am sure Mr. Zeman isn’t planning on leaving his jobs. Who would? I’m happy he enjoys his part-time jobs. Who wouldn’t. At that rate of pay, I’d go to work even if I loathed it. But just part time.

Fred Biring

Prevent flooding by not paving alleys

Thanks for the editorial reminding us about the flood last year (“Gauging progress a year after the flood,” The Landmark View, Aug. 19). You listed some things we can do to mitigate the problem, but here’s one you omitted:

We can stop paving the alleys. I know that unpaved alleys are dusty and hard to plow, but they allow rain to percolate down into the ground. Paved alleys drain very quickly into the storm water sewer systems and much of that rapidly finds its way into the rivers.

In fact, when the village of Brookfield proposed paving the alley behind my house between Prairie and Forest Avenues in the 3100 block, the plan was to dump directly into Salt Creek.

A 2-inch rain will deposit about 100,000 gallons of water on a single block of alley and a rare storm like last year with 10 to 12 inches can put almost 500,000 gallons of water from a paved alley into the rivers almost instantly.

Multiply that times many alleys here and upstream, add to it the new parking lots and other building projects, and we can see why the rivers and creeks will almost certainly overflow more frequently than ever before. Perhaps every year.

We made our road bed and now we’ve got to swim in it.

Craig Goldwyn

Campaign rhetoric vs. reality

Ms. Edwards, I too am insulted, not only by your lack of respect for us, the resident taxpayers, but also by your avoidance of the real issues at hand (“Politics have been taken out of village hall,” Letters, Aug. 19).

Of all the issues to address, you seem to have selected one that focuses on politics instead of policies or productivity.

This is one that I feel I must address. Your political party (PEP) published many campaign fliers during the political election. Specifically, in one received at my home on March 14, your political party states “the current general fund sits at $3.1 million.”

However, upon completion of the audit, as quoted by the Landmark on July 29, “according to the audit document, Brookfield ended 2008 with just $355,906 in its general operating fund. Unreserved funds, that is general operating dollars that serve as a cash reserve, were actually in the red by $93,314. In other words, the village had no money in it general operating fund that wasn’t already designated for some other purpose.”

I must now remind you of your own words:

“If you want to spread stories around, you better stick with the truth because you will get caught in your lies and then your word will no longer be good.”

Leanne M. Digan
Leanne Digan is on the board of directors if the VIP Party.

Tree alternatives need consideration

A Riverside resident offered to give the village a gift of $5,000 to plant trees. With the help of the village forester, the donor developed a list of trees that are resistant to the diseases that are ravaging Riverside’s native trees.

One example is the Accolade elm, a cultivar developed at the Morton Arboretum in 1924. The Landscape Advisory Commission approved the plan and recommended that the board of trustees accept the gift. On Aug. 17, the board voted against accepting the gift. In witnessing the debate, it seemed that the “no” votes were motivated by spite rather than reason.

I greatly appreciate the importance of maintaining native plant stock. I helped to plant thousands of native species along the river bank. At the same time, I know that our local ecosystem is teeming with foreign pests against which our native plants are defenseless. Last spring, I lost an elm that cost $2,500 to remove.

When faced with a declining number of trees, an inability to replace trees with vulnerable native species and no room in the budget, it makes sense to accept such a generous offer. While every effort should be made to utilize native species, carefully selected alternatives need to be considered.

After all, I bet that most residents would rather have Accolade elms than no elms at all, especially when they are free.

Howard A. Brundage IV

Outsiders and the parking problem

I found Riverside Trustee Mark Shevitz’s “Options for Augmenting Parking” presentation troubling; no big surprise there. But it wasn’t because of the flawed methodology or the secret research team (so much for transparency) or the bogus claim that studying central business district parking is something new. No, it was because of the interjection of “the other” into the equation.

On the national level we see fear of “the other” used to rally the troops against the perceived negative influences of people who aren’t like “us” – typically, minorities and immigrants.

In Riverside, “the other” is a much larger demographic: all non-Riversidians (defined now as those who drive vehicles without a Riverside sticker).

If only we could control the interlopers who are encroaching on our CBD, isolate “the others,” relegate them to the fringes, deny them entry – our problems would be solved.

Is this truly the best solution to our parking needs, to resurrect Fortress Riverside? Good luck, Trustee Shevitz. And heaven help the CBD, because it has been declared expendable. After all, it has been infiltrated and infected by “others” and must be quarantined to preserve the “health” of Riverside.

Kevin F. Smith

Otto Zeman has had positive impact

As the grandparent of one of the many special education students who have had the good fortune to have had Otto Zeman in their lives, I feel it necessary to share with others what a positive impact Mr. Zeman has had on the lives of these students.

When my grandson, Mike, first started at Riverside-Brookfield High School, his assigned gym coach was Otto Zeman, the football coach. I was very apprehensive. Would Mr. Zeman have the patience to work with and be supportive to a special ed student?

I went to RB to see if I could get this changed. I was assured at school that having Mr. Zeman would be a real positive for Mike. So I decided to let it stay. From the very first day, Mike got support, guidance and mentoring that only a special teacher could give.

From then on, I went to RB every year to make sure that he had gym with The Coach. Mike gained confidence and a sense of self that carries on to this day.

The extra payoff was not only for Mike, but also the regular students. They learned from Otto that everyone matters. Mr. Zeman was the hidden bonus to RB’s special ed students.

I learned from my dad to speak up when needed. Well, Dad, I am.

Mr. Zeman, thanks a million for some really great football Friday nights, and for giving the special kids a chance to be part of the team. You made a difference. You are special.

Georgia Drazan Albertsen

Burlington lot may be great deal

For months, Riverside Trustee Mark Shevitz has been trying to convince the taxpayers of Riverside that they will be on the hook for the cost of the parking lot on Burlington in an attempt to prove a political point.

Trustee Shevitz’s reasoning for not building the lot has been filled with misleading and incorrect information, which has led to a message that has been disingenuous at best and untruthful at worst.

The open and transparent reality is that the parking lot on Burlington will not cost the taxpayers a penny. It is true that Riverside’s general operating fund and capital fund loaned the acquisition cost of the Burlington properties to the parking lot fund. What Trustee Shevitz is not telling you is that the parking lot fund will be securing a long-term loan to cover the entire cost of the project once the construction of the lot is completed – including the repayment of the loan from the general operating fund and capital fund.

The parking lot fund will ultimately be financing the entire cost of the project, not the taxpayers of Riverside. The parking lot fund receives all of its revenue from permit and parking fees that commuters pay to utilize Riverside’s existing commuter parking lots.

What makes this financing structure even greater is that in Trustee Shevitz’s parking lot presentation to the board, it was illustrated that a good number of the lot users are non-residents.

Riverside has an opportunity to gain a greatly needed parking lot in the center of the central business district at no cost to the taxpayers of Riverside. In fact, the lot will be paid for in part by non-resident commuter lot users who pay to use our facilities.

I find it hard to believe that we can find something more cost effective than that. A tremendous amount of time, effort, energy and taxpayer money has been spent to find reasons to not build the lot that everyone knows is needed.

I wish our board would use those efforts on something that could help the taxpayers of Riverside – like the budget.

Tony Miezio