Community comments from NT board meeting, Feb. 16, 2010

 

What should New Trier do with their total land assets?

February 16th marked the first NT school board meeting since the February 2nd primary and the defeat of the New Trier facilities referendum. The first half of this meeting covered the referendum and plans moving forward, opening with comments, statements, and questions from community members.

12 people spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. The words of all 12 have been reprinted below, in full. Footage of the entire board meeting can be found here.

Any “prepared statement” that I received was reprinted here straight from the page; any item in bold, italics, or underline was done by the writer. Any other quotes are transcribed from the footage.

It should be noted that the school board allowed speakers the full five minutes (and possibly a bit more), a point of contention during the January 19th meeting. Only one speaker was cut-off due to length, as explained below. So sincere kudos belong to the Board on that one.

And finally, the Fako & Associates poll from July 2009 that is referenced throughout can be found here.

A quick summary of what was said:

Gary Weitman asked the Board about “a public survey from July of 2009,” (referring to the Fako poll), asking for the numbers and results. Jim Koch responded by saying “We’re not going to get into a Q&A…getting into all aspects of the survey.” Dr. Yonke stated the numbers “75%” (in favor of state-of-the-art facilites) and “58%” (opposed to the scope and cost of the plan). Weitman closed by suggesting that the Board resign.

Kevin Yost delivered a prepared statement about the “anger and divisiveness” following the election, and asked the Board to work towards ending the “We versus They atmosphere.”

Sharon Kristjanson delivered a prepared statement about the importance of the school conducting an “economic land-use analysis” as they developed their next plan.

Woodruff Imberman delivered a prepared statement stating that his vote against the referendum was “NOT a negative vote [but] a POSITIVE one asking FOR overall excellence at New Trier.”

Daniel W. Fox delivered a prepared statement asking why the school ignored the results of the Fako poll, and lamented the time and resources lost by the school’s “oversight.” He also asked the school to consider what they “should say to the taxpayers right now.”

Vanessa Rachmaninoff delivered a prepared statement stating her belief in “your ability to lead us” and asking the Board to “look discerningly at this recent experience and honestly try to incorporate some of the lessons we learned as a community.”

Cheryl Smith described the caucus process by which Board members are selected, and defended the job done by the Board. She believed that the plan was correct, but the timing (in light of the economy) was wrong. She was also pleased that so many people had participated in the vote, and that the issue had the community’s full attention.

Jane Benthem discussed our view of ourselves as members of the New Trier township, and asked the Board that we not say “We are the North Shore” as a way to justify spending.

Marcia Oley delivered a prepared statement asking president Jim Koch to resign. She cited the ignoring of the Fako poll results, comments by Mr. Koch in letters to the Pioneer Press that were “simply wrong,” and the school’s “silence” following “unethical” tactics by the group Our New Trier.

Jude Offerle delivered a prepared statement discussing general maintenance at New Trier over “the last several years” and a perceived feeling that the school “allowed [facilities] to deteriorate to a critical point.”

Prof. Robert Soare discussed his support of the referendum, which was due to his interest in “fighting for 15,000 students.” (explained below) He stated that there was insufficient time allotted to public discussion due to the turnaround from November 16th (the day the Board placed the referendum on the ballot) and February 2nd, especially considering that this short time included the holidays. He refuted arguments made by former principal Wes Baumann, and likened the “YES” voters to other people who “lost the first round but won the final round” like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. He listed the addresses of “half a dozen wealthy property owners” who opposed the referendum, and likened them to Southern plantation owners during slavery, and asked that we weigh the desires of  “a dozen wealthy land owners” against the needs of “15,000 students.”

Nina Schroeder thanked and congratulated the Board for their work throughout the three-year process. She lamented that the plan would now cost more, and lauded the Board for presenting “a transparent and clear plan.”

