Month: September 2013

Op-Ed: On Fairness and Moving Forward

The following is a response to issues raised in an editorial letter by Gustavo Lira that was published last week. For background information on the votes and developers referenced, please read here and here.

By Antoinette ‘Toni’ Dorris

Some citizens have entertained mistaken notions regarding my intentions (along with those of other trustees) for voting against the InSite proposal and advocating that the Village work with other developers—in particular, Granite Realty Partners.

The 4-3 majority vote was to proceed with a Letter of Intent, which is protocol. The final decision as to which developer the Village was going with was not determined by this vote.

My case against InSite is based on them only bringing three sales tax revenue entities to this Village. Banks do not pay sales tax revenue to communities—at least not in a way that sufficiently lowers taxes. My first priorities are always with seniors and children, both of whom are unable to compete financially, whether today or in the future. What we, as a board, do today should be an effective move twenty years from now. Such long-term thinking would benefit the residents of this town.

Granite presented to this Board a year ago. They were told to come back and present their offer again according to the specifications that the board shared with them. However, they were never given that chance. Being a fair person, I encourage fairness in all things. Good business practices and negotiations should have taken place, but did not. The bank has, on several occasions, stated that they were not developers and would work with either developer once they found out there was another developer at the table (the bank was given this information late in the deal). In my opinion, the bank is being fair, so why aren’t we, as a Village, being fair as well?

The economic development reputation that we have at this point stems from the fact that our management does not present this Village in a fair light (this includes our previous economic development director and past and present Village managers). Some would lay responsibility for this unfortunate reality on the backs of elected officials, but we only govern one person and that’s the Village manager. If a directive is given to the Village manager and it’s carried out opposite of what was requested by the Board, then that’s not on the back of the elected officials, unless we choose to do nothing about straightening it out. Those of us who saw that the directive was not carried out fairly stood up to make it fair ground.

Furthermore, Granite has committed to bringing a multitude of national sales tax revenue sources to Maywood for the entire First and Lake Street corridor. They also have a proven track record of doing this in neighboring towns as well as the City of Chicago. Check their website at granitepartners.com.

InSite has four corners in total in Naperville/Warrenville and New Lenox that they have completed, in addition to out-of-state sites. Check their website at insiterealestate.com. I am a firm believer that if you think small, you get small. This town, in my opinion, does not need small, we need big and I believe that we are able to function in that capacity. We need developers that are willing to ‘meet the needs of this community’ and not ‘cherry pick’ our land that’s valuable to us. The bank is willing to work with either developer. The bank was not aware that there was another developer involved at all. Small sales tax revenue versus big sales tax revenue—simple math to me!

Some of my fellows elected officials wish to do something just to say they’ve done something. I wish to make the best choice for all people of this village. In my opinion, moving too fast does not allow for ‘critical thinking.’

I am very clear of my fiduciary responsibility and that’s why I voted the way that I did—to achieve clarity and promote fairness. I encourage residents to hold this board accountable and I encourage those residents who have been holding the Village hostage for years to get off of the bandwagon.

This is not about one group versus another group. When we all sit at that board table, we represent one Village. I’ve even said this at a meeting. I have yet to meet a perfect person or group, but if I am able to respect a person’s idea and concerns and deal with them today to work toward a brighter future, then I am asking other residents to do the same. Let’s move forward.

Unity and mutual respect is what this town needs. I have spoken to people who live here who agree with that proposition. I look forward to hearing from any residents who wish to meet with me to discuss this and other issues that are vital to this Village. Let’s put the misinformation and hearsay to rest once and for all.

 Antoinette ‘Toni’ Dorris is a recently elected Maywood trustee. 

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Op-Ed: We Cannot Stand to Let the Library Close

THE OPINION PAGE

By Mayor Edwenna Perkins

The idea that the Maywood Public Library will close its doors is completely unfathomable. It would be a devastating blow to our village. We have so many intellectual, artistic, and professional people in this community who use the library on a regular basis, and the library has been, and continues to be, an intellectual sanctum and a safe haven for our young citizens.

