Friday, October 17, 2014

AND THE CROOKED SHALL BE MADE STRAIGHT

Speaking from experience as a grammar school graduate, we were always advised to check our work for accuracy before handing in our assignments.

On a field trip browsing the fiction section of the Waukegan Public Library we came across a letter posted today, October 17, 2014 by Donaldo Batiste, Superintendent of Waukegan Public Schools.

With that attribution, we herein publish this work in full with our comments noted in red, as would any school English teacher.

October 17, 2014

Dear Parents, Guardians and Waukegan School District Community Members:

Donaldo, the 2013 census of Waukegan was approximately 88,800. Perhaps you are privy to the striation of the gross salaries earned by adults in those households? Surely, most fall well below your generous compensation of $272,567 (not including benefits). That puts you in the 1% not only in Waukegan, but in all of Lake County.

Your base compensation in 2006 was $200,000 with guaranteed increase of not less than 3% or more than 7% (including a vehicle) that has resulted in an increase of $72,567 over 7-8 years.  (Click here to download the Batiste contract)

You have done very well for yourself! Nice enough for you to reside in Gurnee, not Waukegan.

Your contract reflects performance based goals, including the attainment of improved student performance.

When was the last time that you entered a classroom and engaged directly with students to directly influence these results? Certainly well before 2006. That is precisely the job of the teachers!

Your sympathy as to the plight of 17,000 students and professional educators that number 1,200 is disingenuous.

FICTION: I wish I were writing today to let you know that the strike has ended, and that our students and teachers were going to return to the classroom after nearly two weeks.  We never wanted a strike, and now we find ourselves looking back on another full week without classes.  I again apologize for the inconvenience the strike continues to cause you and your children.  I, along with the Board of Education, share your deep frustration.

FACT: By majority vote, the Board of Education can negotiate a proper multi-year contract that is fair in both working conditions and compensation. You had no problem negotiating a sweet deal for yourself and almost 200 administrators with the Board. Show some leadership by simply extending the same consideration and courtesy to the teachers. 

FICTION: Unfortunately, after several marathon sessions— during which significant progress was made—the Union has chosen to walk away from the table.  An agreement cannot be reached by one side.  Our school system thrives on a working collaboration between students, teachers, and administrators.  

FACT: You, Dr. Batiste, unilaterally recommended the sole source hiring of Anthony Ficarelli from Hinshaw, affirmed by unanimous vote of the Board. Click here for link

You also recommended the hiring of Thomas Morris (from Hinshaw) as your General Counsel at $235,000 per year.

Apparently you have no confidence in Morris, who has 6 more years experience as a lawyer than Ficarelli. 

This duplication of expenditures takes money you claim is dear directly from the Education Fund for outside legal fees.

Ficarelli has been an obstacle to resolving the strike and has no incentive to bring it to a swift conclusion. Click here to view his billings.

Perhaps you should consider refunding $50,000 (and counting) to the District for poor judgment and waste of taxpayer funds directly from your personal compensation?

FICTION: For this reason, the Board remains committed to a negotiation process.  In recent talks, tentative agreements have been struck: the Board has agreed to fully fund single premium health insurance, and teachers have agreed to more time in the classroom.

FACT: The good citizens of Waukegan have noted that you have influenced and directly employed a strategy since last April that directly resulted in the teachers' strike. The billings by Hinshaw indicate the hours spent and the strategies employed by you and the Board.

It is also improper to leak to the public incomplete information that should be held within the negotiations until an agreement is reached by mutual consent.

FICTION: Where do we disagree? Not over our commitment to providing students with a quality education, and not over the value of our teachers and the exemplary work that they do.  Rather, our disagreements are purely financial: both sides agree to pay raises, but the Union just demands more, to the detriment of the District’s ability to preserve its fiscal solvency and use taxpayer funds wisely.  

FACT: If you truly value the work of the teachers, as a fellow professional educator, you should be the first in line to support their receiving equitable compensation with the same vigor and passion you use to convince the Board to properly compensate you and the other Administrators.

The 2015 Draft Budget reflects almost the same surplus that was reported to ISBE for the 2014 budget

The Board lacks professional expertise to craft the budget, let alone grasp the financial implications of the allocation of funds. Your staff prepared the Budget; the Board accepted your recommendation without altering one budgetary line item. 

FICTION: The District’s reserves—contrary to what the Union says—act like savings account, and allow the District to manage emergencies. The State Board of Education also requires us to maintain such reserves. 

FACT: WPS60 has full autonomy on how taxpayer funds are allocated and spent. ISBE provides guidelines for what constitutes minimum academic requirements and also sets standards for teacher evaluations. 

School districts are free to solicit grant monies, corporate participation and engage in fundraising to augment funding provided by the Federal and State governments. 

As the face of the District, you should be its biggest cheerleader.
"A New Day, A New Way" is a great tagline. Empty classroom, Empty words.

You have breached your fiduciary duty by mismanaging the taxpayers funds. This is the place where you should insert your apology and commitment to replacing funds spent improperly.

FICTION: We urge the Union to come back to the table, so we can collaborate and reach an agreement that will get our students back in school. 

FACT: The negotiating posture assumed by the Board to wear out the union has backfired as indicated by the tenor of comments from last Tuesday's Board meeting that are now memorialized on YouTube for the entire country to view.
Click here for link to video

In addition, perhaps you should advise the Board members regarding good faith negotiations. 

Admonish Board members for their statements in public places that constitute vindictive behavior and a testosterone rush. Mr. Don Elliot was at Sam's Club on Thursday and was overhead to comment that he was voting against the contract because he has a problem with Mike McGue, who is not employed by the District and certainly receives no direct compensation from the collective bargaining agreement between the Waukegan Teachers and WPS60. Not only is this unprofessional behaviour by an elected official, but this vote bars 17,000 students from returning to the classroom. A personal apology to the Waukegan community is certainly in order. Elliot has admitted his bias and should be removed from the decision-making process.

All this despite your personal "sympathy" for their plight...while you receive your paycheck, benefits and automobile perk.

Be cautious and prudent with the current proliferation of social media and instantaneous transmission of indiscretions. Eyes are watching and ears are listening.

In the meantime, the District has made an effort to continue its educational programming for students, including:
  • Assistance to WHS seniors applying to college.  House leaders will be available to assist with college and scholarship applications during the strike.Current students needing transcripts for college can contact the WHS registrar at 224-303-3388.
  • ACT Testing is still scheduled for Saturday, October 25, at Waukegan High School. Students must report to Brookside Campus east side by 8 a.m. with a photo ID. Nearly 300 students have registered.
For more information on these programs, and updates on strike developments, please visit our website: www.wps60.org.

The best way to continue educational programming is in the classroom.

I share your strong desire to open our schools’ doors and get our students back to the business of learning.  Thank you for your continued support of the Waukegan school system during this difficult time.

Sincerely,
Donaldo R. Batiste, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools


Donaldo, enough lip service. You carry enough weight to turn the tide here. Get Ficarelli out of the room, bring the Board members directly into the negotiations and hammer out a long term agreement that will enable your focus to be back on the education business.

We welcome your response.

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