Prairie Grove School District Board Meeting Merits Visit from Regional Superintendent of Education, Huge Going Away Presents Approved for Retiring Teachers

Although I was encouraged to attend the Prairie Grove School Board meeting last night, I decided to go to the McHenry County College Board meeting instead.

Someone in attendance shared this description of what went on:

You should have been at this meeting.  Your ‘take’ on it would have been priceless.

Regional Superintendent of Education Gives Board Advice

Among other things, at one point Leslie Schermerhorn, Regional Superintendent of Schools stood up,  She said,

Leslie Schermerhorn

Leslie Schermerhorn

“I need to make 4 quick points:

  1. this meeting is in shambles; you need to learn Robert’s rules of order
  2. the board president role is supposed to be that of a meeting facilitator, not someone who is trying to force her opinions on the others at the table
  3. the taxpayers are paying for administrators – stop trying to do their jobs and let them use their expertise to run the district
  4. these meetings are ridiculously long – if they are lasting past 10:00 at night you are spending too much time on topics and/or you are talking about things that should not be board work.”

Besides that, the major ‘highlights’:

Golden Parachutes Approved for Teachers

Three of the new Prairie Grove Grade School Board members. John Bowman.  Right, Rick Salvo(Help me out with names, please.)

Three of the new Prairie Grove Grade School Board members.  Board President Margaret Pongo is flanked by two elected with her, John Bowman on the left and Rick Salvo on the right.

Margaret Pongo provided a document for the board members that I recommend that you FOIA so that you can get the ‘facts.’

In it she proposed that retiring teachers get the equivalent of up to $40,000 (yes, $40,000!!!!) when they leave the district.  (To start with, a proposal like this is so wrong because info like this should be coming FROM the district finance expert, NOT from a Board member to the board and the administrators!  If the board wants this kind of date, they should request it from the superintendent!)

Anyway, she had it broken into multiple pieces, and I didn’t see the document yet, but the general info was that the teachers would get a ‘bonus,’ would get $50 for every sick day they didn’t use over their employment (up to 100 days), and also $2,000 per year to use toward health insurance until they qualify for Medicare.

Cal, there WAS something in the previous teacher contracts that gave things like this.

HOWEVER, it was taken out and THAT money was allocated towards existing teachers’ salaries instead.

NOW, after the contract is in force, THIS ADDITIONAL MONEY is going to be given to retiring teachers?

The ‘logic’ explained was that this will make teachers retire earlier, so the district saves money when they replace an old teacher with a new one, but the honest truth is that those teachers have had their retirement dates set on their calendars FOR YEARS.

That is why they were fighting for the retirement bonus in the contract negotiations!

No one who makes over $80,000 a year is going to retire a year or two early for a $15,000 bonus.  DUH!

But a handout as you walk out the door on the date you planned 10 years ago is awesome!

After much discussion, the board voted to give anyone who announces their retirement in January of 2014 a bonus of between $5,000 and $15,000 (I think PLUS the $50 for every unused sick day- up to another $5,000.  But since the motions were so chaotic it is hard to tell what they exactly voted on.)

THIS IS NOT encouraging teachers to retire early, it is just a HUGE ‘diamond crusted gold watch’ paid for by taxpayers.

Tax money that is NOT going towards the classroom… it is being given to people as they walk out the door!

I am sure it is just a coincidence that the teachers who are eligible for retirement were some of the most vocal supporters of those 4 candidates in the recent election.

Parents Visiting for Lunch

About 8 months ago the administration team at Prairie Grove told the BOE that they were going to eliminate the practice of allowing parents of elementary students to have lunch in the cafeteria with their children.

The Board actually took a vote supporting the administration, but public access to the building is an issue that the administration should control without the board’s interference.

The reasons given were multiple:

allowing individuals access to over 100 students at once is a safety issue, plus cafeteria staff were required to monitor parents who sat at ‘allergy’ tables, brought food and gave it to other children, bullied other children, made other children move away from friends so they had room to sit, or left the café and wandered in the building.

There also were concerns from families who had restraining orders against other parents, threats against children, etc.

This month one board member sent all the other board members (but not the administrators of the district) a contract to be used for ANY family member who wants to have lunch with a student.

At the meeting, that board member, John Bowman, could not explain at all why he created this document and/or who was asking for this, even though he was asked several times to explain why he was proposing this, and why he had not even discussed this with any district administrators before sending it to board members.

One other board member ‘supposedly’ was quoted as saying “this was a campaign promise.”

An ‘email chain’ had been sent out to many parents requesting that SUPPORTERS of parent/café lunches come to the meeting.

In the open comments section, not a single parent spoke in favor of opening lunch to parents again.

However, several administrators and other school district and lunch service employees spoke about how they were STRONGLY opposed to this, and they explained how the area police had also recommended this change.

