Thursday, June 1, 2017

NIU Airs both sides of Baker controversy

Baker Report - Northern Illinois University

The OEIG Report: Context, Reflections and the Way Forward

Today the Executive Ethics Commission (EEC) publicly released the final report of the Office of the Executive Inspector General (OEIG) regarding its nearly three-year investigation into the university’s use of the affiliate employment classification in 2013 and 2014. Until now, Illinois state law and the OEIG investigation process have required that this matter be confidential. As such, I have not been able to be as transparent as I would have preferred, but I am now able to directly address this issue.

First, by way of context, I want to reflect on the state of affairs when I arrived on campus in the spring of 2013. The FBI, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education and the Illinois State Police had recently searched the NIU Police Department; seized computers and records; and were actively investigating the university.

The executive vice president and chief of operations in the former Division of Finance and Facilities had taken a leave of absence related to those investigations, and the leadership and oversight of the Department of Police and Public Safety had changed. We were also confronting significant strategic, structural and financial challenges related to student recruitment and retention, state support of public higher education and pension obligations.

Faced with those circumstances, and charged by the Board of Trustees to change the culture and direction of the university, there was a need to quickly engage outside experts skilled in culture change and financial management for an unbiased and comprehensive assessment.

As we filled those roles, I sought the expertise of senior staff, including the human resources and legal departments, to ensure we appropriately proceeded. I relied on the information I received and acted in good faith. At no time did I intend for myself, or any of my staff, to violate any polices or procedures. I sincerely believed that all decisions were in compliance with the applicable requirements.

The individuals hired made significant contributions to NIU, and helped lay a firm foundation upon which we have built these last few years.

In July 2014, we were notified through an OEIG complaint that there were concerns over hiring five individuals as affiliate employees. Once aware of this, I worked with the board to seek clarity and make corrections. Upon consideration and review, we took decisive action to revise policies related to hiring and compensation, eliminated the affiliate classification, and took steps to correct travel and housing expenses that were deemed inappropriate under applicable requirements. We also took steps to strengthen our whistleblower policy, and made it more visible so that it is easier to bring forward concerns if people have them.

Separate from these efforts, the OEIG began its own investigation approximately three years ago. Its final report was presented to the NIU Board of Trustees in August 2016.  They concluded that internal university policy in the application of the affiliate classification, as well as the Higher Education Travel Regulations and University P-Card Policies and Procedures, had not been followed. They recommended that the board take appropriate action with the president on resolution and for two employees to receive counseling. At no time did the OEIG recommend suspension, dismissal or fining any party involved. Ultimately, the board felt that the corrective measures relating to policy, process and training personnel taken throughout the previous two years were suitable.

I concur with the report’s findings that there were no violations of the state’s Ethics Act, and I appreciate that they not only acknowledge the numerous steps we’ve taken but also that recommend we continue. However, I disagree with any implications that there was intent to circumvent NIU’s guidelines or state regulations. Still, I take responsibility for the mistakes identified, and I have worked diligently since these issues were brought forward in 2014 to do everything in my power to keep them from happening again.

The EEC solicited a formal response from me in April 2017 on this matter, and I obliged: I asked that if the OEIG report were to be released that my response be made public as well, which has taken place. 

NIU’s Board Chair John Butler has made available a response on behalf of the Board of Trustees, and we’ve developed a Questions and Answers document to provide additional information.

With this matter concluded and the corrective measures in place, I look forward to being able to devote my full attention to the issues facing our university and to ensuring that NIU will continue to fulfill its vital mission with an emphasis on preparing students for success after graduation.

Doug Baker

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rock Valley College: A lesson in gov’t bureaucracy


Guest Column: A lesson in gov’t bureaucracy

May 24, 2017May 24, 2017 Editorial Staff 0 Comment

By Paul Gorski

I am a new board trustee at Rock Valley College and, as I usually do in any of my jobs, I ask many questions. Unfortunately, despite being a board member, I might have to request answers to my questions through formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests rather than a simple “May I see a copy of that contract?” More on that in a bit.

First, I want to thank local voters for electing me as a Rock Valley College Board Trustee. I received nearly 25,000 votes, which is quite a feat in an off-year election for a community college board position. People who know elections tell me those were phenomenal results. Thank you. I am humbled by the support.

Second, I am not now nor do I expect to be in a position of speaking officially for the Rock Valley College Board. The opinions I express here are my own. My opinions will not likely reflect the official position of the board or other board members. I wanted to make that clear because board “policy” states only the board chairman may speak on behalf of the board.

