Thornton


At the new website devoted to keeping an eye on the Illinois Energy Consortium and its no-bid business model, please read the FAQs.

Is this what we want in District 211?

District 211 has paid and is continuing to pay an expensive legal firm to defend its “right” to spend your money on electricty and natural gas without getting competitive bids. You can see the fruits of that legal expenditure here, along with the smashing replies of the plaintiff.

What on God’s green earth could the school board have been thinking?

Finally, I invite you to absorb the eloquent brief filed by Tarsitano last week in response to the legal brief (the one you paid for) of District 211.

The opening paragraph:

This is a case about no-bid vendor contracts. These vendor contracts involve an expenditure of at least $9.5 million of taxpayer funds. They contain no prices, pricing methodology or price escalation protection. These vendor contracts literally obligate the defendant school district to pay whatever amount the vendor in its sole discretion decides to charge. Tarsitano requests a declaration that the District’s no-bid vendor contracts are unlawful as having not been publicly bid under the School Code. The District’s response is to ask this Court to create and extend statutory protection from competition for one of its vendors.

Yes, we live in a school district where your school board and your school board superintendent are using your tax dollars to pay attorneys to argue a case before a judge which, if they win, will mean that your school board will be able to buy electricity and natural gas without having to get competitive bids.

Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote.

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Lots of email this morning…

Here’s a first-person account of last Thursday’s District 211 school board meeting sent to me by Claudia Bailey, one of the candidates for District 211 school board.

She writes:

The April 12th Board meeting began with an awards ceremony; then the students and their parents immediately left. So the audience went from 200 people to a few dozen people for the actual board meeting. After speakers and as the night progressed, maybe 10 people remained in the audience, before the board broke for closed session.

There were certain things that happened at the board meeting that left a big impression on me. First, where was Martha? Sixteen years on the 211 board, and she was not at her last board meeting. At the end, I guess you really don’t care what happens at 211.

Secondly, the district lawyer; did she really come freely or was she asked to come? She expressed herself in a deadpan way, and she immediately left when the speeches were through. Not a great performance.

Thirdly, Dr. Thornton, when you are at the table with the school board, you are working. You do not grandstand during a forum that is meant for citizens to speak to the board. There was not a huge crowd to listen to you. If you want a crowd maybe you should have another referendum, people came then.

My last impression was not a good one. There were two department chairs that attacked everything the teacher’s union said. According to the male department chair, everything about class sizes was fine, and so on and so forth. But why did they look more like members of a funeral procession, then part of a megawatt school district? There were no feelings in the comments or nice/happy expressions from the female department chair. I’m sorry.

Thank you, Claudia!

I missed the Board meeting. Were you there and are you willing to give me an insider’s view on it? Email me here.

The other big event yesterday was the press conference held by the District 211 teachers union to ask that District 211 rescind its contract with the Illinois Energy Consortium on the grounds that the contract is fiscally irresponsible and utilizes a no-bid business model.

Chad Brooks of the Daily Herald reports on that news conference in this morning’s paper in Union wants power contract unplugged.

Believing Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 is acting fiscally irresponsibly, the district’s teachers union, along with two school board candidates and a local legislator, demanded Thursday that the current energy contract be rescinded.

Union leader John Braglia is quoted in the article with this strong statement:

“This district has always had a long history of integrity, honor and commitment to the taxpayers and what we are seeing happening is a shift away from that commitment,” Braglia said. “That is very troubling to me.”

Superintendent Thornton gives his reasons for believing the contract is legal and Bill Tarsitano’s attorney Todd Rowden gives his reasons for believing it isn’t.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that the Daily Herald has said anything about the IEC lawsuit, first covered in the Chicago Tribune on March 5.

On the other hand, I received an interesting email yesterday from one of the non-incumbent candidates for District 211 school board. Editors from the Daily Herald met with all the candidates to determine who the Daily Herald would editorially endorse. This school board candidate reports that in her interview, she was asked whether she would vote to fire Roger Thornton.

Unless the Daily Herald automatically asks every single school board candidate in every single school board race if they’d vote to fire the superintendent in their District, that’s an intriquing question. But I think most readers of the Daily Herald would be surprised to know the editors are asking it. I plan to write the editors at the Daily Herald to see if I can get confirmation of this question from them.

Correction: A reporter from the Daily Herald writes to correct my mistaken claim that they haven’t been covering the District’s contract with the IEC. He says:

“We were the first paper to report on this last year when the contract was signed. We also wrote subsequent stories when Mr. Tarsitano filed his lawsuit, as well as when a judge ruled against the district’s motion to dismiss the case.”

My apologies for the significant error.

I started this discussion here.