FULL STATEMENTS, below:

GARY WEITMAN

My comments really, as I suspect a number of others here are prepared to do, revolve around the referendum that was resoundingly defeated a couple of weeks ago. I have a couple of questions that I want to raise, and I apologize coming to this process a little bit late. I know a number of people have spent a lot of time on the referendum, coming to a solution. I know that the referendum was studied over a long period of time. My understanding is that the Board had some indication that the community was fairly opposed to the referendum and to the referendum being the size that it was.

And yet the Board moved ahead with this particular plan for more than 100 million dollars, more than 170 million dollars, and voted unanimously to put the referendum in front of the community. And so I would like to begin asking a question so that I understand a little bit better the process. I’m led to believe that the Board did conduct a survey in the community prior to the referendum within the last year. Is that correct?

JIM KOCH: We typically don’t get into a question and answer — we certainly like to hear from the community members, and we could set up some other time if you wanted to have a dialogue. This isn’t really the forum for it. There was such a survey, but we really are expecting you to address any questions or comments to us–

WEITMAN: But it’s hard to address the comment without knowing what — I think in a public forum, to be able to ask our elected representatives of the community on the Board if there was a public survey and what the results of that survey were. It would help inform the debate, and provide some direction for where we go from here. I’m assuming for the Board it’s a simple question and answer–

KOCH: Yes, there was in fact a survey, but to get into it all the aspects of it…is that what you’re looking for?

WEITMAN: No, I’m not looking for all the aspects. But if there was a survey, I’d like to know what the results were.

LINDA YONKE: It’s a long survey. There were a lot of different questions on the survey. There were everything from 75% of the people said they wanted a state-of-the-art high school — you may be referring to, there was one question that mentioned a figure, 180-190 million, something to that effect, and “Would they support it?” There was a strong “no” to that response. But it was in July of this past summer. You know, again, looking at the amount of information that people had, and the feeling that with additional information, perhaps people could support it.

WEITMAN: Are you able to tell me what the percentages were in regards to that question? And how many people had indicated they were not supportive of the referendum?

YONKE: It was a random sample phone survey–

WEITMAN: I don’t care about the methodology as much as I do the results.

YONKE: Again, I don’t have the survey in front of me. There was a majority on that question, though other questions there was a “YES”–

WEITMAN: I’m really only concerned with that one question, and what the results of that one question from the survey indicated.

KOCH: I didn’t bring the survey with me, or the results.

WEITMAN: I’ve got to believe that the members of the Board, with all due respect, know the answer to this question. (pause) And I’m stunned that you’re either unable to give me the answer, or are reluctant to give me the answer in an open forum like this, when the results of the referendum were so clearly overwhelmingly against it.

YONKE: I don’t remember all the breakdown. I remember that of the “somewhat no” and “no” there was about 58% on that question that mentioned the money. There was a question without the figure that was more favorable. I don’t — I’m sorry, I don’t have it memorized–

WEITMAN: Okay, but when the figure was put before people, 58% of the people surveyed indicated they would not support a survey of that size.

YONKE: In July. Correct.

WEITMAN: In July. A scant five months prior to the referendum.

YONKE: Right.

WEITMAN: And yet the Board voted unanimously to pursue this referendum. And so my question to you is: How does that jive with the meetings I attended where people voiced, clearly, opposition to the referendum? Your own internal survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of the community is against a referendum of that size. And I put before you, as I did in the email shortly after the referendum was put to a vote, that I copied each one of you on, Why shouldn’t we be talking about a new Board that clearly could come up with some other alternatives? Why shouldn’t it be incumbent on this Board to resign and put a new Board in place? And so I leave you to ponder that, given the fact that at this meeting, at previous meetings, at your own internal survey, this community demonstrated overwhelmingly they did not want a referendum of this size. The vote should not have surprised anybody. And I’m not sure whether you’re the best folks to be considering what the alternatives are given the fact that you unanimously voted to support a referendum of that size in the face of that kind of opposition.

Thank you.

KOCH: Thank you.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. Weitman’s comments were the last time that evening that the Board would engage in any back and forth with the speaker.]

