Board Members Are Anything But 'Cowards'

District 202 board member explains why he voted to give raises to administrators and non-union/non-certified staff, and why the real cowards are state officials.

Dear Editor;

Wow, I've been called a lot of things since I have been on the Board of Education, but never have I been called a coward (as one Patch reader did earlier this week in reference to the board's for adminstrators and non-union/non-certified staff).

Please allow me to share some facts. In 2008/2009 we froze our superintendent’s salary. We then proceeded the following year to freeze our administrators' salaries and have them contribute 10 percent towards their health care plans. This year we worked with both our teachers and support staff unions to reach deals that will save our taxpayers money. Plus, we have to deal with the rising cost of health care.

While I respect (fellow board members) Michelle Smith's and Greg Nichol's votes (against the raise), I felt I had to cast my vote to keep quality administrators in our school district.

We have over the past five-plus years cut our operating budget by over $45 million. To offset this reduction, we’ve had to reduce staff, eliminate and refine some programs, and refinance our debt load. Plus, we voted not to use the rest of the money that was approved at the last referendum.

The real problem here is not the board of education but the state of Illinois leadership, who have yet to make good on their financial commitments to school districts throughout the entire state.

Here are prime examples: Our transportation costs run around $14 million per year, for which the state used to reimburse us at 80 percent ($11.2 million). Now they have decided to reimburse us at 50 percent or $7 million; we have to make up the difference of $4.2 million just in the reimbursement allocation alone.

Also, the state is a year behind in payments in both transportation and other costs. This is usually around $20 million to $30 million per year, and it has occurred for at least the last five years. We have to maneuver or borrow funds in order to pay our vendors in a timely manner.

Add to that a rumor that they are planning on reducing the per-student allocation by $104 per child. Multiply that by 29,850 kids, and that's another $3.1 million we might have to come up with per year. 

Finally, look at your tax bill. Most of our community saw a reduction in taxes paid to District 202 while the other governments' tax rates went up. This is because of our property valuations going down but also because your board of education has been good stewards of our taxpayers' dollars.

All of us as board members struggle with the decisions we make and I assure you that all of us, both past and present, care deeply about our kids, our employees and our community.

Put the coward label where it belongs, on some of the state leaders who have long forgotten the people they are supposed to represent and failed to give education their undivided attention and adequate funding. Stop voting them into office.

For the record, I am only speaking for myself not the other school board members.


Rod Westfall, Plainfield School District 202 board member


Letters to the Editor can be sent to karen@patch.com.

