Thursday, April 16, 2009

District 150 Priorities: I'll report - you decide!

Next Monday night Peoria Public Schools District 150 plans on voting once again for School closures. Next up on the chopping block, Kingman and Tyng primary schools. District watchers may experience a bit of deja'vu, as it was only a few years ago that they were singing the same swan song in anticipation of cost savings via the closings of Blaine Sumner and White Middle Schools.

For some background, consider the statements made in the following excerpts from the Peoria Journal Star

PJstar, Sept. 13, 2005-The facility committee in a presentation stated that consolidation was recommended because of the district's budget deficit. Closing schools and building new facilities would cut down on maintenance costs and improve the quality of education. The committee's goal is to save $5 million with the consolidation.

Some residents questioned the committee on why school renovation wasn't an option. Beth McDaniel attended the forum and said she believed the district was not focusing on the right things for bettering students' education.

"You guys jump too much. You're like a school district with ADHD," McDaniel said.

Residents said they understood the cost of maintaining a building, but thought renovating the schools would cost less than building new ones.

"I wouldn't mind a new building, but that's not going to make a better educational community," Katz said. "Renovate what we have. Keep what we have and don't look at ways to replace the buildings, but look at ways to alter the community involvement and engagement at the schools."

Sound familiar? It seems these remarks could have been made only yesterday. The beauty of history, however, is that we can look in retrospect at District decisions and see how their promises and consequences thereof held up. Although past behavior is not necessarily prediction of future, it's the best we got.

It would be reasonable to consider selling off real estate as an option for balancing a budget. At least that is what the district has argued. Is their intention to really save money, or could there be other conscious or subconscious agendas of which the public is not aware.
Peoria Journal Star, October 12, 2005
The district will try to swap vacant buildings for land to construct new buildings. If that doesn't work, it will try to sell the buildings. If no buyers are found, the district will attempt to transfer the properties to a financially sound organization with a plan for the space. If all that is unsuccessful, the buildings will be maintained or demolished.

Let's fast forward to Blaine Sumner today, closed as a middle School in 2006. Here is an exterior pic of this beautiful, all brick historic building.

The District instead of closing the school, thereby eliminating the maintenance and rehab costs as well as forfeiting its value in a sale, did in fact rehab it and moved Student Services personell in. The Student Services personell relocated from the Diagnostic Learning Center (DLC) on Wisconsin Avenue and into the Blaine Sumner School. The original DLC space remains vacant, and is still retained and maintained by the District.

Below is a pic of the Building Managers "office". His office is in a fullsized classroom the same size that my K-gartner shares with 28 other children! Next year, if Hinton gets his way, all classes will be further increased by 3.

From another angle:

This building is roughly 65,000 square feet. There are 80 employees that work out of it. According to an old Peoria Journal Star article, it had an occupancy permit for 500 people. There are approximately 2 people working out of each full sized classroom. Immediately after they closed it as a school, the district moved to AIR CONDITION it, and added FULL SECURITY complete with video monitors. There is also indication that they encapsulated some asbestos insulated heat ducts (not uncommon). In fairness, it is possible the asbestos remediation was done prior to its closing - not sure about that. Perhaps the District would clarify.

The building contains two lovely gyms. Here is the first one, used only as storage:

Here is the second one. Occassionally children from neighboring schools are bussed here to use this gym. The other gym (the one being used as storage) is definately the newer, nicer and larger of the two.

Here is the old school library. Completely vacant and not in use.

More storage:

and more storage:

Here is a room that is used by a few for child evaluations. I asked how often this room was used. Once person told us once a week for about 30 minutes, and someone else told us twice a week. It was beautful - fully lit up, furnished with play area and sofa and ready to go.

Here is a pic of the thermostat. It's hard to read, but the temp in the room was over 90 degrees. Not kidding!

Most of the employees that work there are part of the DLC. They provide support services to the students by way of speech, hearing, testing and act as a resource in recommending services. Much of their time is spent in the schools. Sources told us that over the summer, this 65,000 sq.ft. building is occupied by about 20 people. Over the Spring Break, there were about 5. This building costs roughly $250,000 year to maintain. The space they moved from - about $20K. I ask, where has been the cost savings to the district for justification of closing a school?

Some employees reported that they love the conveniance to each other for meetings and the space the building offers them to spread out. I don't blame them. Conveniant for them... too bad about the kids though. I would like to say though, that the employees that we all talked to were great. I have no problem what-so-ever with any of them or the work that they do.