The fact that the Maywood Public Library came into existence in 1874, a mere five years after the founding of the village, is consistent with the fact that Maywood has a brilliant history of human achievement. The citizens of Maywood have always valued and demanded access to knowledge and information. The holdings in our library are extremely impressive for a town of our size, and the architecture of the building is beautiful and award-winning.

The people will not stand for the closing of our library.  Even in this day and age of high technology, the people of Maywood understand the significance of a quiet library for study and intensive research and for literary and scholarly presentations.  Also, students who do not have internet access at home regularly depend on our library for usage.

My office is prepared to take every reasonable step, and to do what it can, to assist the library in becoming financially stable.  We have to mobilize together, as a community, and save this extremely valued asset with the clear understanding that losing our library would greatly diminish the quality of life in our village.

Edwenna Perkins is the current Mayor of Maywood. You can contact her at 708.450-4486, or lperkinssr@aol.com.

A Conversation With District 209 Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart

Dr. Nettie Collins Hart in Conversation
Dr. Collins-Hart (center) in conversation with staff (Photo by District 209).

By Michael Romain

FOREST PARK, WEDNESDAY — Yesterday, I sat down with District 209 Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart to discuss how this new school year is shaping up, some of the obstacles students, teachers and staff may be up against and the solutions the District’s devised to tackle them. I should note that before I could setup the first question, Dr. Collins-Hart directed our conversation to the seemingly widespread negative perception about District 209 schools.

I sensed that something of a tipping point had been reached with respect to the stigmatization and the Superintendent could feel it. So the interview began with her describing some of the recent efforts to combat the stereotypes and the public perception, because ‘if a child continues to be told that he or she is bad and his or her school is bad, they internalize that message–it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ Dr. Collins-Hart said, in so many words:

In what ways are you all dealing with the negative perception?

We’re going to start monthly tours with a partnership committee, so people can come into the schools, because, to a person, when people get into the schools, they say, ‘It’s not at all like I heard it was.’ This demonstrates the perceptions that people have of our schools [based on what they haven’t seen]. The tours will be like orientations for people to learn about our schools and see what they look like with real, live children doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

You talked about a partnership committee. What is this, exactly?

The committee came out of a partnership with Triton and a group of citizens, led by Pat Shehorn, who wanted to do something about preparing students for colleges and careers. At first, they partnered with us to do the Parent University, but then they decided to do tour the schools themselves. Out of that idea, they suggested we do structured tours for all of the residents in the community. Mr. Daniel [Rob Daniel, the District’s community and public relations coordinator], came up with the theme of, ‘Take Another Look.’ Many people have written our kids off based on what they believe and what they hear, not on what they know.

Has this intense focus on branding always been a priority with District 209?

I think we’ve always been aware of our ‘brand’, but the incidents last year at East and West made me realize that we have to be proactive, because with an aggressive social media, we ourselves have to very aggressive in [framing the message]. There was a lot of fallout that came from just two fights. [And unfortunately, when they happen at predominantly black and brown schools, these negative events get blown out of all proportion]. Oak Park and River Forest, for instance, had a big fight last year, but you didn’t see it on television. Same thing with Riverside-Brookfield.

We wish these things wouldn’t happen, but our students are products of the community in which they live and they bring in [the problems that exist] in the community. However, given that we have 5,000 students contained in a few buildings, most of whom are relatively well-behaved–that’s [a feat]!

Do you think that the lack of a realistic perspective of the schools and what you perceive as a vast misconception about District 209 schools stem from a deeper lack of parental involvement? Perhaps the community would be more informed if the parents were more informed.

While we want more traditional parental involvement, I think it’s unfair to say that they’re not involved. And again, that’s what happens when people label certain parents. We know our teachers have communication with parents through PowerSchool [a system that enables parents and teachers to communicate with each other online]. That’s at a base-level. In addition, when you’re at an athletic event, you’re going to see parental involvement. All of our schools have Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs).

