March 2007


For readers who want to learn more about “edu-blogging”…see the wonderful range of reading at The Carnival of Education.

This all-volunteer Carnival brings together the best edu-blog posts from around the internet into one place each week. Be inspired!

Here’s another weekly collection of the best-of-the-citizen internet.

Readers have been asking for more information about me, about school corruption and about what they can do to help other voters become more aware of concerns about the management attitudes and habits of District 211 administrators and board members.

I’ve written a blog (not on politics) since 2002. It has been a very rewarding experience. I’ve learned a lot, made many friends, and been a small part of the citizen journalism revolution.

For awhile now, I’ve been thinking I should use some of what I have learned about blogging and citizen journalism to create an online space where the stakeholders of District 211–the parents, teachers, taxpayers, businesses and students could come to get a more highly textured and detailed picture of District 211. I expect to keep this up for a long time.

The online blogging revolution┬áhas had such a powerful impact because many people feel that they don’t get the quality and quantity of straight information they’d like to have, either from their newspapers or from their public officials.

That is true in spades in District 211. We have a lawsuit filed against the District because it entered into a no-bid contract for electricity. The Daily Herald hasn’t written a word about that. I’ve heard about it very vaguely in the community. Then one day I open the Chicago Trib, and find Diane Rado’s expose. Her article primarily focused on the possible misdeeds of the Illinois Association of School Boards and the other sponsoring organizations of the Illinois Energy Consortium–not so much on District 211.

This is what convinced me that I should get going on the idea I’d had in the back of my mind to start a blog about our district. The blog has been very focused on that since that’s the area where I’m getting the most information and it also seems highly important. What I really hope is to build an online community where people can come to talk about curriculum, their favorite teacher, ask questions, share their insight and perspective. As I know from my other blog, it takes awhile to build that sense of community.

I’ve gotten a couple of emails in the last few days basically saying, “Who are you?”

One of them was from Charles Fritz, a member of our District 211 school board. School board member Bill Lloyd has adopted the idea–for which I enthusiastically applaud him–of transparently sharing his ideas and concerns about District 211 in an online blog. The questions I asked of all the board members earlier this week in an email, reproduced here, Mr. Lloyd is transparently and regularly talking about on his blog.

This is how Charles Fritz responded (none of the other school board members have responded at all):

Before I respond to your questions, could you please identify your name, phone number and possible address?

Mr. Fritz, you don’t need any of those pieces of information about me to answer these questions. If you answer the questions, your answers will be posted, without editing, here on this website.

This blog is getting to the point where it has hundreds of readers every day. Some of my friends and I will be out this weekend and next week passing out and posting flyers about this blog.

When readers come to this blog, Mr. Fritz, you won’t know their names, their phone numbers or their “possible addresses”, anymore than you know those things about the readers of Diane Rado’s article in the Chicago Tribune or about the hundreds of folks who have read Bill Lloyd’s blog.

What you can know about them, and about me, is that we care passionately about District 211. We’d like to be treated with respect by the administration and the school board. We’d like members of the school board (other than just Bill Lloyd) to display a willingness to be open, transparent, respectful, and forthcoming.

How hard can it be to share with me and the readers of this blog whether or not you support HB 261, the terrible legislation now moving through the Illinois House of Representatives that would “liberate” school districts from having to consider competitive bids for electricity and natural gas?

Who am I? Who are the readers of this blog?

We are teachers. We are parents. We are concerned citizens. We are business owners. We are students. We are people who care passionately about education. We are people who are sometimes successfully and sometimes not-so-successfully meeting the challenges of raising kids, building businesses, serving our customers, living out our faiths and being positive forces in our neighborhoods.

We’ve all made mistakes, dusted ourselves off, tried again. We try to behave with honesty and kindness in our dealings with others, and we don’t always succeed.

If District 211 administrators and school board members have made mistakes, we’re a forgiving sort. We’ve all made mistakes.

We’d like you to live up to your promises to build a better flow of information. It doesn’t feel right when you won’t answer questions about how much the District is paying for electricity, whether you support HB 261, and all the other questions that the residents of this district are wondering about.

It doesn’t matter to me whether you answer those questions on my blog or in an email to me. But it does matter to me that you do go ahead and answer them, whether on the District’s website or in some other public forum. I invite you all to open up and start sharing.

I’d also like to encourage any of my readers to start their own blog–share your insights and your corner of the world about 211, or District 15, or knitting, or your church, or how you’re making the world a better place, or where to buy the best organic vegetables. The world needs your voice.

