A Look at the Last Woodstock School Board Meeting

Susan Handelsman’s observations from the latest Woodstock School District 200 meeting:

5-30-17 Woodstock D200 school board meeting.

At their first experience in exercising  power to control spending of over $100 million taxpayer money in the presumptive highest property tax rate City in America, three new Woodstock D200 school board members voted unanimously “yes” to Consent Agenda, and Amendment to spend ‘extra’ ‘Life &Safety’ funds on carpet replacement.

Taxpayers must ask if the Board Members did even rudimentary research before unanimously voting “YES” to fund all the payments which staff put before them.

Tax Rate = Spending Relative to the Means of Its Community.

Woodstock 4.2% Property Tax = Spending 3 TIMES what America spends Relative to the Means of Its Community.

Anecdotal examples of  questionable Consent Agenda payments:

$22,000 fixed fee plus commissions plus expenses no-bid contract to  ‘utilityhelp.org’ (non-functional website) no-bid contractor for examination of utility bills for mistakes.

Board voted without asking any questions to corroborate value received or competitive rates for this service.

There are scores of utility audit firms online which charge no fixed fee, only a percentage of refunds.

Who has investigated this?

The resolution states, as support for awarding this contract, that this woman has been doing it since 2002.

So what?

Who knows what her good/medium/poor results for D200 have been,  results aren’t indicated on agenda packet.

Shouldn’t anyone awarded contracts to this school district for a long time  be suspect, given how long property tax rate in Woodstock has stayed above 4% with national average 1.4% and Chicago rates in the lower 2% range?

Consent agenda also included payments $56,000+ to an administrative consulting software group for purposes of analyzing student progress.

What are the millions of dollars of Administrative compensation for if not to perform this function?

How dare new Board Members who professed empathy for taxpayers simply vote YES to spending $56,000 of OPM on a software vendor program without even rudimentary research on validity, efficacy, or relative cost comparisons?

(Are there not several educational software programs purchased by D200 which might also perform this progress monitoring function of Admin would take the time to access it?).

Consent agenda also contained $5,000 payment to Polar Electro. That company makes sports watches.

Consent agenda also contained total $12,600 payment to Amazon corporate credit (about 27 separate purchase listings).

Who is given credit cards, and with what constraints, and who audits purchases? 

D200 Board Unanimously voted YES to amendment resolution to ‘use up’  ‘extra’   life & safety fund monies on extraneous re-carpeting project. (emphasis added)


A. SUBJECT The Board is asked to review and approve a Life Safety Amendment for carpet replacement at Woodstock HighS chool.

B. INFORMATION Summer 2017 Life Safety work for replacement of HV ACsystems, masonry repairs, and flooring replacement have been bid and approved by the Board. Total costs are far less than estimated and allow the district to perform additional life safety eligible work up to $93,708 (see attached). Administration is recommending that the carpet in the Library/Media Center at Woodstock High School be replaced. A Life Safety Amendment needs to be approved by the Board in order to access Life Safety Funds for this work. Wold Architects has prepared the amendment for a total estimated cost of $60,062.50 including fees and contingency. The approved amendment will be sent to the ISBE for approval and it is anticipated that this work can be completed over the Summer of2017.

C. RECOMMENDATION The Superintendent recommends approval of a Life Safety amendment for carpet replacement at Woodstock High School.

D. SUGGESTED MOTION Move to approve the use of Life Safety funds In order to replace carpet at Woodstock High School. “

No discussion. Looked like Board members were browsing through agenda packet before vote.

Estimate high, and then spend the ‘saved’ money?

Is THIS how the NEW D200 School Board wants to define itself?

Sign anything put in front of them by staff, without research on validity, efficacy, or cost comparisons?

D200 School Board Members:

I offer you my time and efforts, FREE, as a citizen concerned with equity for all taxpayers.

I will look into issues before you vote, just let me know what line-item details you have been told by staff.

I beg you not to bobblehead your votes any longer until YOU are convinced by evidence that the 4.2% property tax rate you have engendered and are sustaining is justified by academically acceptable standards of validity, efficacy, AND PRICE COMPARISON VALUE. (that goes double for the presumed man of science–evidence based practice? personal validation?–with the  medical doctorate).