KEVIN YOST-prepared statement

President Koch, Board Members, Superintendent Yonke:

In the shadow of the election results there is significant anger and divisiveness in the community. This is a great shame. We need the community to come together and to openly work to a solution meeting the longer term educational, township structure, and economic needs of everyone involved. You have an opportunity to do this by engaging all the voters you have been elected to serve.

I am certain you are developing plans for the next recommendation, and I understand you will be doing a survey. I request of you, before you do this survey, to please openly communicate what will be asked, making the protocol public and seeking feedback on the design. One’s initial reaction is this shouldn’t be done as it would bias the results. I would suggest otherwise. If anything, this would give respondents who happen to see it a chance to carefully think about their answers. Once you get the results, please quickly communicate them to the community. Then pull people in with a range of opinions to help you address the results in the development of your plans. It was not just a cute phrase when some opposing voters said they love New Trier. People want to do what is right. All across the nation we are feeling a permanent insecurity, and the community needs to be able to provide input to feel more secure. One doesn’t get buy-in from people if they haven’t participated. Take this opportunity to help end the “We versus They” atmosphere. Please…invite your constituency in and let them contribute.

Thank you.

SHARON KRISTJANSON-prepared statement

Members of the Board:

I have a great deal of respect for the amount of time and effort that all of you have put into trying to come up with a viable facilities plan.  However, I have been unable to support it because of the absence of essential economic analysis that is required in a situation like this.

There are four essential steps in any endeavor of this kind.

STEP ONE: Identify the need.  You did this beautifully.  As you performed ongoing maintenance on the facility and also bumped up against space constraints for an ever-changing curriculum, you asked whether it made sense to replace some of the buildings with more efficient space.  You explored teacher needs, and determined that an additional 200,000 square feet of space is needed.  I trust this analysis of educational needs, conducted by educators.

STEP TWO: Analyze the assets.  When a school has two campuses, it is crucial to analyze the economic value of the two campuses in a professional and impartial manner.  This cannot be done by educators, architects, or other staff people.  It is a very specific area of expertise within the real-estate industry.  To my knowledge, you have not engaged anyone to do this type of analysis, even though 15 months ago I stood here before you and talked about this very issue, and even offered you a contact at one of the premier firms in the country.

I am not talking about land analysis.  I am talking about land-use analysis.  This is an economic analysis that outlines the highest and best use of all segments of all properties.  It does not say: “The flood plain is “x” percent of the property.”  It takes the analysis further and says:  “In light of the flood plain, the highest and best use of this area is x and that area is y,” etc.

Such an analysis would allow us to determine the opportunity cost of expanding in Winnetka vs. Northfield; of over-utilizing one campus and under-utilizing another.  It is a comprehensive analysis, and without it none of us can make a truly informed decision.

STEP THREE: Take all of the analyses—both educational and economic—to the community so that we can create a vision together.  Again, this step was not performed at all.  What you have called Community Engagement has been a series of conversations about this plan, or something close to it.  We have not talked about strategic vision.

STEP FOUR: Bring in the architects to design the space to meet teacher needs within guidelines presented by the taxpayers.  The architectural designs are beautiful, and I believe in the value of well-designed space.  And I’m willing to pay for it.  But taxpayers have not yet weighed in on how, where, and when we want to make this investment.

You have worked very hard on Steps 1 and 4, and spent approximately $1.7 million of our money on the process.  But you have completely bypassed two essential steps: a thorough economic analysis, and a community discussion of that analysis.

n     The plan you proposed would put 1 million square feet of building onto a little more than 1 million square feet of land, for a ratio of 95%.  That ratio is 23% at Northfield.

n     63% of upperclassmen arrive at school by car, and in Winnetka there is inadequate arterial access and parking, yet you favor expanding in Winnetka rather than seriously analyzing the myriad possibilities in Northfield.

n     Your plan would permanently reduce field space.

Any economist looking at this would say: This is insane.

But insanity aside, what I object to is the lack of proper analysis, not the choices this community might make when given that analysis.  If they are given all the information required and still favor this option, it is a democratically obtained outcome.

