transparency


Allison Smith, the communications director for District 300 has suggested that her school district automatically post much more information on the district website.

Specifically, she has suggested to their school board that all FOIA requests that the district receives be posted on the district’s website, along with the responses.

A national pro-open records blog is enthusiastic about the idea.

I’ve had trouble getting the most basic information from District 211, such as copies of electric bills and simple invoices. Once I did get the information I sought, I posted it here. How much better it would be if District 211 would fulfill its commitment to enhancing communication by posting both the FOIA requests it gets, and the information it provides in response to them, right on the District website. More people would then get the information they seek, and the District wouldn’t look like it is trying to keep certain information a secret.

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On March 15, the Daily Herald published an article where the school board members and candidates pledged their tremendous commitment to improving communication.

A lawsuit has been filed against the District and it seems to have a reasonably firm foundation. The union has called for the District to pull out of its contract with the Illinois Energy Consortium. The Daily Herald editorial board appears to have asked at least one candidate for the District 211 school board if she was in favor of firing Superintendent Roger Thornton.

On March 28, I wrote an email to each of the school board members asking these questions. There’s nothing special about me (I’m just someone with a keyboard) but I am reasonably sure that these are questions that concerned citizens of every kind in District 211 think deserve an answer.

And yet, we hear nothing. 

A reader was the source for this blog’s revelation last week that paid administrators working for District 211 and District 15 spent two days in Springfield lobbying for the atrocious HB 261, a bill that would exempt school districts from having to get bids for utility contracts.

As my readers know, District 211 is currently defending itself against a lawsuit because it entered into a no-bid contract for electricity with the Illinois Energy Consortium. The concern that we as parents and taxpayers have about that no-bid contract is that it seems very likely that District 211 is paying more for electricity than it needs to pay, in spite of District 211’s increasingly lame attempts to claim otherwise.

Not only are we paying more for electricity, we’re also paying for attorneys to defend against the lawsuit, and now it turns out we’re paying for our administrators to spend days in Springfield lobbying for a bill that means that in the future the District 211 school board could with impunity enter into no-bid contracts for electricity and natural gas.

UNBELIEVABLE.

Would you like some answers from the District 211 school board members? I know I would, so I wrote each of them last week.

I also wrote to all the board members and candidates for District 15, since a District 15 employee also spent two days in Springfield lobbying on behalf of the atrocious HB 261. One District 211 school board member responded. He said he’d answer my questions if I gave him my telephone number. So much for “improving communications”.

Meanwhile, two District 15 school board members and/or candidates responded to the question I asked them about what they think about we, the parents and taxpayers, footing the bill for an administrative employee to lobby for a bill in Springfield that is so bad that Suzanne Bassi has withdrawn herself as chief co-sponsor–even though, as we know from District 211 school board member Bill Lloyd, she came under heavy pressure from District 211 honchos to support this absurd legislation.

Here are excerpts from the two answers I got. I post these because I think it’s important for concerned citizens to know what our school board members and candidates think. If you like the answers, or if you dislike the answers, take this as a signal to get involved.

I think that lobbying by District employees is allowable where the lobbying agenda has been fully disclosed, deliberated upon, and approved by a vote of the Board of Education. I think it is important that District administrators not set their own agendas, and it is up to the board to make sure that the administrators and their lobbying efforts serve the best interests of the community.

and

I am most certainly AGAINST our employees lobbying for this at 211 or 15. Our employees and superintendent all work for the tax payers/community under the direction of the board. I don’t think that there is one community member that would support the district in its effort to loosen the constraints of the laws that bind them. (ie raise 10k to 25k) Our children and their education should be our focus.

Blog readers: Please ask District 211 and District 15 board members and candidates where they stand on this! And let me know what you hear

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.

So far, District 211 employee Tom Petersen hasn’t responded to my request that he re-consider his refusal to provide me the basic facts about what District 211 is paying for its electricity.

To me, anyway.

Last week was Sunshine Week, a time for those who care about open, accountable government to build public awareness about the importance of this issue.

As readers know, last week I wrote to the Tom Petersen, the community relations coordinator for D211 and asked for information about what D211 is paying these days for electricity.

Mr. Petersen responded this way on Friday afternoon:

As you may know, District 211 is a defendant in a lawsuit in regard to its membership in the IEC. While we are usually prompt in our response to inquiries, we are presently advised by Counsel to do all that we can to refrain from responses regarding certain aspects of the lawsuit until both parties, the Defendant District 211 and Plaintiff, have filed their legal briefs. That briefing schedule will be completed within the next few weeks. Shortly thereafter, we will do our best to provide a cost analysis per your inquiry by posting it to our web site.

I wrote back, asking for a re-consideration of this decision.

Some points I made in asking that D211 re-consider its decision not to provide the public with information about what it is paying for electricity included:

I don’t see how sharing information about what D211 has paid in a recent month per KWH would have any impact on that lawsuit one way or the other.

You could be paying the lowest KWH rate in the state, or the highest, or somewhere in between, regardless of how the contract for electricity was entered into.

D211 has put out information claiming that it is saving money because of being in this contract with the IEC.

It doesn’t seem fair to me that D211 would put that information out there, but then withhold the basic facts that a district resident could use to determine whether D211 really has saved money.