To review, here’s the May 25 memo from Sup. Roger Thornton to the District 211 school board advocating the choice of the Illinois Energy Consortium as D211’s energy provider, for both electricity and natural gas.

The document relies on historical prices as the basis for choosing the IEC over ConstellationNewEnergy or ComEd as the district’s natural gas provider. (Note: An energy insider tells me that historical prices are not the best way to evaluate a natural gas contract.)

However, careful scrutiny of documents filed with the court in the lawsuit against District 211 suggest that the prices reported in that May 25 memo do not reflect the prices provided to the District by ConstellationNewEnergy.

In one court filing, D211 energy manager Reece Thome explains that he questioned the historical prices supplied to him by ConstellationNewEnergy.

Here is a copy, filed with the court, of the historical prices supplied to District 211 by ConstellationNewEnergy.

Mr. Thome’s affidavit to the court explains that the figures he gave to Sup. Thornton to reflect ConstellationNewEnergy’s historical price data were different from those that were actually provided to him by ConstellationNewEnergy.  I’m not in a position to evaluate the reasons he gives for changing the figures.  His affidavit also says in paragraph 25 that he discussed this difference with Sup. Thornton.

The historical prices actually supplied to District 211 by ConstellationNewEnergy were $377,516.00 lower than the historical prices supplied by the IEC.

The ConstellationNewEnergy historical prices that Sup. Roger Thornton provides in his May 25 memo to the 211 school board are $1,180.00 higher than those of the IEC.

This approximately $1,000 price difference is what led Sup. Thornton to propose to the school board that they adopt the IEC as their natural gas supplier.

The words that trouble me the most in Sup. Thornton’s May 25 memo are these:

The same three vendors supplied a historical analysis of their pricing structure…

He then goes on, in a chart, to provide the figures that ConstellationNewEnergy is said to have supplied to the District.

But, if I am reading these documents correctly, the prices from ConstellationNewEnergy that Thorton alludes to in his May 25 memo in saying that the IEC would cost the District approximately $1,000 less, are not the figures Constellation NewEnergy actually gave the District.
And, there is no indication of this in the May 25 memo.

So how could the school board have known about the change, since the May 25 memo doesn’t say a change was made? It simply reports the changed figures.

I’m very curious to hear from any District 211 school board members about this.

For weeks, I’ve been focusing on the electricity part of the District’s no-bid contract with the Illinois Energy Consortium.

The IEC sells both electricity and natural gas. Some school districts buy just one of those commodities from the IEC.

District 211 buys both.

The agreement that District 211 entered into with the IEC was recommended by Superintendent Roger Thornton and approved by the school board in May 2006.

Startling documents I’ve seen raise a bevy of questions about what the District 211 school board was told about natural gas prices at that meeting in May 2006.

At the meeting in question, Superintendent Thornton distributed a memo entitled Analysis of Energy Cost Proposals. The memo is dated May 25, 2006.

A paragraph on the third page under the heading “Natural Gas” reads:

The same three vendors supplied a historical analysis of their pricing structure for a twelve month period beginning on April 1, 2005 and ending March 31, 2006.

When Sup. Thornton writes “the same three vendors” he is referring to the Illinois Energy Consortium (the IEC), Constellation NewEnergy (CNE) and ComEd/Exelon. ComEd was the District’s existing energy supplier in May 2006.

Most people–including I presume the school board members–might have taken the quoted sentence, along with other features of the memo, to mean that District 211 had received bids of some type from each of the three energy vendors.

The question to ask, here, is:

What is the difference between obtaining “historical price data” and obtaining a bid?

Had I been on the school board, I know that since Sup. Thornton was putting information before me about historical price data as the primary component of why he was recommending a contract with the IEC, I would have assumed that historical price data is the best way to make decisions about energy vendors.

Had I thought that, from what I’ve subsequently learned, this would have been a naive assumption. Since starting this blog, I’ve had comments and emails from people who know a lot more about energy prices than I ever will. I asked one of them to give me a perspective on whether historical price data is the best way to assess which vendor to choose.

This is what he responded:

Anyone in the energy industry knows VERY well that past pricing has absolutely nothing to do with future costs. Nothing. It’s a pointless exercise to even LOOK at any past pricing when considering a future Supplier. You have to evaluate the contract under which the gas will be sold to you. Period. What does the contract call for as the price basis for you going forward? Period. Then with a thorough understanding of the contract, and a thorough working knowledge of how gas prices change and why, one can make an intelligent, educated decision. Period.

I welcome additional comments or email from people conversant with this area.

Apart from this, though, the next big question to ask about Sup. Roger Thornton’s May 26 memo is how he arrived at the historical price data he says was obtained from

the three vendors [who] supplied a historical analysis of their pricing structure.

This post is getting long, though, so I’ll devote a separate post to that.

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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