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Proviso Probe

Saturday, May 05, 2007

ED, Fields appears on Viewpoints [D209]

Arnie Bryant had the superintendent of Proviso Township High Schools (District 209), Stan Fields, PhD, on "Viewpoints From the Other Side" today.

Fields gave his usual performance. Test scores suck. The district has been deficit spending for the last decade. He's cut the projected deficit $9 million. Proviso citizens shouldn't be satisfied. Fields implied he's a force for change.

I called the show and asked Fields what specifically he's cut to achieve the $9 million dollars in savings. He kept trying to get away with the answer, "If you read the budget on the web..."

Finally, I pinned him down. Fields claims he's achieved savings by cutting improperly let contracts. When I asked for examples he said he could recall any specifics names.

Here's what I suspect is happening. Fields $9 million savings exists because of accounting sleight of hand. The original budget overestimated expenses and underestimated revenue. By merely correcting the numbers Fields (and business manager Nikita Johnson) created the illusion of large savings when they really have achieved more modest savings.

I also asked about Fields letting the big contract with Technivista for the new website. Earlier Fields had extolled the benefits of requiring a bidding process for contracts. I asked Fields about the website contract. IIRC Fields claimed there was a bid process, but he quickly used the evasive answer of saying the process fully complied with the law.

If Fields did cut corners or outright break the law, do you think he'd say?
"Yeah, I broke the law on that one. My buddies the Schoeder brothers made a mint and they agreed to kickback part of the money to Welch's school board candidates."

Fields answers about the website increased my suspicion that the process wasn't on the up-and-up. One piece of speculation I've heard is that the district justified not bidding out the website work because it fell under the exception for "professional services". Lawyers and accountants can be hired without a bidding process.

Also, Fields question on the district hiring process was pretty much an admission that he engages in patronage hiring. He said he's inclined to hire people who are recommend to him by people he trusts. It might be a good follow-up question to ask who Fields trusts to recommend candidates for hiring.

I'm hoping to get a copy of the tape, so I can quote Fields verbatim.

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  • Good job Carl. Fields was very evasive and annoying, but that is nothing new.

    I wonder why Bryant did not tell people that Fields would be on his show today. I mean I always listen to Bryant, but it was a surprise to hear Fields on the show today, especially after he declined to be on there previously. I am sure more people would have tuned in if they knew Lil Man would be on.

    Fields' comments were no big surprise. He stated he knew no one before he came to Proviso, but he failed to mention that he knew Gene Moore before his arrival. His stammering stuttering routine is getting old. It is businees as usual at Proviso: jobs and contracts over children and education.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:17 PM, May 05, 2007  

  • Ms. Coffee says: Didn't Fields once say that Proviso got more money than expected because some grants came in. Check the ISBE website go to FRIS inquiry at the top of the page. All the grants are listed. They add up to a tidy sum.
    As to the website. It's real flashy but it's still not complete. If TechnaVista is keeping up on it, they missed putting in summer school courses. There are no email addresses for teachers. There is no longer an LPDC at Proviso (hasn't been for 2 or 3 yrs.) but that's on the website. The list of job openings hasn't been update for months. Every time I go to the website I see that big gold thing at the top. It doesn't remind me of Proviso's seal, but it sure reminds me of a Cadillac rim!
    All in all, though, I do have to say the website is better than it has been for years.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:54 PM, May 05, 2007  

  • when will sd88 put nichelle rivers back to work so the district can move forward again? Does the Welch crew plan to fire her and keep things rubber stamped with miller and the stone park crew? Can anyone please get the feds in that district to end this maddness?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:19 PM, May 06, 2007  

  • I'm not sure I care if Fields reduced the projected deficit by straightening out the finances, getting more grant money, cutting fat, or stood on a corner with a cup. What I care about is the fact that the deficit is less. I DO care about too is if this man can help improve the schools. What I've seen so far sure beats what we've experienced in the past. I respect the fact that Mr. Fields has gotten out to the churches and community centers. I like the fact that he speak strongly about reaching high in setting goals. I for one think the new websites are first class. Friends tell me that bringing back Mr. Moyer as principal at PMSA is a very positive thing. I applaud the man for improving the embarrassing sports facilities at our schools. I don't know the man personally but to publicly call him derogatory names and criticize his speaking delivery is low. I hope he doesn't think all of the Proviso community is that ignorant. The personal attacks are so tired. It makes everyone look like they don't have better ideas in our own brains to offer to the discussion so let's just trash talk on someone else. Seriously, when I read some of the things posted here I wonder what kind of community I live in. I bet Mr. Fields wonders what kind of community he's been asked to fix.

    By Anonymous 1st Ave Walker, at 1:10 PM, May 07, 2007  

  • "If you read the budget on the web..."

    Can you link us to this site ?

    By Blogger chris miller, at 2:38 PM, May 07, 2007  

  • Chris, here's a link to the Proviso Township High Schools website.

    I looked for the budget for a few minutes and couldn't find it.