Vera February 17, 2012 at 10:42 PM
I think CVSRich is upset because the raise will be substantial. Darlene is making $149,752 this year plus $3,600 travel stipend. She also gets monthly health insurance premium paid for - $1,816 and a monthly dental of $57.23. So the question is - will she be paid for unused sick and unused vacation days, and did the board include an annuity which at this time - only Dr. Harper receives. And, should an employee who has only been there a couple of years - receive such a nice retirement perk?
Vera February 17, 2012 at 10:43 PM
Who is Employee A?
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Another question to ask yourself, how do you think the different topics were put on the Agenda. The 9.02, 9.03 etc., was put on there from the head of our district. Out of the 7 board members, which ones have been on the longest? This was a LONG TIME in the making, thanks to some of the current board members that have been on to LONG. You can also thank some of the previous board members that voted on Dr. Harper’s contract. It was done underhanded, the last possible meeting before the new board members were sworn in. Why because they new some of the board members that were voted in, would no way vote for the contract offered to Dr. Harper. It made it a sneaky vote. Plain and simple. Previously when I have asked about certain employment information such as 9.02 & 9.03 I was told that was private information. Only to be discussed in “Closed Session”. Maybe Smith and Nichols like her because she actually does her job. Vera and CVS Rich what part of the Administration are you that you have insider’s information on the person for 9.02 & 9.03? The name and the other information would ONLY be known by specific employees of the school district. If our board released this information, they would get in trouble. I don't see you complaining about our money man John Prince, and his pay that is extremely close to Dr. Harpers. Again part of a very impressive and ALWAYS professional group hired by our glorious Superintendant.
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I was just going over old papers from some of the previous budget meetings and I found some stuff on Harper's salary. Someone might want to FOIA Harper's raises for school years 09-10; 10-11 and 11-12. He gets a minimum of three percent according to his contract but the board can give up to 6 percent. I totally forgot about that. Something to keep in mind when the board has to cut jobs. He gets a minimum of 3 percent for 12-13 and a min of 4 percent for 2013-14 - his last year. If someone is going to ask that question they might as well FOIA the amount of money he received in unused vacation days. He can buy back a bunch each year if he wants. Karen Sorensen you might want to look into that. We know the teachers' pay is frozen and I believe the administrators - but is the board giving Harper more than the minimum 3 percent? ..
Dawn February 18, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Harper only fought one not both. An administration raise will mean cuts to pay for it. Like the pay increase next year for teachers....cuts again. That's the facts H8ter. Darlene has been working for school districts in Illinois for years. She did not just come from Canada as I can remember from her bio.
Vera February 18, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Straight from www.psd202.org Totally from Canada. She has only worked in the United States since 2003. A 33-year veteran educator and administrator will become District 202's newest assistant superintendent for administration and personnel, starting July 1, 2009. Darlene von Behren, currently the director of human resources for Evanston/Skokie District 65. She will replace Dr. Larie Godinez, who has been named superintendent of the DuBuque Community Schools in DuBuque, Iowa. The District 202 Board of Education approved von Behren's appointment at its June 8, 2009 regular meeting. Von Behren has served 15 of her 16 years in administration as a human resources director. Von Behren began her education career in 1976 as an elementary teacher in Alberta, Canada. She has also taught junior high school, served as a principal, counselor and adult education coordinator. From 1994-2002, von Behren was director of human resources for the Cowhican Valley School District in rural British Columbia, Canada. From 2002-2003, she also served as chief financial officer in the same district. In 2003 von Behren moved to the United States and worked until 2007 as the director of human resources for the Franklin Regional School District in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. She has worked in her current role since 2007.
Mike February 18, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Part 1 of 2 As an educator (not-Plainfield), I have to say I am very disappointed by these pay increases for Plainfield administrators. It blows my mind how school board members, in an economy like this, cannot differentiate between crucial spending and non-crucial spending. Once you get past all the operational costs of a school - electricity, food, transportation, security, custodial/janitorial, basic supplies etc. - there are really only a handful of categories that qualify as educational crucial-spending: (1) Staff salaries: faculty, teacher aides, secretary, and administrators (2) Curriculum development That's it. In the end, if you get a teacher in a classroom with students with a whiteboard, a solid curriculum, and textbooks, learning is possible. PSAE/ACT Test Prep programs that cost tens of thousands of dollars, extraneous technology spending (like comp'ed administrator cellphones, reissues of cutting-edge technology, and re-upping unnecessary software licensing [like Microsoft Office Suite which costs millions when the district could functionally scale back to embrace open-source software for fractions of the cost]) is all counterproductive to the district and taxpayer's needs - especially in a time of economic hardship.
Vera February 18, 2012 at 01:42 AM
I don't work for PSD. Retirement news is not a secret. And, contract/salary information - any board member can or should share that with you. The problem is - that the board members do like the administrators and have become friends with them - that is evident when they make decisions like give an employee a 6 percent raise when the district is facing more cuts. Maybe, when they cut programs (like the swim team and other activities) you'll question the large raises for administrators who really have only cost the district money by making poor decisions. Since 2009, the legal fees have increased tremendously. Harper can recommend a person for hire. However, the board members tend to volunteer to serve on the hiring committee and have been known to override Harper's choice. Truly, the only position the board should be responsible for is - the superintendent. The board tends to micromanage - and the taxpayers and the children suffer. Unfortunately in March, you'll be at a board meeting fighting to keep teachers and programs - and you'll have to ask yourself - was it worth losing this person to give Darlene a 6 percent raise?
