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Lake Forest School Board Presidents Respond to Tribune Article

District 67 School Board President Julia Wold and Lake Forest High School Board President Sharon Golan respond to the recent 'Chicago Tribune' article on Lake Forest schools.

A Chicago Tribune article published last weekend reflected on questionable spending by the Lake Forest school board on former superintendent Harry Griffith, especially concerning forgiveness of a $75,000 loan to purchase a house, large travel expenses and his school-paid-for car being given to him after he retired.

Lake Forest School Board Presidents — Julia Wold of District 67 and Sharon Golan of District 115 — have offered their responses to the article through a joint statement. 

“The Tribune article lacked comparative data from other school districts regarding compensation, retirement benefits, travel expenses, etc," Golan said in a statement released Monday. "For the past two decades countless financial reports and independent audits addressing this information have been presented at public board meetings. We have and will continue to provide detailed and accurate financial information to our constituents through our board and committee meetings, website, and local press.”

The statement from the presidents also said that the Tribune article was, "missing a preponderance of facts." The statement pointed to two specific instances, including that the Board of Education's loan to school official Jennifer Hermes had not been fully paid. The statement said that the loan yielded a financial benefit to the district, and that payments were in the fourth of a five year repayment schedule.

The statement also noted that Lake Forest Bank and Trust supplied banking services to the school because it was the best of the nine bids received, and no other reason. Griffith was on the board of the bank while he was superintendent.

"The story comingled over 18 years of information from multiple school boards, a local bank, the Caucus, local citizens, etc., into one sensationalized report," Wold said in the statement. 