    Maybe, I'm overlooking something obvious. Maybe, the budget is there, but either intentionally or unintentionally it's hard to find.

    Or Fields may have been mistaken or lying.

    By Blogger Carl Nyberg, at 3:56 PM, May 08, 2007  

  • Damn, Carl. WTF? Fields was neither mistaken not lying. You're hurting the cause. Just point people to the budget. You don't have to spin and bullshit. Fields was neither mistaken not lying. I've reviewed the budget. It's been up for weeks. It can be found in the lower right part of.....http://www.pths209.org/District/AboutUs/index.html. If getting Welch out is the goal then stop the fiction and drama.

    By Anonymous Blue Moon, at 6:18 PM, May 08, 2007  

  • The fact remains that the district is running on fumes. Given this situation, there’s not a whole lot that Fields can do. Cutting costs and curtailing growth of expenditures are basic to what has to be done. Unfortunately, the kind of reforms needing addressing will always be limited by, and confined to, whatever level of free revenue generated. For now, and as far as is foreseeable into the future, Proviso will have to adopt a “No-Cost” reform strategy, as the level of fiscal impairment is too severe. It is appropriate to cite the quality of mismanagement in the past as blame for the present sorry state of affairs.

    No-cost management relies on organizational restructuring and decentralization policies, greater parental responsibility and various appeals to higher values, i.e., morality and hard work. There is a huge volume of research that indicates such tactics are almost universally ineffective.

    Fields will benefit over the short run purely on the basis of his “quick fix” approach. Longer term, he’ll move on after achieving only a marginal improvement, if that.

    His “problem” is a function of his inability to communicate and inspire. His approach is to assemble a model for reform as though he were putting together mere objects, not thinking people who, despite the current trend of attacking the quality of educators, do feel capable of delivering effective instruction once given the proper support. But the funding to address the issue is non-existent. Eventually, the level of discouragement will resume its rise and the cycle will reset.

    By Anonymous Hail Mary, at 8:50 PM, May 08, 2007  

  • Jane says:Bet they will cut a lot of salaries if Proviso doesn't have summer school. The Pioneer Press says that looks like a possibility. There were gobs of teachers, security and others hired for summer school last year. Now that kids have to pay for it, they seem not to be interested. Maybe they'll actually start to care about passing, since summer school is no longer a "free ride"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:51 AM, May 09, 2007  

  • I think free summer school on the taxpayers back is a really bad policy. If parents don't want to foot the bill than why should I?

    By Anonymous 1st Ave. Walker, at 3:45 PM, May 10, 2007  

  • OK - I found the budget -- but it still doesn't answer:

    "what specifically he's (Fields) cut to achieve the $9 million dollars in savings. He kept trying to get away with the answer, "If you read the budget on the web..."

    Indeed -- I don't see any projected savings at all -- just a $30 mill infusion of cash that supposed to occur in 2008-2009.

    But I do see that -- compared to the rest of the state -- our district has a very high administrative overhead.

    And is there some reason why the complete details of expenditures can't be posted to the web ?

    By Blogger chris miller, at 8:58 AM, May 11, 2007  

  • "And is there some reason why the complete details of expenditures can't be posted to the web ?"

    Yes...it's called deception.

    By Anonymous Practice makes perfect, at 2:24 PM, May 11, 2007  

  • I've analyzed a previous budget report, breaking down the various categories of expenditure/receipt by fund. That's the way it should be analyzed. I will update in an effort to find where the "savings" and "cash infusions" originate.

    It is important to understand, however, that much of the receipts tend to carry restrictions, meaning monies can only be spent on particular items. Usually, very little of the receipts are categorized as "free" in the sense that the monies can be deployed for any and all purposes. Here is where school districts get into trouble, using restricted monies for purposes not intended. Remember the mess involving the computers, or the more recent and ongoing snafu in the Magnet program ?

    What Fields & the Business Mgr should address is the amount or size of the unrestricted portion of the receipts. That represents the monies available for addressing broad schemes of development and productivity. Otherwise, your only talking about specific development in the form of aid.

    By Anonymous Hail Mary, at 8:06 PM, May 11, 2007  

  • What the most recent posting of the budget indicates is that, year to date, receipts are running slightly ahead of expenditures. Still, the projected deficit (assuming I'm reading the info correctly) remains in the $14 million area. Thus, all that can be said at this point is that the District is running a small surplus in its current operations.

    It's not a large enough surplus to put a dent in the deficit, hence "running on fumes" remains the prognosis. On the one hand, the supt can say "we now have a handle on things"; yet one could just as easily say that, at the rate of the current surplus, it will take over a decade to eliminate the deficit.

    Lots more work to be done, imho, and what's ahead can only mean more tough sledding. I wish I could see a balance sheet version of the District's financial position. They've got to be strapped to the gills in debt. I dare go so far as to say that 209 is bankrupt.

    By Anonymous hail mary, at 5:09 PM, May 15, 2007  

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