But I’d like to see the definition of parental involvement be broadened to include advocacy for the schools and heightened advocacy for our children. I also want to see more structured avenues for parents to get involved, such as our Bring Your Parent to School Day and Back to School Night. We had a pretty good turnout at those.

On a personal level, I was always a working parent, so I wasn’t necessarily [always at the school and always involved in extracurricular activities]. But if someone were to say I wasn’t involved, that wouldn’t be true. I may not have been on school grounds everyday, but [I was active in my children’s home life]. So, when people talk about an involved parent, are we only talking about the stay-at-home mom type? What are the kind of structured things that define involvement?

I don’t have negative commentary about our parents. I think we’re often accusatory and quick to label, instead of finding solutions to problems. For instance, at our last Parent University, we only had about 100 parents. But that just means that we need to have more of these events. [There may have been a variety of legitimate reasons for the low turnout]. So, we’re looking for multiple avenues and opportunities for parents to get involved and I think we’re doing a great job of that. Moreover, the Board of Education seems invested in that, as well.

We’re going to start having School Improvement Forums again. We had a Safety Forum in July and we want to follow that up with one sometime this Winter. We also have Back to School Night, Bring Your Parent to School Day, Principal Meet and Greets, a Forum on the Common Core and articulation with feeder schools.

The Board has indicated that we really need to do more outreach with our feeder schools [the elementary schools in Proviso Township that send students into District 209 high schools]. Even though people might not think of freshman transition program as parental involvement, it was really designed to support parents who had those freshmen who were transitioning from middle school. We got really good comments from parents when we did that. Freshmen had the opportunity to begin the school year three days before classes officially began. They participated in workshops that promoted team-building and they learned about school culture. They had fun while they were learning how to transition their mindsets and physical bodies to high school. That transition can be an intimidating.

Click Me To Support What We're Doing.How’s the beginning of the school year going?

The beginning of this school year seems quieter than usual. One thing we attributed it to was that we’ve allowed the students to keep their headphones in their ears while walking the hall during passing time. It’s not as loud, they’re listening to their music. It’s quieter in the halls during passing time, now. I think it’s a good idea. Rather than spending time telling kids to take that headphone out of their ears and fight a losing battle, we allow them to keep the headphones on. But at the same time, we expect them to respect the fact that they can’t use them in class. We’re dealing with a different generation, [so we have to adjust our techniques]. I have to say, it’s miraculous seeing over 2,000 people move from one place to another within five minutes! I don’t think I can get adults to do that. [laughs].

I understand that one of the District’s constant priorities is standardized testing. How are you all dealing with the pressure to raise the scores?

Those don’t occur until April, but in terms of preparation, we start the first day of school. We have some Board goals, such as graduation rate and scholarships and extracurricular courses. The Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) is a nut that we haven’t yet cracked. We’ve made significant growth this year, but we want to make sure we continue to climb every year, because our goal is to meet or exceed the state average. We’re looking at our curriculum to make sure that what’s being tested is in our curriculum, we’re providing practice workbooks in the content classes, online test preparation tools, and extended test prep as part of our Saturday School program.

In addition, we’re structuring several test days to kind of simulate the testing environment, so students feel prepared for that long a test. So we have a very aggressive testing protocol. However, I don’t want people to think we’re all about the test. That just seems the one thing we haven’t made significant headway on, because whether I like it or not–and I don’t like it–our schools are defined in the public largely by how our students score on the tests. People may know we have a great band [and all these other assets], but when they look at those test scores, their perception of our schools is adversely affected.

Can you elaborate on why you don’t like that testing shapes public perceptions of schools to such a large degree?

I don’t like that schools are defined by how they perform on a single testing day. Unfortunately, that’s how people form an opinion about the academic program of your school. But that’s the law of the land now.

I know that Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) recently added Advanced Placement (AP) courses to their offerings. Does whether or not schools offer AP courses affect how the public perceives them?