Then over 20 parents spoke about why they were opposed.

A teacher survey by the admin team was discussed that had 35 out of 37 teachers opposed to this.

Margaret Ponga and John Bowman continued to push this, even though John would not explain why he asked for it.

The lawyer at the meeting said that the board should be supporting the admin team’s recommendations.

The 3 ‘old’ board members asked why a decision previously made by the board would be rescinded.

After what seemed like 15 hours of discussion, where the 4 new board members refused to back down, this is what was decided:

The admin team is supposed to figure out ‘how to make this work’ and report back to the board.

The lawyer at the table said, “and that might mean the admin says it can’t be done,” but Margaret Pong said, “No.  I am looking for a proposal that DOES allow parents in the building at either the December or January Board meeting.  No later.”

Email Restrictions Sought for Superintendent and Principal

Prairie Grove School Superintendent Lynette Zimmer

Prairie Grove School Superintendent Lynette Zimmer

The board also got into a discussion about trying to prevent the superintendent or the principal from sending any email communications about existing board business to past board members.

When the lawyer explained how that was not possible, as these individuals are also taxpayers, and there are times when these individuals could even be on board committees, Margaret Ponga was very upset.

She somehow wanted a group of people to be ‘shut out’ from any district business.

Khushali Shah did a great job of explaining that board business is OPEN because of the OMA laws, and also asked why you would limit an employee’s communications if it was permissible for Board members like Margaret to share board business emails with taxpayers.   (Khushali gave multiple examples of this).

Bottom line was the lawyer told the board they couldn‘t put any limits on this and the discussion was tabled.

Background Checks for Citizen Committee Members

Margaret Pongo

Margaret Pongo

One more thing that was mentioned… at the previous COW meeting where they were setting up new Board/Community committees, there was a discussion about requiring background checks on anyone who applied.

Margaret Ponga asked why background checks would be required, because no taxpayer should be prevented from being on a committee.

Dr. Zimmer said that people convicted of certain felonies, convicted drug dealers, child molesters, etc., could not be allowed on the committees and/or in the building.

At last night’s board meeting, another board member said that Margaret Ponga’s reply to that explanation disturbed her.

Margaret’s reply as quoted was, “So these people shouldn’t be given a second chance?”

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Prairie Grove School District Board Meeting Merits Visit from Regional Superintendent of Education, Huge Going Away Presents Approved for Retiring Teachers — 9 Comments

  1. Again these are local boards and superintendents putting these perks in and going against taxpayers.

    Where are the so called tea party locally?

    they only go after Obama but these local taxes impact people greatly.

    If the state has not paid full retirement benefits for 30 years and underfunded pensions how can we add more perks?

    Also call your local officials to fix pensions and take a cut in their pensions since they underfunded them.

  2. Leslie, If you are looking for name recognition, you are going about it the way future politicians do . . . but what office are you going to run for?

    Reminds me of Family Ties, who is covering what up, and why?

    You have your say with Dist. 155 and now this District!!!!

  3. If the School Board was not following the proper procedures, as the Superintendent seems to assert, then the vote to do anything this particular evening was illegal and may be challenged in a court by the constituents.

    If this vote to offer special bonus monies outside the existing contractual agreements is something not desired by The People then the representatives on the Board need to be held to account by their constituents both legally and personally.

  4. This is the tip of the iceberg.

    Teacher and administrator end of career payouts are a taxpayer ripoff.

    The point of being tactful is long gone.

    Most people are clueless of what is and has occurred.

    Teachers and administrators already receive a Rolls Royce Pension.

    Comparing their contributions, what comes out of their paycheck, to their payout, what they receive in pension benefits, is unbelievable.

    There are exceptions and disclaimers, we always have to mention those, because otherwise some teacher or administrator or union employee will distort the truth.

    For example teachers and administrators who didn’t begin their career, and that includes substitute teaching for day prior to 2011, receive lower benefits.

    Back to the main point being made.

    Here’s another end of career taxpayer ripoff.

    The 6% annual end of career salary increases for teachers and administrators are being phased out in most school districts.

    Not immediately eliminated, but phased out.

    And in many cases replaced in full or part by other end of career bonuses.

    6% end of career salary increases occurred in most but not all suburban Chicago school districts for the
    last decade or so.

    That was 6% EACH of the last 4 years for an employees career, for a TOTAL of 24% over 4 years, not including compounding.

    That spikes the pension.

    The pension is based on the average of the last 4 years salary.

    For full retirement, it’s 75% of the average of the last 4 years salary.

    Full retirement is after 35 years.

    But, one can exchange 2 years accumulated sick leave for 2 years of service and retire after 33 years for full retirement.