A Look at the Last Woodstock School Board Meeting — 14 Comments

  1. Susan,
    What I think you fail to realize are the soft costs associated with your intense scrutiny of every line item in a budget. You want the school board run like a company? Great. Most companies set up micro-purchasing thresholds and any purchases above that threshold require C-level approval. Chief executives realize they don’t want to be bothered with minutia and trust their staff to make the right choice for the business.

    Do you have a micro purchasing threshold, Susan? Because to me, it seems like you want to scrutinize every line item, every purchase and the soft costs associated with that cost taxpayers MORE longterm. Not less.

  2. What I’m trying to say is I don’t question your resolve. I question your methods.

  3. Give me your threshold for highest property tax rate, along with supporting evidence for your opinion, and then we can determine micro threshold.

    Ordinary techniques and boundaries do not apply when the crisis level tax rate due to extraordinary spending has been so overwhelmingly breached.(in this case 4.2% of home value /with US mean 1.4%/Chicago 2.4%/McHenry County mean 3.7% last year—perhaps you would like to perform the task of calculating 2017 mean/median/mode for county, given 200 PDF pages of Tax Districts in County).

  4. An intuitively relevant inflection point for ‘Maximum Sustainable Property Tax Rate’
    which upon its breach point triggers death spiral of property values is:

    ‘the property tax rate at which median income households in median value homes may no longer qualify for conventional mortgage loans’.

    As you must know, 4.2% property tax rate is far in excess of that inflection point and has demolished a huge pool of potential buyers of Woodstock homes.

    Therefore, ANY spending by the Woodstock D200 Board is CRITICAL to survival of the weakest among us.

    Of course, it is understandable if the Board wishes to be honest as to their priorities.

  5. Yes, the schools should apply and use those parts of the private sector which drive efficiency and accountability. For unlike the free-will private sector, the public sector has confiscatory powers with regards to the personal wealth of the citizenry.

    So if a given school board acts in such a way as to believe there is no end to money, or takes great liberality with regards to same, they can not only deplete the financial liquidity of a household (i.e., cash) but they can also diminish a household’s long term wealth (i.e., devaluation of private property due to high taxes & limited buyers).

    That said, depending on the organizational structure most budgetary line items never reach the C-Suite.

    For example, Steven Jobs did not approve the Janitorial line item in Apple’s budget but he sure did employ people who knew how to manage that process effectively.

    The public sector could benefit from people with those skill-sets.

    Two other budgetary tools that should be embraced is zero-based budgeting and a rolling budget.

    The first compels a justification for every expenditure and program, the second gives incentive to increased efficiency, doing away with the “don’t use it, lose it” mantra that is alive and well in government today.

    Finally, when market dries up private sector operations contract (unless they’re developing new product lines in fresh markets).

    This is what D200 needs to do, contract its operations and do its fair share to make Woodstock an attractive community in which people will want to live and invest.

    Isn’t easy, isn’t fun but leadership rarely contains these elements…it is, however, the only responsible action to take.

  6. Susan,
    I don’t question that taxes are high.

    I’m simply pointing out that the soft costs associated with scrutinizing every purchase is costly. I want the district to run as a business.

    Businesses trust leaders to make the right purchases based on needs.

    It seems to me you don’t know a lot about how purchasing works at business or education institutions, so let me please enlighten you for a moment.

    Most of the time, in school districts, there are what are called “budget owners.”

    These budget owners are typically department heads and are given a budget to oversee. Each teacher may have a segment of that budget for supplies.

    This kind of spending is known as “direct spend” or “planned Spend.”

    Then there is what is called “Indirect spend” or “unplanned spending.”

    Education related unplanned spend happens most frequently across the following categories: IT peripherals, Office Supplies, MRO/Jan San, and finally BISS purchasing. For small, one of purchases, budget owners will typically approve of the purchase, or “micro-purchase” if there is adequate budget.

    The soft costs associated with scrutinizing the micro purchase at a high level by a principal or school board – or you, for that matter – far outweigh the benefit or result in any total cost savings.

    Where there IS an opportunity for cost savings in indirect spending and where you, Susan, may find a project is to look at if vendor consolidation or vendor rationalization is on the radar of the district.

    The district could see tangible cost savings associated with centralizing indirect purchasing to fewer vendors because the soft costs associated with purchasing from multiple vendors can sometimes be $700-$1,400 per vendor according to industry experts.

