Lee Talley: A death in my neighborhood.

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– By Lee Talley. Lee is a proud retired teacher.

There was a death in my neighborhood last Thursday night.

No shots rang out.  No sirens wailed.   No yellow police tape cordoned off the scene of the crime.  Even worse, the 800+ witnesses could do nothing to stop it.

Last Thursday night, the Lincoln High School District 210 School Board voted 5-2 to close Lincoln Way North High School.  Time of death — 8:58 p.m. 

And now the year-long wake begins.  I feel sorry for the kids and parents, especially the Class of 2017 who will have to spend their Senior year in a new environment.  It’ll be like starting all over again.

Built in 2007, Lincoln Way North opened in 2008, followed by Lincoln Way West in 2009.  Each school has the capacity for 2,500 students.  Both schools are state-of-the-art buildings, with all the bells and whistles that could be thought of at the time.

Now one has been pronounced dead and the other is most certainly on a “death-watch” as enrollment continues to decline.

In 2005, a $225 million referendum to build the two new high schools was passed by the district’s taxpayers after the District 210 School Board and then-Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie vigorously pushed an alarmist agenda that “the education of students is going to suffer if we don’t plan for the future now.” 

Of course, Wyllie is retired and living in Florida, collecting his $300,000 pension, not returning phone calls or answering questions, while new Supt. Dr. R. Scott Tingley is left holding the bag.  And doesn’t this seem to be a familiar scenario these days with all these long-time power players?

How could they have gotten it so wrong?  Board President Kevin Molloy points to the housing crash in 2008 and the lack of state funding, stating that the district is getting less $5 million less in state aid than promised.  The district then proceeded to keep the status quo by burning through almost all of its $37 million in reserves.

So in its infinite wisdom the school board voted to close North rather than the 61-year-old Lincoln Way Central that has only completed 20% modernization.  They even ignored their own consultant’s report that North is the cheapest building to operate.

With a projected enrollment of 6,600 students in 2020, you can already see the board teeing up Lincoln Way West as the next victim because both Lincoln Way East and Central each have the capacity for 3,750 students.   Of course, not everyone loses here.  The two construction companies, who also advised the district prior to building the two schools, reportedly made a profit of $29 million.

Even though the board said that they have made $9 million in cuts over the years, I have to wonder is they could have gone deeper and started sooner.  I counted 67 clubs and activities (including Ultimate Frisbee and Kitty Hawk Air Society) and some sports with six different levels.  And for the life of me I can’t understand why they’re still teaching four levels of Latin?  This was going out when I was in high school in 1970.  Large Animal Science?  Small Animal Science?  Classes better suited for the college level.  All these are nice to have, but are they necessary. 

Here’s the problem as I see it.  I went to all three community meetings prior to this decision.  While you could speak if you want, you were only allowed five minutes maximum.  I did speak at one, relating my experience of working in a district that was nearly $100 million in debt and what we had to do to dig ourself out of it.   Budgets slashed 90%, programs / classes / activities and athletics cut, salary freezes and reduction, and good staff members let go.

But it seems to those in the audience that this was just perfunctory so people could vent.  “We’ll ask for your opinion, you give it, and then we’re going to do what we’ve already decided…months ago.”   No real input at all.

But here we go again.  Students, educators, and the community have to suffer because poor decisions made by those in power who were asleep at the wheel.  They rarely questioned a long-time superintendent who wielded power with an iron fist and veiled intimidation.

Worse yet, Molloy and the board waited until they were re-elected in April to announce their plans to close one and possibly two buildings (even though they were kicking this around last fall in darkened whispers).  This is a board that refuses to post its budget online or televise their meetings on local cable.  Now we see why.  Lack of transparency?  You bet.

But this is what we get from people who don’t understand education and/or the business of education.  It’s a mirror we can put up to most school districts in the state.  All you need is 50 names on a petition and enough votes, and you too can be a school board member.  No training or qualifications necessary.  Maybe there should be CPDUs for board members?