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Lcpfeifer November 28, 2012 at 02:04 PM
There will be more to come out - there always been, I can't believe you and can only pray our current board and superintendent will be responsible and forthcoming.
Colleen Berg November 28, 2012 at 02:11 PM
When the teachers went on strike the first thing I said was cut the admin salaries and give it to the teachers. As board presidents I find your response deplorable. Just like a child caught with no way out you attempt to deflect your behavior by saying look at these other schools. I do not care what other districts choose to do and three other districts are none of our business. If you'd like to run the districts the way others are please feel free to move. If my taxes pay for an admin cellphone that number is then public property and had darn well better be listed. If we are paying for their cars and travel then they had darn well better be wiling to the give a kid or 2 a ride home or to a school event on occasion.
Peter Arnstein November 28, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I agree with JTW. Several of the school board's responding points in fact serve to reinforce the impression that the board or its leadership lacks judgment and the necessary level of sophistication in matters concerning conflicts of interest, executive compensation and fiduciary responsibilities. Also, citing comparative data from other districts drives me crazy, even though it's standard operating procedure for exec comp plan structuring. It leads to a near-mindless ratcheting up of benefits based on what everyone else is doing. The following types of questions might be asked in these determinations: On their own merits, is it right to pay for the superintendent's car and finance his house or should those expenses come out of personal income like every other school district employee? If the compensation level is less than the maximum that might be supportable, why is that considered undesirable from the board's point of view? Is there a risk that the superintendent (ceo) will leave for another slightly better package elsewhere? Will they be disgruntled and therefore perform less effectively? Maybe the board should consider more of a "Moneyball" approach to executive compensation - rather than aiming to keep comp at the highest level that can be justified, aim to keep it at the lowest level that can be justified in producing desired education system outcomes.
informed November 28, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The school board presidents are in dangerous territory defending what is clearly questionable and proves the issues are not fully at the top level but further down in the school board itself where changes need to be made. They lost their mission to do the best for the kids and have focused on doing what's best for the administration. Sad commentary indeed. I hope this is changing as we speak, but unless more than a few people are bothered, it won't.
Bob November 28, 2012 at 03:32 PM
You don't get it. This is not about whether you passed an audit. This is not about justifying it because another district did this. Would you jump off a cliff if they did? I think not. This is just plain gross mismanagement of the business of education in LF! You spend way too much, and deliver way to little for the dollars. You charge too many fees that other districts don't even charge for such as buses and books. If this were a business you would be fired!
Mosober November 28, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Benghazi
curious November 28, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Is the public able to request a forensic audit? How? Ii is an excellent idea. It is clear we have too many administrators and they are paid too much. Economic conditions have changed in the private sector and it is time our school board responds rather than defend their positions. Thank you Chicago Tribune and the Patch for highlighting these problems. Dig deeper!
Gary November 28, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Wouldn't it be nice if they just would have said "Yeah, the car and those travel expenses were over the top. Times have changed. We're going to put a stop to excessive perks and watch your dollars more carefully in the future."
Stevie Janowski November 28, 2012 at 04:43 PM
They would have been better off not saying anything, then producing this weak statement
Hummingbird_Lover November 28, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Sharon Golan and Julia Wold urgently need to be replaced. Pathetic responses to people who have milked the system for the maximum they can get out of it.
Mrs. H November 28, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Here we go again. Their response is pathetic, weak, and does not justify their means whatsoever. They are screwing the system & we as taxpayers should be mad as hell b/c of their stupid spending habits. Look, times are tight so it is absolutely correct for the taxpayers to demand cut in these salaries & benefits and proper explanations of where/why that money is being spent. I honestly don't care about the so-called audits & how we citizens are protected by law because guess what folks, its their cronies who are writing the laws! Like I stated yesterday, the board is in the admins back pocket & they are not people like you & me, they are white collar criminals trying to justify why they should get all these exorbitant perks. If this was going on in the private sector, we'd all be out of a job & possible criminal investigation. Why are we keeping our heads in the sand? We say we want change but the same people wind up back in the positions & keep working the system out. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. They all need to clean some toilets!
Lake Bluff Dad November 28, 2012 at 07:32 PM
How can the board justify paying HG almost 370,000.00 per year and then feel the need to pay 75,000.00 of my hard earned cash for a house for him. If he can't afford his house at 370k perhaps there is other issues hidden here, gambling problems come to mind. Obviously he doesn't need to save for retirement because I estimate he'll get about 250k a year in a pension from us.
Dave Zimmerman November 28, 2012 at 09:42 PM