Jim Koch told me several months ago that the Board has focused on this particular plan because our community wants to maintain the tradition of having seniors graduate from the Winnetka campus.  An economic value can be ascribed to that assumption, and this community deserves to know what the cost is of honoring tradition in this particular way, as opposed to any other.

Creating a facility that is one-quarter the size of the Merchandise Mart needs to be carefully evaluated by the community when other options are available.  How well would this address our children’s social and emotional needs?

Why choose the Merchandise Mart approach without exploring other options?  Why not ensure that our decisions also offer flexibility to future generations?

We are talking about our children, and how we wish to spend our money.  We have a right to participate in these very essential discussions.

Township residents are, in effect, the owners and shareholders of New Trier High School.  The Board members are stewards, with a responsibility to guide the Administration and represent the interests of the shareholders.  To date, it has been the opposite: the Board has represented the Administration to the taxpayers.  I believe this upside-down relationship must be corrected.

I am not standing here asking for the right plan; I am asking for the right process, because with the right process, this community will get behind the right plan.

WOODRUFF IMBERMAN-prepared statement

LADIES, GENTLEMEN

My name is Woodruff Imberman. Let me just say a little about myself. I live on Orchard Lane. I have been a resident of Winnekta for 30 years, during which time my son through the school system, graduating from New Trier in 2000. Although my formal academic training is in economic history, I run a management consulting company that works with companies to increase managerial effectiveness, supervisory efficiency, and productivity and quality of product among employees.

I took part in the We Love New Trier phone bank, urging voters to vote NO in the referendum. That was NOT a negative vote. It was a POSITIVE one asking FOR overall excellence at New Trier. That encompasses far more than high-priced bricks and mortar.

Overall excellence is the entire education process. Overall excellence encompasses a process so parents are involved in decision making at New Trier about their youngsters’ educations.  Overall excellence is monitoring the teaching process to make sure teachers are working effectively to achieve the overall excellence they and we all want. And most importantly, overall excellence is making sure the teachers, administrators and support staff are properly evaluated so they can be properly rewarded when they succeed. Only then will the goal of overall excellence we all want  be achieved for our youngsters.

2. The overwhelming vote was a vote for stepping back and re-asking two key questions: how can overall excellence we all want be best achieved, and how can today’s scarce dollars be best spent to achieve it? The vote tells us New Trier’s voters want better answers to those questions than those proposed. The vote was FOR  “let’s work together to achieve a New Trier that does achieve overall excellence for the youngsters of our communities.”

I look forward to being included in the process.

Thank you.

DANIEL W. FOX-prepared statement

My name is Daniel W. Fox.  I am a 25-year resident of Winnetka. My chosen profession is marketing communications. I enjoyed a 30-year career at the advertising agency, Foote, Cone & Belding, where I represented major consumer-product marketing companies including Kimberly-Clark, Johnson Wax and Coors Brewing, among others.

By way of further disclosure, I was among those active in the coalition that sought to defeat the recent facilities referendum. I did so because I believed the plan was bloated with unnecessary spending. If there was one sentiment I heard over and over again on subsequent campaign phone calls and in personal conversations with friends in the District, it was simply that $174 million was far too great a financial commitment for what was described as “renovation.”

This evening in the time allowed me, I want to focus on one particularly troubling aspect of your creation and marketing of that renovation plan, namely how all of you could have so badly underestimated strong community sentiment against it. I say “troubling” because a little over three months ago, you were each provided with as clear and direct an indication as could be that your plan would not be accepted by the voters.

This red flag was included in the Fako Associates “New Trier High School District 203 Survey” dated October 8, 2009, with a summary conveyed by the superintendent to each of you.

I’ve probably seen a thousand or so such market-research studies. This one used phone interviews to gauge different variables involved in marketing the renovation plan to voters. Indeed, the Fako people bill themselves as “specializing in political polling.”  Setting aside whether marketing a referendum to the electorate is within the bounds of propriety for a tax-dependent institution, I found their research thoughtfully planned. The results would have been representative, too, given the large sample size. That sample size also means the research project must have been expensive. This study, then, should definitely have informed your deliberations. Indeed, that seems to have been precisely its intent, because it is the only research you authorized specifically among voters.