I don’t think it did with PMSA, since it has selective admission and all of the classes are honors. But over a period of time, like anything else, people have begun to ask why PMSA cant get AP, as well. We’ve always had dual-enrollment classes [students can take high school courses for college credit], but we didn’t have the AP at PMSA until we got a grant this year.

Tell me about the Leadership Cadre that was recently implemented?

It’s designed to be sort of a grow-your-own-staff-for-leadership program in the district. When I envisioned this a few years ago, the first goal was for people who might want to move into administration to learn about the district and enhance their leadership skills. But it was also designed for people in current administrative positions (deans, principles, etc.) to enhance their leadership skills. My third goal was to have a problem-solving venue and think-tank for things that might be going on in the district.

We have a new teacher support group that was implemented this yea, too. It’s designed to help new teachers get acclimated to the school. It’s comprised of informal outlets for ongoing communication, talking, sharing, etc. Anything that we can do to make faculty and staff feel good about their work is a plus for students. When people feel good about their work, they tend to perform better. My theme for the year has been ‘Teamwork’. People are saying it feels good and they’re beginning to come together for some positive teamwork.

ADVERTISEMENT-FALL INTO FASHION FUNDRAISERAs you know, I’ll begin covering the District’s Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) for both The Village Free Press and The Forest Park Review. [The FOP, is basically an outside panel of budget experts brought in by the District some years ago to help guide it back to financial health]. What are your opinions on the FOP’s performance?

In 2008, the Board of Education, along with the State, sought to have a voluntary financial oversight panel, because at that time the District was experiencing some financial deficits. At that time, all across the nation, money was drying up, so we needed fiscal support and assistance. I view them as providing financial oversight and technical assistance. Sometimes it can be good to have someone who’s not looking at the same thing everyday to give you assistance. And while people don’t always like oversight and restrictions, sometimes you have to have that balance.

I think we’ve struck the right balance now. The board and the financial oversight panel have been having more joint meetings, where they’re talking together about how we can better the system academically. Initially, all the talk was about cutting money and that was frustrating. But I’m proud of the fact that the district buckled down and made the cuts, as painful as it was to do. And so we’ve brought some balance now. Presently, we’re moving into what I believe is the next phase of stability. We have clean audits, a balanced budget—we’re stabilizing. I see a shift to discussions about how to continue to be fiscally stable and how to move toward programming that improves student academics. We’ve made progress.

Finally, what is your vision for this upcoming school year? What things do you want to see done?

I continue to be excited about this year. I see people coming together in a more positive way than I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been here. There’s momentum. We’ve solidified programs for students, we’ve welcomed two new principals, we’re seeing more consistency in programming at the District. One of our visions is for us to continue to have interventions for students who are having difficulty and interventions for those who just need something different (via Saturday School, ACT Prep, AP preparatory courses, mentorship workshops during Saturday School and course credit recovery) beyond the school day so they would feel supported. Another vision is maximizing professional development and supporting our teachers more. I want us to provide more textbooks, more instructional materials, more technology upgrades. We also need to prepare ourselves for the common core and new state assessments.

This month, the board approved goals for the next three years, which include gaining on our graduation rate (matching or exceeding the State average), meeting the minimum requirements necessary to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), raising test scores, reaching out to the community and positively branding our District. VFP

Please click here to help out the Maywood Public Library District. You have the power to keep it from closing.

 

 

 

 

Letters: Kindergarten Overcrowding, InSite Proposal

THE OPINION PAGEAnyone interested in putting their comments, opinions, criticism, analysis or feedback up for formal publication should forward the content to thevillagefreepress@gmail.com in the body of the email (preferably) or in a Word file. Please keep content under 1,000 words. All letters are subject to screening and will be published at the discretion of the editorial team. They’ll be published weekly and/or as the volume dictates.

Maywood Code Enforcement and Kindergarten Overcrowding: Riding on the Coattails of Dr. Sykes’ Op-Ed

First, thank you so much Dr. Sykes for your editorial. Having a child of my own in one of those outrageously large kindergarten classes, I concur with your thoughts.

