District 15: A Timeline of Questionable Decisions and Continuing Controversies

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March 20, 2017
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District 15: A Timeline of Questionable Decisions and Continuing Controversies

The consensus team for positive change in District 15 are the Engage D15 candidates; Frank Annerino, Mike Smolka, Anthony Wang, Lisa Szczupaj (all 4-year terms) and Barb Kain (2-year term). These five concerned residents are running to fill the five open seats on the school board. 

The history of behavior is a solid indicator of future action. The actions of current/former school board members have spurred serious questions and pushback from our community over the last 10 years.

Current District 15 school board members Gerald Chapman, Jim Ekeberg and Peggy Babcock are the crafters and supporters of two controversial votes during 2016 alone (unprecedented 10-year teacher contract and failed, $130 million referendum).  Each of these individuals are seeking re-election. Over the last decade, so many of their actions, votes and choices have been riddled with scrutiny; not only from the D15 community, but from the media, as well.

The timeline below outlines some of the more questionable actions and decisions handed down by these incumbents, who are hoping to retain their seats on our D15 Board of Education (BoE). Included are only documented facts and/or accompanying graphics, with links to resource materials that corroborate the summaries provided below.

2007: Jim Ekeberg and Gerald Chapman accept more than $20,000 from the Classroom Teachers Council (CTC), also known as the teachers’ union, to help fund their school board campaigns. The official filing from the State Board of Elections can be found in the accompanying graphics attached to this article. Contributors include the CTC, IPACE (The Illinois Education Association’s Political Action Committee), and a woman named Lisa Nuss, the former president of the District 15 Teachers’ Union. Remember her name, because you will see it again below.

2010: The District 15 School Board narrowly approved (4-3 vote) the borrowing of $27 million in bonds. School board members (current and former) that voted yes to borrow included Jim Ekeberg, Peggy Babcock and Gerald Chapman. In response to this school board vote, the D15 community collected 7,500 signatures to put the bond issue to a referendum and vote. The teacher’s union, then led by Lisa Nuss, and the Illinois Education Association (IEA) filed a lawsuit against the community to try and nullify the petition to put the bond issue to a vote. This effort ultimately failed, as did the vote regarding the $27 million in bonds, by a near 2-1 margin. http://prev.dailyherald.com/story/?id=370994. Two years later, the school board went on to issue the bonds and double D15 debt without going to the voters, even though this action was rejected by the D15 community.

2011: Jim Ekeberg and Gerald Chapman are not re-elected by the D15 community to the school board in the 2011 election. http://www.ccsd15.net/files/_WPLhh_/84b5ac11a778f9073745a49013852ec4/BOEMembership1946-2016.pdf

2013:  District 15 and the teacher’s union (under the leadership of President Lisa Nuss) decided with no input from parents that ‘teacher enrichment time,’ would require a late start on Wednesday mornings. This decision caused district-wide controversy. An initiative, led by current BoE candidate Lisa Szczupaj, resulted in 1,000 signatures, which forced the BoE to release a community survey. The issue went to arbitration with the union, and Szczupaj sat at the table and represented the interests of D15 families, which ultimately resulted in the majority preference for parents, which was early release on Fridays to allow for teacher enrichment time. http://patch.com/illinois/palatine/d15-arbitration-hearing-for-late-start-early-release-set-for-thursday

2014: A School Board member passed away, and his seat needed to be filled. Despite losing the most recent election in 2011 (and being the lowest vote getter out of all the candidates that ran for the school board), Gerald Chapman was appointed to fill the vacancy. Requests from hundreds of community members to appoint Matt Lyons, who received the next highest number of votes in the 2013 election, are rejected by School Board President Peggy Babcock who called the resident requests, “insignificant”, so the decision went to the regional superintendent of schools. http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150306/news/150309116/.

2015: Lisa Nuss, who is a former Learning Resource Center employee at Kimball Hill Elementary and president of the teacher’s union, was hired by District 15 as the HR director, despite having no credentials to qualify her for the position. At the time of her hiring, no mention was included in a personnel report, and District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson was quoted as saying “there was no application process” [for the position]. The Daily Herald article: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150622/news/150629844/. When asked about the lack of experience or certifications for the role, Thompson replied that Nuss would have a year to earn the required administrative license for the position; it took her until June of 2016 to earn it.  At the time of her hiring, Jim Ekeberg and Gerald Chapman, who had received thousands in campaign contributions from the CTC in 2007 under Nuss’s leadership, did not recuse themselves from the vote to approve her employment in D15.