    And if that’s not good enough, teachers and school districts contribute (with school districts contributing MORE), to Early Retirement Option (ERO).

    With ERO, teachers and administrators can have full retirement with far less than 33 years worked.

    Look it up on the TRS website for all the juicy details.

    Even though we are in pension funding hell, ERO was just renewed in 2013!

    Thanks legislators and Governor Quinn.

    They all know the easiest way to get re-elected is give teachers and administrators whatever they want.

    Campaign contributions and votes in exchange for favorable legislation.

    Back to the 6%.

    For teachers, the 6% was bargained for teachers by the teacher unions during collective bargaining with the board and administration.

    For administrators, the 6% was bargained by administrators individually with the Superintendent and approved by the Board.

    For Superintendents, the 6% was bargained by the Superintendent with the Board.

    The Superintendent is the only employee of the Board.

    Teacher 6% end of career salary increases are being phased out in most school districts during collective bargaining.

    Administrator/Superintendent 6% end of career salary increases are being phased out in most school
    districts during salary negotiations.

    Prior to 6%, there were 20% annual end of career salary increases, each of the last 3 years, for a total of 60% over 3 years, that many retiring administrators and teachers in suburban Chicago received, again
    locally bargained.

    The phasing out of the 20% and replacing it with 6% came through State legislation which required school districts that provided over a 6% increase to contribute extra funding to TRS for the spiked pension.

    There are so many different ways that teachers and administrators earn extra compensation over and above their base salary.

    Teacher and administrator retirement compensation in most suburban Chicago school districts in the form of pension, healthcare, ability to retire at an early age, and end of career goodies, is off the charts.

    All those goodies and perks were added through state legislation WHILE THE PENSION WAS BEING UNDERFUNDED!

    The epitome of absurdity and dysfunctionality.

  5. Where do I begin……1st just for accuracy the board presidents last name is Ponga

    She is a control freak and has ot been happy with the “administration” since Dr. Fastbender was rightfully forced to retire. She was not happy that there were vacancies on our board after the 2011 electons.

    Community members were allowed to applied for the open slots and were appointed by the Regional Superintendent.

    As a parent in this school and having hasd interactions with her, I exited volunteering wth the PTO when she became president of the PTO.

    As son as she left I was back wih he PTO and am very involved, I currently head 3 different commitees.

    When she was elected with her “slate” of candidates I knew there would soon be problems.

    We are a district that is very diverse monitarily.

    There are homes rangng from 90K to 1.5 millio.

    This causes a great disparity in “who” has clout.

    Those with “golden addresses” seem to have more influence with the board members.

    With 3 1/2 yrs more of this we are GONE!!!

    As for the parents attending lunch issue…..LET IT GO!!! rich parents with their youngest kids in gradesK-5 feel slighted that they were allowed this PRIVELEDGE (that many abused) with their older kids.

    BOO HOO!!!

    I personnally have witnessed parents bullying other kids, talking about their “neighborhood fueds”, sharing food with their kids “friends”, strolling the building to check iin on their kiddo’s class & just plain nonsense.

    Keep in mind this change was initiated following winter Break in Jan. 2013…which if you recall was shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

    Our administration simply put into action statagies to keep our children safe and they had been discussed for years.

    Another correcton, at lunch there are times that there could be access to 150-200 children.

    As for Mr. Bowman introducing this for a re-vote…he was on a forme board and ran for re-election and LOST!!

    the only reasn he was elected in April is the 4 ran as a “slate” and of 5225 registered voters only 16.75% (872) turned out to vote, not all of those voted for school board candidates.

    If you care abut what happens i your schol district….ATTEND the meeting, JOIN the commitees and hold those elected to their responsibilities, including COMPLETING required classs to LEARN WHAT THEIR JOBS ARE!!!

  6. I knew this was going to happen. Mrs. Ponga doesn’t understand what it means to be president of the School Board, she doesn’t even understand her role as a member of the school board.

    It doesn’t mean she’s The Queen.

    This happened when she was in the PTO, too; when Mrs. Ponga was in the PTO, it didn’t matter who was the President – Mrs. Ponga was in charge.

    I attended one meeting and never went back. Oddly enough – outside of these areas, Margaret is such a nice lady you can’t even believe you’re dealing with the same person.

    Margaret, you just can’t force your will on the administration of the school because it’s what you want.

    The administration has job descriptions, things they’re responsible for.

    The school board has the same.

    You can’t just take over their jobs and make them dance to your tune.

    It’s not going to work.

  7. The last two presidents of the PG school board were the same as Ponga is described by MK Waterson.

    Have lived in PG for 40 years, school always has been a mess, principals and admins have created dissention and have lied to residents.

    This is par for the course.

    PB school is too expensive for such a small community, should be closed and the children should be sent to surrounding districts.

    Best for all.

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