    It seems to me that you would be better use of time than making a stink about ever line item, rather look at the process.

    Food for thought.

  7. All that presupposes that the budget allocations are righteous to begin with.

    Because the budget has been too high for many years, your analysis indicates no reductions may ever occur.

    Until property tax rate is lowered by a huge amount, every line item is unjustified until someone checks off on it.

    To shuffle such scrutiny aside is to endorse the untenable status quo.

    You haven’t answered :

    What is highest viable property tax rate (relative to other States, Chicago, and American average)?

  8. There are no costs associated with school board members scrutinizing suspicious or seemingly frivolous expenditure.

    There may be revenues to be gained by what a drilled down look at the numbers might reveal.

    For example, what ‘taxable fringe benefits’ are being paid out under the radar?

    Credit cards, cell phones, resort holidays?

    If employees had to pay proper taxes on taxable fringe benefits they may decline the perq instead.

  9. Susan,

    Frantz Fanon said, “You can never burn a man into understanding, you can only warm him in the hope he self ignites.”
    I don’t disagree that spend levels are high. Reputable procurement groups like the Hackett Group have asserted that addressing the soft costs associated around indirect spent result in tangible cost savings for procuring goods.
    Respectfully, there are costs associated with involving you, the school board, admins and teacher scrutinizing every purchase. What was a $1 pen, turns into a $7 pen after you have a multi level approval process involving time/salaries associated with approving purchases.

    You are better off address the process, not the purchase.

    I may be doing a bad job at explaining this to you and would be more than happy to call. What’s the best number to reach you at?

  10. It would be interesting to see if any board members actually went to see the library carpet, and see if it’s worn.

    I don’t think that carpet is all that old and if maintained correctly it should have a good life span.

    My guess is they look for things to spend money on, just to spend.

    Look at the transportation center.

    They needed more parking spaces.

    Go look how many are left open every day.

  11. Moderate on….

    I work and have worked for several large corporations including the FCA belvidere facility.

    So i understand the process of budgeting being i also managed several departments at various companies in my life.

    The spending this school district does is unacceptable in any sense of the idea.

    Ive watched facility managers of multi-million dollar and billion dollars companies review any and all capital expenses and need to justify its ROI.

    In school ROI is tougher to figure but still doable by performance to investment.

    In this case the school’s mission statement is to improve by 2% a year.

    If viewed from 12 years ago when the district brought in $48 million and had 6600 student to now? when they have 6600 students still and now have $97 million….the improvements we should see are around 24% in school performance scores….or at least top in the state.

    The ranks of the school is barely average.

    In fact the local catholic school which spends not even 25% on per student vs income, is equal to and in 1 case better than the public school.

    So the public school in the real business world would be shutdown or bankrupt if it was to run by those rules.

    They dont have to so they just say….we need more money. You have no choice to pay.

    So i ask you what did the nearly $50 million doubling of the income in the schools bring me as an owner of the school (we the taxpayers are the ultimate bosses)…

    Same student headcount as 12 years ago and no performance changes.

    The answer is the schools have failed.

    We instead have some kindergarten teachers making $99k a year as well as a few 1st grade teachers.

    They work 179 days a year vs 250 for most everyone else.

    We have pensions to pay for that will exceed 70%+ of their current salary to support.

    That means most will be making more in retirement than people currently working make.

    The average teacher in this district…stripping out the teaching aids, and late starters, and 1st year teachers average $69k a year.

    There are choir and band teachers making $100-$110k a year.

    We stipend over $70k ($280k total)in each of 4 board meeting for money to coach or be mentors to club sports or groups….$280k!!!!

    Thats the best use of my money….some coaches were getting nearly $7k for 10 games and 10 practices.

    Wow nice pay day for them.

    Im glad education is the new club sport fund.

    Why can park districts do this cheaper.

    Why do the sports teams need/request astro-turf or renovated high-end dugouts.

    Yet the people paying for them are not allowed to use them.

    Oh this information is avaliable in the freedom of information act also

    By the way the administrators pay is not the biggest impact on the money either.

    Some teachers even exceed them and 1 teacher even makes $122,000 a year…

    This is a poorly run money frivolous school district

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