Check out this new book:

How People Blogging Are Changing the World and How You Can Join Them.

Lennie at Education Matters has posted a great update on District 211 and the alleged no-bid electricity contract.

Lennie discovered through FOIAing his school district–District 46–that it also entered into a contract with the Illinois Energy Consortium without getting bids from competitors. The details are on his blog.

This story isn’t going away.

The Sam Adams Alliance is a new national grassroots organization headquartered in Chicago. They are spotlighting the story of how attorney Todd Rowden came to file a lawsuit against District 211 for entering into a no-bid contract with the Illinois Energy Consortium.

The Daily Herald offers an extraordinarily superficial article this morning about the eight candidates for four school board seats in District 211.

Read this comment in response to this post.

The cloud over Superintendent Roger Thornton’s claim that the District saved money on electricity by buying it from the Illinois Energy Consortium becomes darker every day.

It is time for the members of the District 211 school board to openly share with the community their views on recent developments.

I sent each member of the school board the following email this morning with my questions. You may have your own. I’ve included their email addresses at the end so you can easily email them.

Dear members of the District 211 school board:

According to Chad Brooks of the Daily Herald, the main focus of candidates for the District 211 school board in the upcoming school board election is the need to improve communications.

On my weblog about District 211, I have been reporting the story about the controversial contract between District 211 and the Illinois Energy Consortium.

Parents, teachers and taxpayers in District 211 have a growing list of questions about this. I invite each of you to respond to the following questions. This will help promote the better communication that we all desire.

Question 1:

In an article in last week’s Pioneer Local by Mario Bartoletti, superintendent Roger Thornton is quoted as saying that “the selection process [for electricity provider] used by the district was as open as those in other districts. ‘We did three requests for proposal,‘ he said. ‘Our Board of Education is the one that took the final action in public session.'”

However, board member Bill Lloyd has now publicly disagreed with Mr. Thornton. Mr. Lloyd wrote on March 25, “The district did not bid in any way for its electricity or natural gas purchase. I have been the Board of Education representative to attend all sealed bid openings as per board policy. Bids were never sent out under the board’s policy on bidding procedure. As for another form of bidding that would have requested proposals without the requirement that they be sealed, this also did not occur.”

Who is telling the straight story: Mr. Lloyd or Mr. Thornton?

Question 2:

As a board member, do you feel, in retrospect, that you were given adequate information by Roger Thornton before agreeing to the contract with the Illinois Energy Consortium?

Question 3:

Last week, District 211 lobbying firm Ed-Red sent out an e-newsletter congratulating District 211 administrative employee Steve East for spending two days in Springfield lobbying on behalf of HB 261. HB 261 is a bill that would exempt school districts from having to seek competitive bids for utility contracts.

District 211 board president Debra Strauss is also on the board of Ed-Red.

District 211 employees have taken other actions to support HB 261, as described by Bill Lloyd:

“After [Suzanne Bassi] introduced this bill, she was called to the district offices of D211 and met with the superintendent among others. After this meeting she promptly tabled her bill and signed on as a co-sponsor of House Bill 261. You see, District 211 is actively supporting HB 261, the bill that removes bidding requirements. Without explicit board approval, district personnel have been working to get this bill passed in the legislature even including testifying in front of the committee working on this bill.”

Since you as a board did not approve this lobbying activity on the part of District 211 administrative personnel, who did? I wrote to Steve East last week to ask him who ordered him to do this. He has not responded.

Your board president Debra Strauss has also not responded to my inquiries on this.

Question 4:

Have any of you attempted to learn who made the decision to order Mr. East to make these trips?

Question 5:

Were you present at the meeting in District 211 offices with Suzanne Bassi, after which she switched from being an opponent to being a supporter of HB 261?

Question 6:

Do you support HB 261?

Question 7:

If you do support HB 261, what reasons can you provide for supporting it?

Thank you for your time and your commitment to open, honest sharing with your constituents.

Here are the email addresses of the District 211 school board members:

Debra Strauss.

Martha Swierczewski.

Charles Fritz, Jr.

Lynn Davis.

Robert LeFevre.

Anna Klimkowicz.

Bill Lloyd.

I’d like to find out if any of the non-incumbent candidates for the upcoming school board election support or oppose HB 261, but I still am finding it impossible to locate any contact information for them.

If any of my readers know how to get in touch with any of the non-incumbent candidates, please email me.

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