Politicians have made a mess of education.  Bowing to political whims, special interests, and private money.  They keep inserting themselves and their wacky ideas into schools where they have no business going.  I keep threatening to write a piece entitled, “No Politician Left Behind.” 

Molloy and others on the board keep pointing their fingers at everyone else.  Maybe they should look in the mirror.  They let this happen.  We should be asking for their resignations.  After all, in the private sector, a mistake of this proportion would get you fired big time.  Irony, huh? 

So we’ll have to wait and see what the impact will be on the students, the communities, the local businesses, and our property values / taxes.  I know that my neighbors and I will be paying for this “mistake” for a long time.  Or course, it won’t seem that long because we’ll be back in two years to claim another body.

10 thoughts on “Lee Talley: A death in my neighborhood.

  1. When Rahm Emanuel was first running for Mayor…he admitted to the packed Temple audience in my Lakefront neighborhood, “I don’t know much about education,” but I will try things and if they don’t work out, I will try new things. I am open to trying new things.” (Even if these experiments are costly, non-transparent, privatizing education, ripping off schools and communities, hating on teachers, closing 50 schools, appointing school board members who also don’t understand Chicago’s neighborhood public schools). Thanks for the letter….the Paragraph that hit home is reprinted. [“Politicians have made a mess of education. Bowing to political whims, special interests, and private money. They keep inserting themselves and their wacky ideas into schools where they have no business going. I keep threatening to write a piece entitled, “No Politician Left Behind.” ]

  2. Are they mothballing the school, keeping it for possible later use? Or are they thinking of tearing it down or selling it at a fire-sale price, possibly to a charter school? Are they going to increase student to teacher ratios, or other things that are going to have a bad effect on the learning environment for students and teachers?

    1. We have no idea what they are going to do with the building. That’s one of the main problems. They provide as little information they can about anything. They just spring it at a board meeting and vote on it. No input or discussion.

  3. I suppose only folks with life long roots in the Lincoln Way area can understand the compelling desire to keep Central a viable educational facility. Our history is there. It is where the families raising the baby boomers worked so hard to build a community in which we could live the American Dream, offer our children the structure of a Midwestern value system and engender a love of learning. Sorry for the run on sentence, Mrs. Bills. Every day I am a better writer because of you.

    1. I can understand the desire and even empathize with it. However, the decision made was presented to be based on economics, not sentimentality. Financially Central was the obvious choice to be closed. (The District’s website has the consultant’s report which details the particulars of closing each school.)

    2. Linda,
      Not all Central grads want Central to stay open. Many of them have kids at North or West or East and realize that Central is bleeding money and needs to close. Have you heard about the $220,000.00 a year water bill at Central? There are many unanswered questions and I believe the decision was rushed to stop the investigations and probing. However, they have awoken a sleeping giant. With the closing of the least obvious school came many, many questions. My question is why did they ram this through at lightning speed and why did they vote to close the least obvious school? North has the highest capacity enrollment percentage and lowest operating costs. Something stinks but this is not over. The fight has just begun and we will uncover the truth.
      Ann

    3. Question: How much do we pay to give the Common Core test?

      Linda, I understand the connection to Central, but a school is more than the building. One of the other buildings can be renamed. I want our students to learn in an updated building. That is best for them.

    4. My son was in the first graduation class of Lincoln Way North. HIS history is THERE. Ditto for FIVE other graduating classes. The emotions are the same whether the school is 7 years old or 67. The parents of North students work VERY hard to afford the property taxes to pay for a vacant school. AND will continue to do so for decades. Their community was ROBBED of the American Dream. Good luck District 210 with engendering a love of learning, with over crowded class rooms, budget cuts to programs, top notch teachers being let go, and zero surplus to make any improvements. And good luck to any homeowner looking for a nice family that cares about education to purchase your home.

  4. I know closing this school is a terrible tragic mistake, but let’s not compare it to a death please! If you have ever lost a mother, a father, a spouse, or worse yet a child, you would know that the closing of a school can’t even compare.

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