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D159 Consultant Suggests Fourth Referendum Try: VIDEO

A consultant hired by Mokena 159 said recent cuts will eliminate the district's deficit, but that a referendum could let the district undo its reductions.

A strategic consultant hired by said the word that divided the town three times before—referendum.

"My only personal point of view is if—if—you want to return to some of the previous standards, the only way you can get there from here is with a referendum of some sort," Larry Heidemann of StratPlan Consulting told the board during a special meeting Thursday night.

If the board follows Heidemann's suggestion, it would be .

This brings back a familiar, emotionally charged and some say false divide in Mokena: "What about the children?" versus "What about the taxpayers?"

"I'm sorry if I was too much of an advocate for the kids," Heidemann said at one point while fielding board questions after his presentation.

"We're all for the kids. Don't go there," board member Pat Markham replied.

District Heading Into Black

This time the threat wouldn't be financial insolvency, Heidemann said. District cuts put a deficit that once reached $2.7 million down to less than $200,000. The consultant's figures put the district back in the black next year.

"To achieve that, we're not doing any technology upgrade, we're not doing any textbook replacement we’re not doing any capital upgrades," board member Joe Spalla said.

Heidemann said referendum money could let the district bring back services while staying deficit-free.

"Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to push an agenda here," Heidemann said. "I'm offering my heartfelt opinion that if you want to return to some of the previous parameters, you can't get there from here by nibbling around the edges."

L-Way Feeders Raised Taxes, Still Hurting

At $2.10, Mokena has by far the lowest tax rate of the five Lincoln-Way feeder districts. The other four range between New Lenox at $2.85 and Manhattan at $3.34.

"Mokena is the only district that has managed to work its way through the last two decades without any tax increase," Heidemann said.

But board President John Troy said those referenda didn't save other districts from the current financial crisis. He alluded to , despite Summit Hill's 33-percent higher 2008 tax rate.

"The surrounding districts that are at a higher tax rate are also in this financial shift," Troy said.

State Rules Change

In addition to , Mokena was also hit by the fact it got wealthier in the Illinois' eyes, Heidemann said.

Each school district in Illinois fall in one of three categories based on how rich it is. The richer a district, the less state money it gets per student.

The value of homes in Mokena 159 recently moved the district to the second-highest category.

This and several other factors meant the district's general state aid dropped to $952,000 last school year from $1.9 million the year before.

Heidemann estimated changes in how the state pays Mokena cut about $3 million over the last three to five years.

"You've lost $3 million through no fault of your own, through no fault of previous boards or previous administrations," Heidemann said.

According to the most recently available ISBE records, the state provided 17.3 percent ($3.2 million) of the district's revenues during the 2009-10 school year.

By Heidemann's figures, the state is providing 9.1 percent ($1.6 million) of Mokena's money this year. Figures for last school year weren't readily available Thursday night.

Not Asked for Recommendation

Heidemann has been a consultant with the district on and off for seven years, since he was first hired to make a strategic plan, Troy said.

Troy said the board asked Heidemann to update the plan after . He said Heidemann was paid for a financial snapshot of the district in its new situation, not to make recommendations about referenda.

"We've had a lot of things change," Troy said.

Meeting minutes show an $8,000 contract for Heidemann to update the strat plan software used for this report was approved at the Nov. 10, 2011, board meeting. The new teacher contract was approved Jan. 21, 2012.

"There were some preliminary discussions," Superintendent Steve Stein said.

Heidemann said he is often called in to consult by school districts seeking referenda, but in this case offered the referendum idea as his personal opinion.

"Typically what happens is, when (school districts) need a referendum, they contact me," Heidemann said. "(The districts say) 'We think we have some trouble. We need a referendum; help us with the timing and amount.'"