Near the end of each interview, the phone respondents (93% of whom were verified as registered voters) were read a brief outline of the scope of the New Trier renovation plan, and then provided with both pro and con arguments (“Supporters say…” and “Opponents say….”) Read those arguments today, and you cannot help but be struck by how prescient they were, laying out much of what the “No” and “Yes” folks said to voters over the past two months.

So, how did the representative sample of voters respond in your research? After hearing both arguments, 58% opposed–including an alarming 41% who “strongly opposed”– the renovation plan, with about a 5-point margin of error at the 95% confidence level.  Meaning, statistically speaking, there would be very high confidence that the actual proportion opposing the plan in the real world would fall somewhere between roughly 52-63%.  There’s the red flag.

What did you all do with this important piece of information? This clear indication that the referendum was in serious trouble, and probably doomed? Was it even discussed?  You certainly didn’t heed it, because two weeks later you voted as one to go forward with the referendum.

Now here we are, just a little over three months later, with who-knows-how-much spent to create fancy materials, videos and such; with the cost of ten-weeks of electioneering (on both sides) down the drain; with thousands of volunteer hours expended; and with a good deal of residual hostility on the part of the losing side straining personal relationships across the District. And what have we to show for all this?

The February 2nd election firmly established the precise proportion of real-world voters opposed to your renovation plan at… 62.67%… within the margin of error.

So, who suffered from your oversight? The list of casualties must include all the “yes” and “no” folks who gave up substantial portions of their lives, and devoted themselves to an unnecessary, ill-advised campaign. But the list goes on and on including all the taxpayers in the District who underwrote the referendum costs, and now find themselves with no plan at all.

And last week comes a report that in the wake of the landslide that buried the referendum, you plan to conduct more research to try to understand what taxpayers really want in a renovation plan. Why bother doing research, if it’s just going to be ignored?

Never mind political polling, I think the first issue you need to address is what you should say to the taxpayers right now.

Should you own up to your bad judgment? Should you apologize for the ill-advised referendum? Should you consider resigning your positions on this Board accepting that many District taxpayers have lost confidence in your leadership?

I have my own answers to some of those questions. I ask that you spend some quiet time working on yours.

Thank you.

VANESSA RACHMANINOFF-prepared statement

My name is Vanessa Rachmaninoff and I reside at 132 Bertling Lane in Winnetka, Illinois.

My professional background is in corporate Finance and the investment of municipal Bond Proceeds. I Currently have three Children at New Trier High school.

Members of the Board and the Administration, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you my thoughts about the future of our community and your role as our leaders.

Before I begin, I would like to Quote Abraham Lincoln and say to you that:

“I am not concerned that you have Fallen; I am concerned that you Arise.”

All of us in this room, know the results of the February 2nd referendum vote-

Voter turnout was larger than in the last presidential election; almost 14,000 neighbors voted to turn down the request to fund the largest single school referendum in Illinois history for $174,000,000.

I was personally shocked at the outcome. I did not believe so many would oppose the plan and had to wonder why.

I am here to humbly request that you look discerningly at this recent experience and honestly try to incorporate some of the lessons we learned as a community because I believe in your ability to lead us.

But, I ask that you change your approach towards us and toward the process.

The events of these past months has left many feeling deeply disillusioned and shaken our trust as a community.  Many of those who voted against the plan believe that you did not understand what we are facing or why we care so deeply about the outcome.

You are trying to implement a significant change. You are asking over 40,000 residents to believe in your enormous vision.  The Administration and many of you worked very hard to get people to understand your plan. Why did the majority of the community turn it down?

1. We were against the plan because of its ambitious nature and sheer magnitude. For some of us, the plan embodied values contrary to the values of many of us in this community. We are concerned not only about the impact of extravagant spending on own our children but also on our broader community. The memory of Reverend Meekes and the 1000 children from the Chicago public schools attending the first day of class in 2009 is still very fresh in our minds.