Last night board member Jim Stowell posted the following on the Peoria Chronicle:

Either we drastically reduce labor costs across all functional areas, or we can’t afford to operate the current number of facilities. Those that we do operate, we hope take on the qualities of a “community center”. It is not 2005 and our costs have been greater than our revenue for an extended period. My desire is to help our district achieve financial stability while providing vibrant learning opportunities for our children. Every effort will be made to minimize hardships and inconveniences (unfortunately, there will be many), but these steps are necessary, in my opinion, to get us to where we need to go. The process will create obstacles and challenges, but it’s time to right size the district while planning for a better day.

I have a problem with this on so many levels. The excessive waste, (some of which is documented here and on numerous other blogs) overspending, and mismanagement by this Administration (and others) and this board which has given them the green light on just about everything has put this district where it is today - on the brink of financial ruin. Why is it that when the adults screw up, they look at our youngest, most vulnerable citizens - the students of which they exist to serve to shoulder the burden? My understanding is that the children that were moved out of Blaine Sumner have struggled even more academically since. I have not yet personally verified that claim yet.

It should be noted that current Board member Martha Ross voted NO to closing the Blaine Sumner School:

Peoria Journal Star November 22, 2005-Board President Alicia Butler and board member Martha Ross voted against them. "I'm fully aware that we need to cut costs. I can't in my heart of hearts look at this as a positive for our children," Ross said, adding she's concerned about the effect on displaced children, both academically and socially.

Martha is the board member that the other members felt didn't exhibit enough leadership or vision to be deserving of the board presidency.

Folks, I try to keep this blog happy and upbeat. I love Peoria and most everything about it. But when I see stuff like this, I realize sometimes, Peoria doesn't rock.

I'm not done...


PrairieCelt said...

Congratulations, Diane, on a very important investigative article.

How dare Hinton ask the public to accept more school closings when they promote this kind of waste and unnecessary expense? This type of bonehead decision has a lot to do with how Hinton's administration placed the district in financial distress.

Selling Blaine Sumner would have been the answer - sell it and deposit the proceeds into the Ed Fund to defray the expenses of salaries, utilities, etc., etc. He closed Blaine as a cost-saving measure. Then he spent a significant amount of money rehabbing and updating the facility. Where is the cost savings? What a farce.

If memory serves, when Hinton returned to the district in 2004 there was a $13M deficit. He ran it up to at least a $14M deficit, closed the working cash fund, and borrowed heavily against future personal property tax revenue. Yes, he certainly possesses sound financial management skills!

And now, to bail himself out of the consequences of his brilliant decisions, he wants to close schools. Amazing. He intends to sacrifice the welfare and best interest of Peoria's kids to save face. Simply unbelievable!

Karrie E. Alms said...

Diane: Great article! Deja vu! Before you took up the charge with the "Wacky Wednesday" issue many citizens sounded this charge with the Glen Oak School siting fiasco. Bernie Goitein has been sounding the charge about smaller class size and student performance as long as I can remember.

Like Gary Sandberg stated on Tuesday, no tough choices or solutions instead we pass on the problems and challenges for the next generation to handle.

Gary shared that we are now selecting reupholstery material for the deck chairs on the Titanic. Looking forward to your next installment...

kohlrabi said...

Good pictures but this shouldn't be news to anyone who has listened to any school board meetings for the last year. But maybe the pictures would drive home the point for the school board - are you sending them a packet? Terry Knapp - and others - have repeatedly brought up the empty office space on Wisconsin and renovated office space at Blaine Sumner at most BOE meetings.

Diane Vespa said...

I guess a picture is worth a thousand words... I believe I may have heard that a time or two but it honestly didn't sink it until I saw it myself!

Middle Aged Woman Blogging said...

Wow, you really did your homework! Has PJStar offered you a job yet? It hasn't been the same since Rick Baker passed.... :(


Anonymous said...

Great information, Diane. Call me ignorant- Why is nothing being done to stop this gross negligence and overspending? Is this LEGAL?

This is disgusting. What can we do as concerned parents and citizens?

Anonymous said...

Rod Mckiminson

writes close the schools, we need the musuem more and thats been decided

its a waste of money

Anonymous said...

Steve J Weibring

I vote also close the schools, get rid of deadwood employee

Same our money

Diane Vespa said...

Anonymous I - There are some ways you can get involved. Stay tuned to either Peoria Rocks, Peoria Pundit, Peoria Story or Peoria Chronicle for further updates...

Anonymous said...

If you think this is bad, wait till you see the outcome from Lyons's arresting every cop he can find over a hissy fit that they didn't vote for him.