And while I cannot speak for all municipalities serviced by District 89, I would like to point out though that I have not heard enough said about one of the leading causes of this overcrowding issue in District 89 schools – the failure of Maywood’s Code Enforcement officials (CEO) to dutifully oversee the lawful conversion of single family homes to multi-family homes and vigilantly stifle illegal conversions. Since the CEOs have been lax to perform these duties, Maywood’s most durable material asset and their values are being jeopardized.

During the six years since I relocated to this socio-economically depressed, albeit beautiful village, I have personally witnessed dozens of illegal conversions – one literally across the alley from my own home. I have personally raised the alarm directly with the late Anthony Thomas, head of CEO, who made empty promises concerning stricter enforcement and oversight. I also have sought audience to express my concerns with the former head of Community Development, Lori Sommers. Never got a phone call back; never got a meeting.

By now readers are asking, “I thought this article was a piggy-back on the issue of overcrowding in our kindergartens?” So what does the Village’s failure to freeze the seemingly ubiquitous illegal conversion of single family homes to multi-family homes have to do with the issue of overcrowding in our kindergartens? These two issues have everything to do with one another!

When our CEOs don’t vigilantly enforce laws and ordinances which are already in the books – laws which prevent any and all of these types of conversions in certain areas without public hearings, laws which demand reverse conversions back to original usage parameters after specific time lapses without occupancy, etc., etc., then more and more families are permitted to reside within a particular property which is only taxed at single-family rates.

This means more and more children must be serviced by our schools, but with the same taxes dollars which are collected on behalf of far fewer families and their children. Without the diligent actions of the CEOs, even the Cook County Tax Assessor’s Office goes for years (even decades!) without realizing that properties are going under-taxed.

This doesn’t even touch the issue of other under-funded municipal services – police, fire, pension funds (wait until that bill hits Maywood!), our endangered public library, and more. As if governmental waste and theft weren’t detrimental enough to the public well-being, the government isn’t even taxing property owners their fair portion. Furthermore, there is neither the time, nor space, here to address the CEO’s failures and their effect on the preservation of potentially historic homes, community development (both residential and commercial/retail), community reputation within and without the village, etc.

Homeowners and commercial/retail property owners, do you want to know why your taxes are so high in Maywood? There are several major reasons (some identified in other recent articles on various subjects in the VFP), but one of the big reasons is the plethora of illegal conversions next door or down the street to you and me. Those property owners and landlords are NOT paying their fair share to keep the bills paid in this community! And do you know who is giving them their big breaks on taxes – ultimately it is the Code Enforcement Office!

Alright, I confess, I don’t actually know why the CEO’s are allowing this situation to perpetuate. Is it lack of manpower, time, and other resources? Is it due to the handing out of some sort of nepotistic “free pass?” Is it apathy and incompetence? Is it a little lunch money passed to them under their clipboards? I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care right now. Sorry to burst everyone’s bubble, but the “good life” for Maywood is not right over the horizon, not while those entrusted and paid to carry out critical municipal responsibilities are failing to do so.

Bottom line: I appreciate the call to rectify the overcrowding situation in District 89 classrooms. But let’s face it, if more teachers are hired, and more classrooms are designated so that this overcrowding matter is resolved TODAY to everyone’s satisfaction, what do we do NEXT YEAR and the year after when the enrollment continues to increase while the school district’s apportioned revenues remain largely the same? To see school budgets grow commensurate to increases in enrollment begins with the actions of the Maywood’s Code Enforcement Office. Protect our community’s interests by faithfully overseeing the execution of existing ordinances, and by zealously and severely prosecuting those who would violate Zoning and Code.

In the meantime, I plead with District 89: Please, please, please have mercy on your poor teachers and our dear students and quickly resolve this outrageous overcrowding situation! Please.

Respectfully,
John Yi, Citizen and Neighbor

Three Trustees–The Source of My Disappointment

I am disappointed in the three trustees that dismantled and sabotaged the InSite project [for background information on the project being referenced, read here and here]. I’m disappointed by by how you all voted against this plan. And I’m disappointed by how (based on reasonable speculation) you appear to be influenced against the better interests of the citizens, and the long-term viability, of our community.