2016: The widely criticized and unprecedented 10-year teacher contract was negotiated by Lisa Nuss and unanimously approved by current District School Board members, which included Jim Ekeberg, Peggy Babcock and Gerald Chapman. The contract was not publicly released until after the vote, and both the community and the media questioned it, vigorously. No school board members were present during negotiations.

The contract ties the hands of future school boards should any economic challenges arise. The only option allowed is to reduce the number of staff to balance the budget. Additionally, if new requirements or laws are passed, it could prove difficult to comply with the contract, if they impact the contract working conditions. Free single health care coverage is also provided, with no plan changes for 10 years. This cost went up 14% in just one year and is 20% of the cost of the budget for salaries. Over 10 years, even using the School Districts numbers of 7% annual increases, the cost will double and become close to 40% of salaries. Here is a link to the entire contract: http://www.dailyherald.com/assets/pdf/D15%20contract.pdf

Here is an article from the Illinois Policy Institute: https://www.illinoispolicy.org/palatine-area-district-15s-new-10-year-contract-unprecedented/

2016: Superintendent Scott Thompson hand-picked a small group of citizens to sit on the Facilities Planning Committee 2.0, which created a proposal to make sweeping changes throughout the district by way of a $130 million building bond referendum. Among those specifically selected for this committee is current BoE candidate Dave Border, who is endorsed along with Jim Ekeberg, Peggy Babcock and Gerald Chapman by the Democrat organization, through organization-wide emails that include links to flyers that name them. The 2.0 committee presented the proposal to the BoE on the first day of school in August 16, 2016, and the BoE unanimously approved the referendum for the November 8th ballot (leaving D15 stakeholders with 83 days to review and understand it), and no input from the greater community was accepted before the vote. The referendum’s price tag was the largest in the entire state in the 2016 election. Recommendations from this committee came out in April of 2016, but included a ‘land swap’ with the park district for Falcon Park in the northeast portion of Palatine. When that deal fell apart, parents were completely surprised on August 16 that Osage Park would instead be negotiated for the land under Gray M. Sanborn. The first plan: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160512/news/160519608/ The alternate plan unanimously approved on the first day of school in 2016:  http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20160826/news/160829116/

2016: In response to the public outcry for more information and transparency from the D15 BoE and administration, the group 4RD15Kids was co-founded by current BoE candidate Barb Kain. The group rallied community members to vote against the referendum because of its lack of financial, demographic or transportation studies to justify the plan’s goals and price tag. Most serious of all issues cited, is the lack of any real engagement with the community by D15 in regards to the proposal to build two new schools (one that would segregate the Hispanic population in northeast Palatine and take away the only open space in this portion of our Village), to close the oldest established neighborhood school, implement full day kindergarten and realign the school district’s boundaries. The referendum was overwhelmingly voted down, with a final tally of 33,055 against to 13,741 for. Learn more about this here: http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20161108/news/161108936/

As you can see, this timeline represents a roadmap of just how, where and why our school district has encountered so many wrong turns over the last decade, and perhaps more importantly-who was so often driving them. The drivers are the current school board members who are seeking re-election.

Their actions have been described as irresponsible, complacent and without concern for the very people they are elected to represent and serve. The fact that we see the same names appear repeatedly in connection with questionable acts and decisions cannot be a coincidence.

We would not ever question the value that is attributed to our teachers; they deserve a contract that is strong, but also one that doesn’t bind them into a long-term position that could actually work against them, depending on the state of our economy. Nor, are we casting doubt on every school board member who has held a seat since 2007. What we are simply doing is connecting the dots. Our goal is to communicate the truth to the hardworking District 15 taxpayers who deserve to know it.

The consensus team for positive change in District 15 are the Engage D15 candidates; Frank Annerino, Mike Smolka, Anthony Wang, Lisa Szczupaj (all 4-year terms) and Barb Kain (2-year term). These five concerned D15 residents are running to fill the five open seats on the school board. Why? Our history here in D15 has to stop repeating.

With your support, the Engage D15 team vows to 1) ensure tax dollars are used wisely, 2) to communicate and collaborate with the entire District 15 community on decisions that affect children, parents and all taxpayers, and finally – 3) to work to restore the trust that has been lost in our school board leadership.

The school board election is coming up on Tuesday, April 4th, with early voting starting Monday, March 20th. The time is now for voters to arm themselves with the knowledge they need to make the best possible choice for our school district. Our decisions for the betterment of our schools and our entire community have not ever been so important. Click here for more information: http://engaged15.com/#vote


The Engage D15  Team

  • Frank Annerino
  • Mike Smolka
  • Anthony Wang
  • Lisa Szczupaj
  • Barb Kain


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