That noise you hear in the Lake Forest, Lake Bluff area is air rushing out of Retired Superintendent Dr. Harry D Griffith’s ego balloon,lanced last Sunday by a well-researched and skillfully crafted 2400 word article from Chicago Tribune’s investigative reporter, Lisa Black. Ms. Black’s article not only skewered Harry Griffith, she revealed the astonishing lack of oversight by the respective Boards of Education, D 115 and 67. Quotes from D 115 and D 67 Board Presidents, Sharon Golan and Julia Wold in particular, reveal a naiveté that should stun tax payers.
Harry Griffith brought to Lake Forest, a well-honed political skill that drew in and ultimately tarnished a large body of supporters and devotees, including BOE members and local respected people and institutions who drank the Kool Aid for and with him. District 67 board President Julia Wold said she trusted Griffith and never questioned his role on the bank board. "I was not concerned," she said. "We wanted Dr. Griffith to be part of the community." Really? Did she not see a conflict of interest here as the bank conducts business with both districts?
Further, Golan, the District 115 president, said school board members never questioned Griffith's service on the bank board. “I just don't know what a bank board of directors does or what their role was," Golan said. "I think my board asks questions, but to what extent is it micromanaging?" Ms. Golan does not know what a bank board does? And, for the benefit of the Board Presidents, a bank is a, for profit business, not a community activity.
District 115 board President Sharon Golan said she was never concerned about Griffith's travels or expenditures. She noted that auditors sign off on the district finances each year, adding: "I think we have more than adequate oversight." Ms. Golan, auditors sign off on the numbers balancing and if they are in the right place, not the appropriateness of the expenditures, the sole purview of the Board.
The alarming reign of Dr. Griffith and the respective BOE members was filled with arrogance, obfuscation, cover up, (think of the Steinhart episode), opacity and control. Lisa Black captured the mind set of D 115 Board president in this statement:
"She, Sharon Golan, encouraged residents to attend board meetings rather than criticize its members. "People have a responsibility to participate in that oversight," she said, forgetting that she and the BOE were elected by the tax payers to be that oversight function. Furthermore, when positions were raised that ran contrary to Board thinking , such objections were dismissed as unconstructive. When people in the community offered ideas in conflict with the Superintendent and the Board, the six figure PR spin machine went to work to discredit both the idea and the persons who advanced them.
One is struck by the phenomenal magic of Harry Griffith to reverse his roll with the Board. Conventional structure is the Superintendent reports to the BOE. Because of the dominating personality of this Superintendent, the Board members became compliant and complicit with his wishes, and operated as the subordinate. Structures are in place for a reason. When compromised, we get what Lisa spelled out in her brilliant piece.
Dr Griffith’s campaign of self-promotion displays little substance and is exposed in the Tribune article; Before retiring as superintendent over the summer, Griffith touted his dual role as a money-saver, and officials estimated that each district reduced its spending by $600,000 per year by sharing administrators. In 2011, though, the high school district landed on the state's financial warning list after its fund balances took a dip, and teacher salaries were frozen.
So the finances are not so good, what about the academics? Surely the great Educator, as Dr. Griffith has been referred to by Mr. Polito of TCG Holdings and one of Harrys traveling companions to China, "We knew Harry was an expert educator and had worked at building a Chinese program at his district"? Well, according to State testing results, D 115 does not academically measure up to North Shore peer districts. That should be a concern to the Board.
It looks like we did, in fact not get much for our money with the Harry Griffith years. But not to worry, we have a building named for him. What once was the West Campus Administrative Center is now the “Harry D Griffith Administrative Center.” This should remind us of a similar naming rights event in Lake Forest in 1992. Remember Boberski Park at the south east corner of Deerpath and Green Bay Road? This was named for Irving Boberski, then President and CEO of Avondale Federal Savings and Loan. Turns out, the land he donated to the City was actually not his to give; it belonged to the shareholders of the Avondale S&L. The court ordered Mr. Boberski to pony up $500K and his name was removed from the wall at the corner of the property. The property remains fittingly nameless today.
How do we bring closure to the Harry Griffith era? While the Lake Forest caucuses are now busy selecting new board members, it would be fitting and proper for the current and discredited Board Presidents to do the honorable thing and resign. We know Dr Griffith is gone and there will be no money give backs from him, but could we just take down his name from the West Campus building?