With the official retirement of Lake Forest District 67 and 115 Superintendent Dr. Harry Griffith shortly approaching on June 30, there has been much refection as well as controversy over his tenure of overseeing Lake Forest schools since he was hired by Lake Forest District 67 from a school district in Texas to become superintendent in 1994.
It was in 2004 when Griffith took on the additional role of superintendent of District 115 in a "shared services" arrangement.
Recently, residents of Lake Bluff and Lake Forest had the opportunity to attend a Community Retirement Reception honoring Dr. Griffith.
Whether all the accolades being bestowed upon Griffith as he retires are merited is akin to water over a dam. Argument to the contrary would be non-productive as Griffith's tenure as superintendent of District 67 and 115 is done, finished.
One thing that cannot be denied, however, is that Superintendent Griffith's shared superintendency compensation as he completes the current 2011-2012 school year has mushroomed into the highest paid superintendent in Illinois, even exceeding that of our governor.
In addition, Dr. Griffith has a lucrative retirement package to carry him into his sunset years. He will collect over $300,000 every year from the Teacher Retirement System in Illinois with a guaranteed increase of 3 percent per year every year thereafter.
Dr. Griffith also has a lavish annuity of hundreds of thousands of dollars that the school district has purchased for him over the years to augment his retirement income. Information received from a FOIA request.
Attention must now be directed to Michael Simeck, whose hire was announced on Feb. 13 at a Lake Forest School District 67 Board of Education meeting to assume the shared superintendency position starting July 1.
Not even the presentation by District 67 board member Rich Schuler, in which he detailed the search process used from start to finish in the selection of Simeck, could quell concerns which still linger on.
My concerns are not with the Executive Search Firm, but with the community input and feedback which took place during the two-year search period. Was the community input and feedback really taken seriously in the selection of Simeck or was it just all for show?
After reading numerous media accounts of Simeck’s hire, curiosity got the best of me. All of the accounts contained little more than what was released to the press. I wanted to know more about Simeck other than his glowing bio and statements presented at the meeting and related to the media.
Research led me to an article by Jack Lessenberry published on March 11, 2011, “Education Cuts Based on a Hunch.” In the Lessenberry’s article, Simeck expressed deep concerns that Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, with his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget, would result in deep cuts to education and a sudden budget deficit of $4.9 million in his district.
What Simeck feared did come to pass. The 2012 budget signed by Michigan Gov. Snyder on June 21, 2011, called for $1.5 billion in budget cuts in fiscal year 2012 with a two percent cut in education.
Research likewise located a 2010 media report which pointed to a lack of satisfaction Simeck was experiencing from his Berkley shared superintendent position. Simeck's displeasure had to do with his attempt to get passed a huge bond issue during a time when a financial recession was the norm all over this nation.
At a monthly meeting of the Berkley school board, citizens took advantage of the public comment period to vent their displeasure with a ballot proposal which was ultimately voted down. The proposal was to have authorized the board to issue bonds totaling approximately $167 million, to be paid for with the proceeds of an additional $4.27 million tax levy.
No wonder Simeck was reported as being ecstatic when he was selected out of 99 other candidates to assume the shared superintendency of Lake Forest Districts 67 and 115. There was a highschool which Simeck could only dream about.
Michael Simeck was accused of handpicking members of a bond committee who would be willing to work as advocates instead of finding community members. Simeck denied this charge.
In the aftermath of the dust-up, Simeck started to look for another position.
One job position Simeck did apply for in 2010 was superintendent at Bloomfield Hills Schools in Michigan. The search narrowed down to two candidates, Robert Glass and Simeck. In interviews over two days (one candidate per day) and arranged by the search firm, School Exec Connect, the Bloomfield Hills Schools in Michigan selected Glass over Simeck.
Regarding Bloomfield Hills Schools in Michigan, there was an opportunity for community members to meet Glass and Simeck and to ask them questions. Such an opportunity was not afforded community members in Lake Forest/Lake Bluff before Simeck was hired.
It was refreshing that two District 67 board members did express their misgivings by voting “no” on approving Simeck’s three-year contract, Laurie Rose and Bill Anderson.
Laurie Rose questioned why Simeck in his three-year contract should start out with a base salary of $220,000, augmented by an additional $30,000 for managing two districts, with further perks and additional benefits forthcoming, to oversee 4,000 students with the aid of four Assistant Superintendents and six directors. On the other hand, the NYC Chancellor of Schools oversees 1.1 million students and earns $123,000.
As Simeck did oversee a shared superintendent position in the Michigan Berkley Schools, it is fair to question why the need to give him an extra $30,000 to assume the same shared position in the Lake Forest School System?
Does Simeck really need $500 per month in auto reimbursement? Will Simeck be given the car he is assigned to tool around town, paid for by the Lake Forest School Districts, as will be the case with Griffith upon his June 30 retirement? What happened to the gold watch? (Simeck's contract by Lake Forest School District 67 and 115 is 20 pages. Item 24 reads in part: Automobile/Travel Expenses. "The Board shall provde the Superintendent with an automobikle expense reimbursement stipend of FIVE HUNDRED AND NO/L00 ($500.000) dollars per month for travel within the Schoool District and the Chicago metropolitan area.")
In response to a FOIA request dated Feb. 28 from the Berkley Schools, Simeck's base salary when hired in 2007 was $150,000; additional compensation of $2,500 annually was to be added when he earned his doctorate from an accredited institution (Simeck has yet to earn his degree.); and after the first payroll period occurring in February of each year, Berkley Schools contributed $14,000 on Simeck's behalf to a tax sheltered annuity plan chosen by Simeck and approved by the board.
The fringe benefits Simeck enjoyed while employed in Michigan are similar to those that will be provided in his new positions in the Lake Forest school system. The Berkley Schools provided Simeck with hospitalization, dental and long term disability insurance and a term life insurance policy with a death benefit of three times his annual salary.
Berkley assumed the full cost of Simeck's contributions to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. Lake Forest taxpayers will likewise assume Simeck's contributions to the Teachers Retirement System here in Illinois.
With Simeck's annual salary at $250,000 to start, at age 50 he will have plenty of time to perhaps even top the ending compensation of Griffith; that is, unless Lake Forest and Lake Bluff citizens and tax payers unite to stop the yearly increases of salaries which are a given to teachers and those in supervisory positions.
On the average teacher salaries have increased by more than seven percent per year since 2000. In Lake Forest District 67, 35 teachers make in excess of $100,000 a year. In Lake Forest District 115, 92 teachers are members of the $100,000 plus club and many more make $90,000 to $100,000.
Although opinions may vary about the hiring of Simeck, he certainly deserves watching and observing as he assumes the shared superintendent position at Lake Forest Districts 67 and 115 on July 1.