2. Also deeply engraved in our shared consciousness is the astounding financial crisis still impacting us. When Ben Bernanke and his concept of “too big to fail” become mainstream, we paid attention. Last year we were days away from the possible disintegration of the global financial system.

We in New Trier Township are both Main Street and Wall Street. We are trying to recover from the unprecedented depreciation of our life savings and assets. Our own disregard for living within our means individually and as a nation got us into the worst financial crisis in our personal history. We do not want to make those same mistakes again.

3. Finally, even if we could support increasing taxes and making a very large investment in this economy, you did not prove to us this was the optimal investment. Your emphasis on the features of the plan including the financing did not explain the real benefits to us, your constituents.  We do not make investments because financing is cheap.  We make them because we believe in them.

Ultimately, Change of this magnitude requires buy-in of an equal or greater magnitude.

So I will leave you with two quotations I find insightful from people more erudite than me- one expresses why I was involved in this and the other applies to the role I would like you to play in our future.

1. Hermann Bahr, a German literary critic who died in 1934 said- “We have to learn to endure what we cannot change. We have to change what we cannot endure.”

2. Elizabeth Dole- “What you always do before you make a decision is consult. The best public policy is made when you are listening to people who are going to be impacted. Then, once policy is determined, you call on them to help you sell it.”

As leaders and as a community, we have a very exciting and important project ahead of us. I look forward to seeing what our group wisdom and you, our leaders, can achieve in the next years and decades.  I am sure it will be a vision we can all believe in.

Thank you for your patience.

CHERYL SMITH

Vanessa, thank you for your comments. I know many people on the opposition side. I was active on the “YES” vote side. I don’t come tonight — I wasn’t even prepared to speak tonight with any statistics, credentials, or prepared speech. I just wanted to say a couple of things that I think are important to remember. I really prefer to not address the Board so much as the attendees tonight.

First of all, the Board is selected by a caucus, a caucus of your peers, neighbors, friends. That is how it’s done. The caucus knew that this was our challenge coming up. Board members were selected based on that fact. I believe these are good stewards — and that’s what I wanted to say tonight — of our tax dollars. I still believe in the plan. Maybe the plan was at the wrong time, but there were many reasons why it was put forward at this time. We all know them, and we’re not going to go through that now.

I think the good news is, we have the attention of the community. All of us know from volunteer jobs we’ve done in the past, people have kind of become engaged in the last moment. We only had about 30 days, starting in January, so next time around they’re going to actually read more, do their own research, look at both sides, and think more. And that’s the good news. I think that we have the attention of the community.

And I want to thank the Board as well for the amazing amount of hours that we know they all took to try to reach and access everyone. Giving the amount of tours, meetings, everything. [The problem is?] accessing the community, and getting their attention. Thank you.

JANE BENTHEM

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak here. I was part of the “NO” coalition, and part of that was the communication we did not receive, I believe, which has been eloquently said by so many people here this evening. And I must say to you, I’m very concerned about some of the comments I heard from board members about “This is the North Shore. We can afford it. We can do this.” I am also concerned about our thought process of how we go forward. This is not the time in the economy to be making those kinds of comments. When you start looking at 20% of the North Shore are not enrolling their children in enrichment activities at the present time because they can not afford it, we need to take our heads out of the sand and understand: this is a difficult economic time for everyone. And we really need to be mindful of how we go forward. As we look at this, we need to pay attention to the community, and we need to look at what is going on. Thank you.

MARCIA OLEY-prepared statement

Two (2) years ago I made a $500 contribution to the New Trier Educational Foundation in honor of Marla Tracy. I witnessed her actions to help a student which were above and beyond the call of duty.