Jeannette February 18, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Wow you must be 'totally' an administrator... The dislike is pouring out...she has been here 9 years... Your point? Ok she been here for years... She has been a person in the teacher/school field... Reading all these comments make me wonder if the board should start looking into this information thats been released... This is hateful, wrong, and possibly unethical...A raise was given in a time that there is no money... We will lose people now that is the bottom line...
Mike February 18, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Part 2 of 2 I am not being facetious, here: there should be a competency exam for people like Rod Westfall: Which is more likely to improve the quality of education for Plainfield spending? (A) increasing administrator salaries (B) reducing class size by hiring more teachers? Another potential slam-dunk board decision: cutting non-essential programs to increase Plainfield teachers' embarrassingly-low pay (because your teacher core is where you want to recruit talent). Here's another: forcing administrators to pay for their own cell phones. Not only will I call you a coward, Rod, I will do you one better: what kind of idiot school board (read also: clueless, incompetent yes-men) truly thinks freezing the salaries of teachers, teacher aides, and support staff - the essential backbone of the school system - while increasing the salaries of "awesome" administrators (whose schools - under their leadership - fail to meet AYP and have landed PSD 202 on the Academic Watch List: http://iirc.niu.edu/ListAcdWtchDistricts.aspx) is a step in the right direction for our kids? In general, I feel everybody in education is grossly underpaid, but look at how well-off your administrators already were compared to your teachers and support staff. I would like to know, as your constituent, how you truly view the average teacher's salary in PSD 202. I can't wait for the next board elections. It's time for a changing of the guard.
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 01:48 AM
So you have a problem that our district hired someone out of the box. Evidently you have no problem our current Superintendant that has NEVER worked in any other district makes close to aproximately $330,000 with his perks. He brought ABSOLUTELY NO EXPERIENCE to the table. Other then him only working for District 202 what I believe to be his entire career. Question Vera, the Great and Powerful Harper was he not the one that wanted "Darlene" for the position? Evidently you do not feel she has enough experience with 33 years, does Harper have enough for you? I do not recall the Board ever hiring anyone without the recommendation from Harper himself.
Vera February 18, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Oh, there's nothing hateful. Someone said she had worked in Illinois for years. No, she hasn't. Like you said - the district is giving raises - when there is no money. The information on Darlene is public information. The administrators got 2.5 percent raises which was posted on the district website - but Darlene may have received a 6 percent raise to give her a nice Illinois pension, according to CVSRich. I'm sorry if you are offended by that. There was no harm intended. As a taxpayer, you have the right to know how much administrators earn, including retirement benefits.
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Dr. Harper or Prince can you tell the public the estimated cost of the two contracts for this year and the increase compared to last year. Also the number of employees this year compared to last - to get a big picture. Vera this women brought alot more experience to the table then Dr. Harper ever did. You evidently have no problem with the teachers that were brought here from another country, then set up with housing. To help teach our ELL program that we are not totally getting reimbursed for our above and beyond what we are supposed to do according to the Feds. And for how many years has Mr. Kelly been traveling to hear from leaders in our Washington, those thousands of dollars add up after a while. In the end the Washington and Springfield are having the same issues or worse, I can't help buat wonder if he can't get some of this information via the web ..
Vera February 18, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Actually, I believe Harper had wanted another candidate. The question is: Should Darlene get 6 percent raises? She's been hired and now she's leaving, but not without a nice pension - when the district is facing more cuts. Why couldn't she just receive 2.5 percent raises like everyone else? People are upset that the board didn't interview external candidates for superintendent before choosing Harper. People don't think Harper had enough experience, but the board was in a crisis mode and chose someone who was already running the district because the current superintendent was teaching P.E. in Texas. Some board members knew Harper when he was a teacher/dean/principal and they trusted him. They didn't want to go with another outsider who was not committed to the district. Behind the scenes, Harper will express his concerns about a candidate but if the board wants someone else - he'll support the board in public - because they are his bosses.
Vera February 18, 2012 at 02:24 AM
There are numerous questions about the ELL program which also has been audited. Yes, there are also questions about the trips to D.C. and if those questions just can't be answered by a phone call or when the legislator is in town visiting instead of sending one or two board members to D.C. Many districts and companies do not allow travel outside the state. That's a good question to ask - why is a board member traveling - during fiscal troubles. Again, we'll have to see what cuts are made in March and if the high raises were worth it. I doubt Dr. Harper or Mr. Prince read Patch comments. You'll need to FOIA whatever information that you want. Good luck!
Mike February 18, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Of course all increases in spending are going to result in a cut in funds elsewhere. This is what we are electing these people to do: appropriate funds in the most logical and efficient way possible so our kids have the greatest opportunity to learn. This board grossly misappropriated funds when they green-lit this unnecessary spending. Our school district is one of only 152 in the entire state of Illinois to be on the Academic Watch list. This district is headed by "terrific" administrators who are - again - "terrific" enough to land us on the academic watch list. In a state as large as Illinois, we are one of 152 districts on this list, yet our district senior leadership is compensated well above the state average. Yet, this is the same year we are asking the professionals who interact daily with our kids to accept a pay freeze and first-year support staff to pay 80 of their health care costs, which at a rate of $12 an hour leaves them at an unlivable wage. I can't emphasize that enough: the newly "recruited" support staff who works with your kids on a daily basis are working for an unlivable wage. And teachers - the ones who are grossly underpaid when compared to other districts in the area - are searching for better-paying jobs every summer. But, no, when our schools are failing and we have an opportunity to hire additional teachers and keep class sizes down, we instead squander funds to overpay administrators who aren't meeting our kids educational needs.