pepper February 24, 2012 at 12:40 PM
You know anyone like this "consultant" could be bought!
Volunteer February 24, 2012 at 01:08 PM
good luck with the 4th referendum. I hope you get the volunteers you need because I am sure a lot of people that worked on previous referendums are not going to help out on this one.
Johnny on the spot February 24, 2012 at 01:34 PM
looks like I will have to do a couple of FOI request because Spalla you have not kept one of your promises since elected and I will make sure the Papers all get them as well and report to the public exactly where you Peter's and Moore really stand !!!! KInda is sad for you because you and your partners will be held to the highest level of accountability !!!!!!! I am the 99% who is no longer buying your lies and either is my homeowners association !!!!
Johnny on the spot February 24, 2012 at 01:38 PM
When is enough enough !!!!!!! your spending the taxpayers money not your's ????
R.W.Voter February 24, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Thank God we still have Markham, don't these people realize that we cannot afford these programs without the state money. The State won't pay, the program has to go or be paid for by the parents. Early start, Let the parents pay. Close MIS, and that ridiculous story about a 5th grader who doesn't get to have the overnight trip made me fume. This has nothing to do with basic education, it is an example of money pouring into a system and administrators thinking of ways to spend it. A referendum would be costly, fail like it did the last time. The families leaving Mokena are ones with children, they can't afford the taxes here as it is. My taxes go up every year and the home value has dropped significantly. If I could sell it I would move out of state. Thank you
patrick markham February 24, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Look carefully at the fact that 159 will be OUT of our DEFICIT situation in a YEAR! This is the result of hard work and better leadership, better management. This consultant was to have taken a snapshot of the current path and project it out. Instead he offered his opinion recommending referendum rather than holding the course. He was corrected and then separated fact from his opinion in his presentation. Fact as stated here, we have done our Job; we will be out of deficit in a Year to eighteen months. Fact: we are trending up and out of crisis! This report was for it to show us when we can reduce fees and add more activities. Instead the consultant offered his opinion of the old tax and spend fast track to more money. Many did NOT buy into this recommendation and held him to voice what was his opinion and what was fact. The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously. We will be having roundtable working sessions very soon to review other areas where good management of tax dollars will yield more revenue. Further there will be plans discussed as to when 159 has past deficit and into profitability what programs, fees, etc have priority for reinstatement. I speak for myself and do not want to represent any board member that has a different perspective.
Anna Lee February 24, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I wish the board would stop paying consultants. Mokena has spoken three times they will not pay for a referendum. Sad but true. I supported the referendum but a fourth attempt will not work. I fully understand the fact the state has reduced funding. This board was voted in to find a way to give the best education possible with what we currently have to work with. Please stop the merry go round with Mr. Heidemann, this is another 8,000.00 that could have gone back into the district.
nick February 24, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Strike one, strike two, strike three. No more referendums. Dist 159 still has millions in the bank.
DR- Mokena February 24, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Simmer down potential 4th referendum voters. No one asked you to cast a vote as of yet. But remember one way or another you will pay, either in a higher tax bill should a referendum go through, or continued declining of your home value if it does not. Personally I'd take the tax increase as compared to the reduced home value....$350,000 home values 5 years ago are now at $300,000 today and maybe lower. I don't think taxes paid would have been anywhere near that figure. Stop the underwater mortgage families from increasing in numbers....and I'm glad I'm not one of them.
R.W.Voter February 24, 2012 at 08:40 PM
If the citizens knew exactly all of the unnecessary programs that they are paying for they would be steaming. Cut it all to the basics and give them a good education there, in many public schools, children can't even sign their name, because so called educators feel that is not necessary, Maybe self esteem is more important
momsconcerned February 25, 2012 at 01:01 PM
R. W, your right about this dog and pony show. Thank God, MARKHAM and Troy and Franchesini called this guy out on his dramatic sales pitch for a referendum. He reminds me of a door to door vacumn cleaner salesman. You know, throw dirt on the floor to sell you a vacuum. Markham even pointed out that his "costs" were different , inaccurate , from one page to another! He had no answer for that. Keep it up New school board. We are with you!
Jim S February 25, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Take a look at your latest tax bill.....the referendum did pass. Sound this out refer n DUM. Wake up and smell the roses. No means NO! 161 just voted to close a school, it is time to take a hard look at what is important....EDUCATION. There are some great teachers at our schools, I have met them. At school education should be first. Period! To those that say if we don't pass this our home values will fall..knock knock knock, they did fall and continue to fall, this will not fix it. Most people have not seen a pay raise in years, gas is nearly 4 bucks a gallon, it costs $150 bucks a week for groceries for a family of 4. People can't afford to spend any more. We are not saying no because we don't want to spend it, we are saying no because WE JUST DONT HAVE ANY MORE TO GIVE. The well is dry!
momsconcerned February 25, 2012 at 02:13 PM
I wonder why everyone runs around talking about home values (prices) falling but NEVER state the NUMBER ONE detriment, HIGHER taxes , will reduce your home prices fastest of all!! Larry Hide a referendum! (Larry Heidemann)
R.W.Voter February 25, 2012 at 03:36 PM