I’m here tonight to ask Jim Koch to resign. Last Nov 16th, at 2hr. and 11 min. into the Board meeting, Jim, you said, “you have to understand this board, 5 MBA’s, 4 JD’s, architect, Michigan, Cornell, U of I, Princeton, we GET it, we’ve read this a lot.”   3 minutes later you admitted to having an outsized EGO. I found you arrogant and condescending to those of us who believe you presented a bad plan and therefore opposed the referendum.

You didn’t get it; you ignored the July, 2009 survey commissioned by New Trier which found 34% in support of the construction plans at the Winnetka campus, and 58% opposing. Those numbers aligned very closely to the Feb. election results.

It is clear to me you did not get the financing structures for the referendum. Some of your comments in the letters to the Pioneer Press were simply wrong. I found the situation aggravating and I was embarrassed for you. You should have been thanking James Pinkerton, and correcting your mistakes instead of trying to cover them.

Actions by Our New Trier, like Kevin Smith’s registering the domain NewTrierChoices.COM were unethical. And don’t give me the line that you were unattached to the group. That PAC was formed to push your agenda. If you didn’t know what was going on, you should have. Your silence gave the appearance of condoning it.

I witnessed you make a dig at a public Board meeting against one of the most long-term and beloved staff members this school has ever known. You were disrespectful and that behavior was unbefitting a New Trier Board member, especially the president.

Chuck Hirsch said it best; the Board should reflect the values of the community.   That has not been happening.

You stated at the January 19th Board meeting that you are somewhat dictatorial.  Board members are elected to exercise independent thinking. Where were the tough questions throughout this process?

You are too closely tied to this facilities plan, have lost credibility, you are not objective, and I see no evidence to think you can change. Your manner of presiding, with regards to the facilities initiative, has been a great disservice to this community.

You’ve fulfilled your civic duty by serving on this Board for 7 years. This community is full of intelligent people many of whom attended renowned schools. Step down and let someone new, who can be objective, take your place on the Board.

Jim Koch, please resign immediately.

Thank you.

JUDE OFFERLE-prepared statement

My name is Jude Offerle and I live in Winnetka

In the last several years, the condition of the east campus buildings – both superficial and structural – has been allowed to deteriorate to a critical point.  Ms. Yonke reiterated this in her email of February 3.

Either the head of New Trier’s maintenance department failed to ensure an acceptable level of care in the last few years, or he received instructions from the superintendent to defer routine maintenance.  No dedicated professional would have participated in either scenario.

It is imperative that the facilties department have professional leadership at this time.  That leadership is not evident in the incumbent.

I ask the board to initiate a search for Facilities professional with proven experience in

  • Assessing the critical maintenance needs
  • Developing a remedial maintenance schedule
  • Prioritizing and budgeting for a comprehensive maintenance plan
  • And, most importantly, the ability to implement such a plan including, but not limited to, overseeing the scraping, sanding and painting of rusty radiators.

It is time to have a professional with the leadership skills to recruit, train and properly manage our maintenance staff and the experience to restore the east campus facility to the clean, well maintained school which Ms. Yonke assumed at the beginning of her tenure.

PROF. ROBERT SOARE

EDITOR’S NOTE: After exceeding the Board’s allotted time, Prof. Soare was cut-off. At the time, he was reading a list of addresses of prominent “NO” voters who live near the Winnetka campus. Upon Mr. Koch’s request, Prof. Soare stopped his list, asked Koch to “not resign,” and left the podium.

Following the referendum portion of the board meeting, Prof. Soare restated his statement to a reporter from Northwestern University, and so instead of listing his full statement to the Board, we will begin with his speech to the NU reporter and the finishing of the point he was making with the addresses when he was stopped by Mr. Koch.

Abraham Lincoln did not retreat in 1862 when his generals lost all the battles, and in the end, they won. They lost the first round but they won the final round. Why did they win the final round? You’re a student, you tell me. Why did Abraham Lincoln win the final round and why did George Washington win the final round? Two reasons. They were fighting for an ideal, such as freedom, liberty, justice. And two, they were fighting for the people. And this represents the people. Students represent the people here. So tonight, in fact, [pulls list out of pocket], here’s a list of half a dozen wealthy property owners, who organized a tremendously negative campaign, but they all live a block from the school. You can have this. This is their addresses. They’re analogous to the Southern plantation owners, wealthy land owners, who wanted to preserve slavery for their own economic benefit. Or analogous to the British aristocracy who wanted to preserve the status quo and didn’t want the George Washington patriots running around.