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Just found some notes of mine from last year, I believe this to be true. This is in reference to his salary this year. Is this being fiscally responsible, again thank you to a previous board for this one. Harper is scheduled to receive a 3-percent raise at a cost of $7,120 and $4,701 for five unused vacation days. He also can cash in 10 unused vacation days for about $9,402. In total, Harper is expected to receive $301,941 which includes $28,382 toward his retirement pension. Most district offer the unused vacation days, as almost a bonus without labeling it that. How many of us or our spouse are receiving a 3% pay raise plus all those kinds of perks with our jobs? Not your average Joe in Plainfield that is for sure.
Mike February 18, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Yeah, don't you dare question his yes-man abilities, or he will approve more of your dollars to pay for stuff that isn't needed. You better watch it or he is going to give Prince Harper another 8%!
Mike February 18, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Sarah, Leave the thinking for people with common sense: to essentially turn an entire district over to (no doubt, energetic but) underpaid and inexperienced teachers is not in our children's best interests. I can't tell if you are selfish or just trolling, but money spent toward enriching the schools is money that is going toward enriching the entire community by extension. Plus, if you're a property owner, it is in your best interests to want the strongest possible school system, as strong schools increase the value of the community around them.
Jeannette February 18, 2012 at 03:09 AM
She said, years... 5 years here... 9 in in the United States... Yes it iis not forever, but it is many. We hired people from Mexico... Mexico? I have been informed we had them tenured from the start! This picking and choosing who we are going to single out is ridiculous... We have Mr. Prince changing are numbers every other month... We are in a huge deficit... Oh now we are not... raises everyone? But now 'surprise' we will be in the red! We will cut people, maybe programs...for what? To pay a 2.5 percent raise? That couple of thousand a year will now cost someone's whole year? We are in hard times.... I'm offended by this whole thing... one person that will be leaving brings someone more affordable in... That's common business practice everywhere...
Just an Observer February 18, 2012 at 03:50 AM
It is very easy to state what you would do ... But how many of you ran for the board in the last elections, go to meetings, and get involved.....it is very easy to judge from the comfort of our couches, but until you get involved, stop throwing stones.
Vera February 18, 2012 at 03:57 AM
In the last election, the turnout was very low and disappointing especially since the new board will be choosing a new superintendent. I think questions are being thrown not stones. Many want to know why raises when the district is facing cuts in March. Good question.
Just an Observer February 18, 2012 at 04:13 AM
So if people are upset with decisions made by this board it should encourage them to either step up and run next time around or vote. This board was elected to do a job (without pay) and are making decisions, and based on this article, gave their reasoning for the raises.
MKK February 18, 2012 at 07:17 AM
Wow - some of the questions I asked before are resurfacing with others. Just my personnal opinion is there is more to worry and be disgusted w/ when it comes to our district. There are programs that were cut to "save $" and children are being bullied more and more with Nothing being done. One reason, I know a parent was told was "we didn't see it - we can't do anything about it" - Really? Oh wait the administrators got a pay increase but "they didn't see it". Lunch times our children are not allowed to laugh "too loud" or get up from their seats - but administrators and retired employees are getting more $ but not more lunch room moms/dads to help do to budget cuts. Some students are struggling to keep up but Nope our district cant help them because it is not in the budget !! Don't get me started with the "Our District" testing that I find unnecessary when there are State mandated testing the children have to do anyway. A teacher in our district once told me, "there is not time to master a topic when there always seems to be some type of testing going on. We have to dabble on every topic before testing and then get to try & go back & re-dabble some more after" We ALL and I mean ALL need to stand up for our CHILDREN and their education !! The way this district is going they want to keep us in the dark and running after our tails !! They would not be able to do this if more parents in this enormous district stood up and said "No More !"
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 02:30 PM
I totally agree with MKK. But to Vera, you have to MUCH inside information. There is a saying about school board closed session meetings... What happens in closed session stays in closed session. Also, did anyone hear that Mr. Gault ask if we could use the sales tax if it happens on astroturf? Seriously, that would benefit the majority of children in our district.
southernprincess February 18, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Okay Vera, again how do you know how Dr. Harper actually wanted another candidate? In my years living here and reading the board comments, I have NEVER seen Dr. Harper make that kind of statement. Again, makes me wonder if you are someone in the inner circle. Possibly a representative for one of the unions, if so how pathetic. Also, has anyone noticed that CVS Rich had all his comments deleted. You evidently did not realize that your comments have already been emailed out to ones of us that asked to be informed. Naughty, Naughty CVS Rich!
Concerned Mom February 19, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Bottom line....teacher - salary freeze......administrator - raise. Did anyone notice that? There was no $$$ for the teacher that is teaching our kids each and every day. Oh... but look....thanks to the teacher taking a salary freeze.....there is now $$$ to providing a raise for the administrator!!! Thank you teachers for taking a salary freeze and allowing us to provide our administrators with a raise! How insensitive and shameful! I applaud the school board members that voted no.
Michelle Smith February 26, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Concerned Mom, Just so you know the Administrators salaries were frozen for the 2010-2011 school year. The teachers took a freeze this year(2011-2012) and will receive raises in the 2012-2013 school year.
KTherese March 09, 2012 at 06:32 PM
A freeze on a six figure salary, in my opinion, is easier to swallow than a freeze on a 38,000 teaching salary. Or in some cases, an actual pay cut. I'll take a freeze on a 140,000 salary anyday, however, having to take a cut from 22,000 down to 21,000... not so fun.
Henry T May 08, 2012 at 06:03 PM
I did


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