The board of 161 is doing the right thing, close an unnecessary school. They should end full day kindergarten, unless it is paid for by the parents. We should learn from them. Most of our board is very referendum orientated. They must be related to Illinois government officials, they don't know how to cut. Early start is another one. Who determines if the child needs this or is it just another day care try. Overnight field trips. These are not basic education items, and if they want it, the parents should be paying for it. Dump the teachers union and go back to basic education. Catholic nuns, many without degrees taught classes with 60 children and did an excellent job. Test scores declined as union membership grew in the teaching profession. We can't spend what we don't have. Thank you
M P February 25, 2012 at 04:26 PM
The consultant was paid to look at the facts and give his professional opinion. To attack him and his message - as Patrick Markham did with his disingenuous comment "We are for the kids...Don't go there" - is simple minded. The comment that no new technology, no new textbooks, and other "Nos" pretty much prove that this Board is NOT for the kids, at least as far as a quality education goes. And speaking of simple minded, I think it is fascinating that most of the Board members sit and stare when Markham bellows, and Kathy Moore seems to be the only one who understands the proper procedures for running a Baord meeting. The fact is the quality of schools in District 159 has diminshed over the past 3 years, much due to reduced state funding and budget strains. But do NOT kid yourself Miokena, this Board is not going to make things better, only worse. Unless of course you subscribe to the "You get what you pay for" philosophy. In this case, you pay nothing, you get nothing.
M P February 25, 2012 at 04:32 PM
R.W.Voter I too went to a Catholic school with 50-60 kids in a class led by a nun who did a "good job." Huge difference today: My parents supported the school and the teachers. Today many still do but way too many do not. We came to school prepared to learn and work. And if we didn't, that "Good Job" nun worked her "magic" on our backside or across the face. I'd love to see that fly in today's litigious, "it's not my child's fault" society.
R.W.Voter February 25, 2012 at 05:26 PM
M.P. As far as I go, I am paying enough. The taxes in this little town are very high. You are obviously for more taxes or a renewed referendum. I believe that a majority say no. We do not have any more to give, high taxes, gas prices, food prices. You have kids in the school, I would think it would be your duty to pay for that. I believe in quality education, I don't believe that you get that in today's public schools, I never hear of anyone doing a grade over again, they send them to JJC and take remedial courses. If I had school age children, I would get an extra job to place them in a private institution. Thank you
john Q Adams February 25, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Dear M P Humor is the best medicine. Your post surely was hilarious. "This board is NOT for the kids". Now that’s funny! This board is for the kids, no question. In fact, I believe it was even the bellows guy MARKHAM that raised the interest and yes, even money, gift certificates for the MES Stars program among other things (DARE etc). You say the “consultant” was paid to give “facts” Let’s talk about “facts”, I guess you can call it bellowing by Mr. Markham as he asked why the “facts” were different from one page to another , the “consultant” had no answer but , hmmm I don’t know I will have to get back to you. Yep, good bellowing I guess. You go on to say: “Kathy Moore seems to be the only one who understands the proper procedures for running a Baord meeting”. I cannot disagree! Given whatever a Baord meeting is. I did get a great chuckle (thanks) from your statement “But do NOT kid yourself Miokena, this Board is not going to make things better”. Bless wherever Miokena is, but I think this Board has done fantastic at making things better, “morale” for one and even opened the Board meetings up to more input allowed from the community, oh there goes that bellowing Mr. Markham again. Now please, give (the Board) credit placing a great new superintendent and the many other efforts they have volunteered to take on. Not to mention the ability to survive the, as “consultant” says; “perfect storm” without needing a tax increase!
Mike February 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I certainly don't have a problem with Board members voicing their opinions. I realize that they don't speak for the Board when they comment on forums such as Patch. However, I think it is much better for the Board member to speak at Board meetings and leave the fight there. To take sometimes confidential info (i'm not saying that confidential info is being discussed in this case) to public forums like this can show a lack of willingness to be a team player. All we don't need is 7 Board members giving their views on Patch. Markham needs to work within the Board framework and allow the Board President and the Supt be the official spokesman for the Board and the District. As a person who voted 3 times against the referenda, I am open to change my mind and I hope the 159 community feels the same way. I have confidence in this Board.
patrick markham February 27, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Mike , thanks for noting you have confidence in this board. Thank you. However, with that being said, you further note that I should only discuss matters with the board and let Supt, pres , be spokesperson. Mike, my notes on here are mine alone. You mention team player. Mike, I did not separate myself from the voters and join a team when I ran for this position. My team are the people that need good representation. Mike you mentioned what we don’t need is seven board members voicing opinion here. Why not? They are there to represent the community not rule over it or make decisions for it with little or no interaction with the public. I am sure you are not aware that the so called “framework” of the board actually prevents us from discussing issues. We are left to making decisions within the few minutes of discussion when a motion is put. In that vein, perhaps more members should put their views out. I don’t seem to recall any complaints when Mr. Ventura spoke on this as you say “forum such as the patch”. Thanks your comments are noted. I will stand for transparency, community interaction and information. Your humble representative Patrick
nick February 29, 2012 at 01:45 AM
DR- Many economist claim that the high value of your home only benefits you on the day that you sell. The rest of the time you own a home, a high value just benefits the TAX man. When I moved to Mokena my first years tax bill was $810. Now I pay over $6,000 for the privilege of living in my home.
nick February 29, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Dist 159 still has extra cash. See Mokena Messenger, Dec 2, 2010, page 4 (Superintendent Perry said the District currently has about $11 MILLION in reserves)

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