This all stinks of Chicago style back room deals. I think we need to hire somebody to sit in on all school board meetings and report to we citizens whats going on. We need some independent people on the board that do not socialize with the Administrators. He make almost as much $ as the President. Unreal
Michael Beacham November 28, 2012 at 10:52 PM
What I find extremely troubling is that apparently Harry Griffith invited two unauthorized individuals unrelated to our schools to join him on his "teacher recruiting" trip to China. The District arranged for and paid for their hotel rooms. No one other than Harry seemed to know who these people were and no one processing the bills (Albus and Hermes) seemed to ask any questions (probably because their employee evaluations and bonuses were determined by Harry). This all seems to have gone unnoticed by either the auditors or anyone on the finance committee of the board. Only when the Tribune started sniffing around this four years later did the two individuals suddenly cough up a reimbursement to the District. It would be interesteing to know if these two individuals are friends, relatives or business associates of the former Superintendent. It certailnly appears that the Districts have a serious flaw in their internal financial control processes. From their quotes in the original article and their later response to the original article, it would appear that the Board Presidents do not understand the seriousness of this situation. Either that or they are simply denying what they know to be true. In any case, the taxpayers deserve to have serious, competent individuals handling the taxpyer monies with honesty and transparency.
Arthur Miller November 28, 2012 at 10:59 PM
One perspective on the salary and benefits of Dr. Griffith is its relationship to the distribution of incomes in the community, for District 67 Lake Forest. As the charts on city-data.com show, in Lake Forest 38% of local households have incomes of more than $200,000 vs. for the state of Illinois only 4% of households have incomes in excess of $200,000 per year. If you add to this the 10% with incomes form $150,000 to $200,000 and also the 5% with incomes from $125,000 to $150,000, then more than half of the Lake Forest households' incomes exceed $125,000. For a body serving over 2,000 students and overseeing 180 teachers, people in these income brackets mostly would understand that this responsible job to be competitive in the market needs to offer substantial remuneration. Perhaps rather than focusing too much on the past, and since clearly new more modest terms have been negotiated for the new superintendent, we could address policies and procedures that that would foster an responsible oversight function within the normal ranges of civility and mutual respect. The leadership should support transparency for the board and community and focus on consensus-building for decisions, including relating to broad but clear personnel policies and their implementation. For the stats applied here, see: http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Lake-Forest-Illinois.html and http://lf67.org/district/about/about.html .
Arthur Miller November 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM
One perspective on the salary and benefits of Dr. Griffith is their relationship to the distribution of incomes in the community, for District 67 Lake Forest. As the charts on city-data.com show, in Lake Forest 38% of local households have incomes of more than $200,000 vs. for the state of Illinois only 4% of households have incomes in excess of $200,000 per year. If you add to this the 10% with incomes from $150,000 to $200,000 and also the 5% with incomes from $125,000 to $150,000, then more than half of the Lake Forest households' incomes exceed $125,000. For a body serving over 2,000 students and overseeing 180 teachers, people in these income brackets mostly would understand that this responsible job to be competitive in the market needs to offer substantial remuneration. Perhaps rather than focusing too much on the past, and since clearly new more modest terms have been negotiated for the current superintendent, we could address policies and procedures that would foster a responsible oversight function within the normal ranges of civility and mutual respect. The leadership should support transparency for the board and community and focus on consensus-building for decisions, including relating to broad but clear personnel policies and their implementation. For the stats applied here, see: http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Lake-Forest-Illinois.html and http://lf67.org/district/about/about.html .
Gary November 28, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Run.
Hummingbird_Lover November 28, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Statistics from 2009 are outdated Mr Miller just like the land values from that time. My home is worth not much more than half of what it was back then but I am paying more in real estate taxes to foot the tab on these bloated salaries for teachers. Unscrupulous realtors and appraisers have taught me that it was a bad choice to invest in real estate here. I'd like to escape but I can't find another fool to buy in.
Arthur Miller November 29, 2012 at 12:39 AM
But of course some of the benefits, etc. being discussed also relate to that pre-1908 crash set of circumstances. Among the about two hundred Chicago suburbs Lake Forest has attracted a disproportional percentage of people with large incomes and seeking a place with beautiful architecture and streetscapes, good education and cultural offerings, a rich religious heritage, etc. I would suggest that with real estate prices low it would be a terrific time to buy into one of the midwest's leading communities.