But in the end, they all won in the final round because they were fighting for the people. And I’m interested in fighting for 15,000 students. I count that as follows: the 4,000 currently at New Trier – that 1,000 per class – and in addition, at 1,000 per class, there are another 11,000 ages 0 through 12 who haven’t yet gotten to New Trier. But they will be using the facilities so that’s 15,000 students. And what I would suggest to you is that most of the people who were writing “NO” articles mention the students very little. Some mention them a little bit but very little. And no one said, “If you vote ‘NO’ on the referendum, it will benefit the students because…” “If you vote ‘NO’ on the library, it will benefit the students because…” “If you vote ‘NO’ on the field house, it will benefit the students because…” “If you vote ‘NO’ on the center for the performing arts, it will benefit the students because…” No one said that.

Listen tonight. There were a lot of things about marketing, and “Shouldn’t we bring in a marketing firm to do this?” and “Shouldn’t we look at this use of the land?” She even said, “Let’s look at how the land is used,” meaning how it absorbs the water. That’s a big issue with Wes Baumann and the people on that list. Because if New Trier is expanded, and people build a new building, a big new building, on the north portion of the property, which is on grass, then some of the permeable land will disappear. Okay? And that means that more water’s going to run on the land of these people. That’s true. Or they’ll have to build new storm (inaudible) to take care of it. But you’re a student. Do you ever go to the library? Now look in the library. I claim, as a professor, I see lots of permeable membrane in the library. I see students that are thinking, and reading, and writing, and what’s going into their brains is ideas and knowledge and understanding.

So if you’re weighing in each hand permeable membrane, what’s more important? The grass facing Wes Baumann’s house north of the building? Or the permeable membrane for the library that we’re going to build. What’s more important? What’s more important: a dozen wealthy land owners in the neighborhood of New Trier – [pointing to list] these are the names of some of them – or 15,000 students that are going to get the facilities that they need?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Readjack.com stayed for the next 16 minutes of Prof. Soare’s comments, but had to rejoin for the end of the board meeting, so we missed the final ten minutes of his comments to the Northwestern reporter. For more of Prof. Soare’s thoughts about the students and everything else New Trier, please click here.

NINA SCHROEDER

I have four children, two of whom have been through New Trier already. One will graduate in a year, and one is coming up to New Trier next year. I am also an alumni of New Trier myself. I was in support of the referendum, and I just want to take a minute tonight to wholeheartedly thank the Board and the administration, Linda Yonke and Don Goers, for their tireless efforts on behalf of our community, for their over three years of study and planning to come up with what was believed to be a very well thought-out, meticulous to a fault plan for the renovation of New Trier while maintaining the utmost of integrity to their fiduciary responsibility.

I congratulate all of you for your perseverance, and for taking the personal risks and responsibility that goes along with being in the public eye, to stand up and promote what you believe is best for our community. Ultimately what may have been turned down to the cumulative cost of its parts, ironically, will end up costing us more when the work does get done. And sadly, New Trier will remain behind in its ability to update its teaching methods and curriculum due to the lack of capacity and technology in its physical space. This is what saddens me.

I believe this Board presented a transparent and clear plan which made sense with accompanying numbers, which when presented to community groups was met with interest, understanding, and support. And I was there for many of those meetings. Many naysayers and those who were undecided in January who took the time to educate themselves by taking a tour, by attending a coffee, by getting their questions answered personally by board members and by the administration, often changed their minds once they understood the need and thoughtfulness and the financial responsibility of the plan that was presented.

I hope now that we can move forward with constructive dialogue and support this Board with their pursuit of a much-needed renovation of New Trier.

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