Going forward, I ask and encourage all of you who voted against the InSite proposal to think critically and independently. Support your fellow elected officials, who genuinely serve in the best interests of the Village, do not have a skewed or pompous view of their elected office and do not have special interest and moneyed groups that determine their short-sighted votes and actions.

As a fellow Maywoodian myself, I’m awakened to the continued disregard by selected elected officials of their fiduciary responsibilities. It should be clear that any future votes or actions by elected officials will be subject to a growing citizenry that is determined to hold elected officials accountable through all legal means available.

I encourage continued dialogue with myself and fellow Maywoodians who do not have any financial and/or political vested interests and agendas–other than the sincere interest of furthering the long-term viability and future of our community.

Regrettably,

Gustavo Lira

Rep. Welch’s Legislative Update: Green Grants, Senior Services Fair

This legislative update was brought to you by the offices of Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch:

7th District Receives Green Infrastructure Grants

SPRINGFIELD – On Saturday, September 21, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) announced more than $5 million in investments to 13 communities across Illinois for green infrastructure improvement projects.  Illinois Green Infrastructure Grants (IGIG) are designed to support projects that reduce the amount of pollution running into Illinois waterways from stormwater sources and reduce the risk of localized flooding.  The Saturday announcement was a part of Governor Quinn’s agenda to protect our natural resources and ensure a clean and healthy environment for future generations while creating construction jobs.

Three 7th District communities received grant awards.  River Forest will receive a grant of $484,169 to build green alleys.  The Village of LaGrange Park will receive $416,500 for downspout disconnection assistance, and the Westchester Library Board will receive $163,099 to build a new permeable parking lot.

“I want to thank Governor Quinn and the Illinois EPA for shining the spotlight on the 7th District,” said Rep. Chris Welch who is a member of the Illinois Environmental Justice Commission.  “These grant awards will help keep the 7th District as a leader in our state’s efforts to protect environment.”

Any stormwater management project with the goal of preserving or restoring natural hydrology is known as “green infrastructure.”  This can include methods of using soil and vegetation for the preservation and restoration of natural landscape features, such as forests, floodplains, headwaters and wetlands.  Projects that could also be considered green infrastructure consist of permeable pavement, rain gardens and barrels, downspouts and bioswales.  The goal of these measures is to reduce nonpoint source pollution.

2013 is the third year of IGIG and the program has previously awarded more than $9 million to 23 green infrastructure projects around the state.  Included among the many improvements these projects have made are the installation of nearly 150 cisterns or rain barrels, 220 downspouts, 184 rain gardens, four green roofs, three urban wetlands and six acres of permeable pavement.  For more information about the Illinois Green Infrastructure Grant Program and how to apply, please visit epa.state.il.us/water/financial-assistance/igig.html.

Senior Services Fair, October 5th at Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA)

WESTCHESTER, IL – Rep. Chris Welch will host a Senior Services Fair on Saturday, October 5, 2013 from Noon to 3pm at the Proviso Math and Science Academy.  Come out and learn about the various senior programs that are available and speak with representatives from state agencies including the Department on Aging, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, Secretary of State Jesse White’s office, State Treasurer Dan Rutherford’s office and many others.

Health screenings will also be provided by Westlake Hospital, and Walgreens will be available to provide flu shots.  An update on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will be provided.  Please bring your insurance and/or medicaid card with you to the fair.  Lunch will be provided, and Rep. Welch will personally call a few games of Bingo.  Come on out for some fun and information.

Rep. Welch serves communities in the 7th Representative District including all or portions of Bellwood, Berkeley, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Melrose Park, Northlake, La Grange Park, River Forest, Westchester, and Western Springs.

For more information, contact Rep. Welch’s constituent service office at (708) 450-1000 or e-mail repwelch@emanuelchriswelch.com.  You can also visit the App Store and download the State Rep. Chris Welch app on iTunes. VFP