Ted November 29, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Miller just doesn't seem to get it and is quite willing to aid the smokescreen. As an old educator, he certainly has a biased opinion. Yes, you can obfuscate an issue with pointless statistics that are irrelevant to to the discussion at hand. He seems to forget that the superintendent position in LF is to oversee two tiny districts in Illinois that would normally be combined into one small district elsewhere and because we are an affluent area the position needs to be grossly overpaid "(substantially renumerated) and besides, the new position is more modestly compensated ($250K to start plus a very generous benefits package including a $500/per month tax free car allowance)". Further, Mr. Miller goes way off topic when he suggests it is time to buy Lake Forest real estate. Just more blah, blah, blah! Mr. Griffith seems to have managed his board's for his own benefit. It reminds me of the superintendent that served before Mr. Griffith that ended up in jail for his self dealing. Mr. Griffith stuck the taxpayers with restaurant meals every week without documentation. Was his last resort conference in the spring of 2012 when there would have been little benefit to the district just prior to his retirement? Did he even attend the meetings or did he and his wife just frolic around southern California? I certainly hope he is not back consulting with the district with six figure contracts as so many past administrators are doing such as Ms. O'Hara! Tell me it ain't so!
Ted November 29, 2012 at 02:19 AM
These two businessmen operate a for profit mandarin school training program and I have heard Mr. Griffith is now being paid by them as a consultant. At least they reimbursed the school district for their hotel bills as soon as the Tribune started asking about them. Chump change returned!
SAVvyMom November 29, 2012 at 03:10 AM
HIRE PEOPLE!!! It is free and easy to attend- show up and be held part of the program!!! You can't complain if you don't vote,
Scout November 29, 2012 at 06:02 AM
I believe Wold and Golan are saying: "Let them eat cake." "Them" = the taxpayers. In other words/translation: we can do whatever we (the BOE) want to do. We just approved some nice contracts for our consultants and we approved our audit, too, at our last BOE meeting. Cake for everyone...Too bad you voted for us...we don't really care what you think or how you feel. We're moving forward whether you agree or not. Suggestion...vote wisely in April 2013. Get ALL the facts and make an informed decision. Tell your family and your friends. Speak up. Don't be bullied. Do what's right...not what's 'popular.' Lake Forest never used to be like this...
Old_Educator November 29, 2012 at 02:34 PM
test
Old_Educator November 29, 2012 at 02:49 PM
For "Ted," "...bird," and "Scout": I mentioned real estate, above, in response to "...bird"'s lament about values. I'm certain that the new Caucus candidates for school board posts all are aware of their oversight and financial "buck stops here" obligations. Dr. Griffith placed a high value on his own judgment; it was the boards who did not perform due diligence, though we are discussing circumstances and staff/board relationships that precede the 2008 downturn. After the fact their choices make less sense than they may have in the halcyon period of economic expansion earlier. The City also built an expensive Municipal Building in that period, the state stopped finding new revenue sources to cover new expenses, and the federal government did not take the opportunity to raise retirement ages for entitlements even though improved health care was extending dramatically not just lifetimes but functional well-being. LF schools' problems, if we call them that, did not all happen in a vacuum, and I do refer back to the 2009 income stats I have cited: this is a community with many corporate leaders and that area of compensation also has gone way up in recent years. The new candidates know all this, that they are truly the "deciders." And accountability can start with owning one's online statements, "Ted," "...bird," and "Scout." Arthur Miller
Lake Forest resident November 29, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I was pretty pissed at the teachers when they went on strike, now I am equally pissed at the Board after reading the Trib article. The response from Golan just put me over the top. I'm not sure how residents can get involved to demand accountability and transparency. I can only think of the following: 1. attend board meetings and start asking tough questions 2. join the caucus so I can be a part of the selection process? or can we just vote in new candidates during the next election cycle? 3. make a run for the board... Other than these 3 are there other things the residents can do?
Arthur Miller November 29, 2012 at 03:59 PM
One can always make constructive suggestions, no matter what official position exists. Patch offers blog space, where contributors are identified by name, and there good proposals could be made. The internet also could enable the boards to post ALL paid bills online, something that used to happen for the school districts--but in hard copy newspapers (not cheap, surely). If ALL paid bills, including hotel and restaurant receipts as well as salaries and loans made, etc. were posted, then this visibility itself would be a deterrent to pushing the envelope on benefits and alternative compensation. Or, perhaps, all bills to be paid. Transparency. A clear policy like this would also make it clear to any future candidates for leadership staff positions that this was the rule. But Lake Forest should remember that we do have to attract, through everything, capable leadership. Being a perennial Tribune "favorite" along with Cicero, Dolton and a few other places will not help attract the best people, support real estate values, etc. We do need to fix this. But the new board candidates know this, right? Arthur Miller, the Old Educator.
Louis G. Atsaves November 30, 2012 at 03:15 AM
It is becoming clearer with each passing day that our elected school boards failed to supervise Mr. Griffith during his tenure there. The response of the school board to the Tribune article was unsatisfactory. Time to dig in and get to the bottom of all this so that steps can be taken in the future to assure the public that this will never, ever happen again. The school boards and Griffith are ultimately accountable to us!
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French Teacher December 01, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Another subject came up during the District 67 School Board meeting that hasn’t yet been addressed. The educators who spoke referred to preparing students to become global citizens. Perhaps they should be preparing students to become American citizens in a global world. The distinction isn’t trivial and may be worthy of some discussion.

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