It is also a board policy that only the chairman and committee chairpersons ask the president of the college for certain information. There are seven trustees. One trustee is the chair and three other trustees are committee chairpersons. The three remaining trustees need to direct their questions for the president and staff to one of four other trustees. Sounds like an unnecessary communications hierarchy for a small seven-person board. Talk about red tape.

By the way, according to “red tape” refers to: “official routine or procedure marked by excessive complexity which results in delay or inaction.” Yep.

When I served on the county board, the twenty-eight board members could ask any staff member a question. The County Board Chairman at the time, Scott Christiansen, encouraged board members to go directly to staff. County staff answered our questions promptly and politely.

Back to the RVC present: the information in question now concerns certain contracts already made and signed part of the public record; and surveys or questionnaires used to determine the need for a new service on campus, also a public record. My initial request for this information was rebuffed, directing me to the board chair and or committee chair to obtain and discuss the issues.

Local residents may request the very same information simply by asking for it, and by mentioning FOIA the college would have to reply in a matter of days. I, on the other hand, a board trustee, have to go through channels, a process where I could be denied, and then discuss it in committee, which would not happen until next month at the earliest. As I mentioned to RVC officials, that workflow does not work for me.

I would like to review these documents, do some research, list my questions, and then discuss these matters with fellow trustees at an open meeting. I think that is a very reasonable request from an elected official.

I am not blaming RVC staff; these policies are board-driven. I am not sure if someone does not want me digging into these issues or maybe we just need some management training for the 21st century: agile, open and transparent leadership training. That said, I repeated my request to the board chair. As I write this article, I have not received a response.

My political friends and foes know that I ask questions. Lots of questions. I ask your questions, my questions and questions to increase the level of discussion on government financing. I have served on the Winnebago County Board, Cherry Valley Township Board, and Cherry Valley Library District Board (very briefly), and I never had to file a FOIA request to obtain documents like this before.

I hope I do not have to file one now. I will keep you posted.

Paul Gorski is a newly elected Rock Valley College Board Trustee who supports open meetings, open government, and equal ballot access to encourage public participation in local government.

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Former North Boone teacher, coach faces sex assault charges

Former North Boone teacher, coach faces sex assault charges

Posted Apr 13, 2017 at 12:36 PM Updated at 12:11 AM

By Kristen Zambo
Staff writer

ROCKFORD — Two North Boone High School teachers have been jailed within seven days of each other after each was accused of having a sexual relationship with a student.

Scott M. Brady, 52, of Rockford, a former science teacher and soccer coach, appeared in court today after being charged with four counts of criminal sexual assault and two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of an underage girl in Rockford.

Brady is held in the Winnebago County Jail on a $300,000 bond.

A North Boone High School special education and math teacher, Sarah Myers, 40, of Garden Prairie, was charged last week in Boone County Circuit Court with criminal sexual assault of a student.

“These two cases are not believed to be related,” Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato said.

North Boone Superintendent Michael Greenlee said in a written statement that the school has an extensive hiring process that includes thorough background checks and mandatory, continuing ethics training.

“We have great, dedicated teachers and staff. Obviously, we are shocked and disappointed at the allegations in these past couple of weeks,” Greenlee said. “In both instances we acted immediately upon learning about the allegations, and we contacted law enforcement.”

Brady resigned in December when school officials notified police of the allegations and an investigation was launched, Bruscato said this afternoon at a news conference. The alleged incidents occurred between December 2015 and December 2016, when the girl was 17 and 18 years old, according to a criminal complaint filed on Wednesday.

“We expect our children to be safe at school. Everybody does,” Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea said.

The teen wasn’t a student in Brady’s science classes, Bruscato said, adding his office has “zero tolerance” for teachers who physically or sexually abuse students.

O’Shea said Brady was charged in Winnebago County because Brady lives in Rockford and the alleged contact occurred there. Bruscato said “while we believe this situation is isolated,” the investigation continues.

Rockford police arrested Brady at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday.

In bond court, Judge Francis M. Martinez ordered Brady not to have any contact with children.

Brady remains in the Winnebago County Jail and must post $30,000 to bail out. His next court date is May 5.

The sexual assault charges are punishable by four to 15 years in prison and the sexual abuse counts are punishable by three to seven years.

Myers, who faces two counts of criminal sexual assault, is due back in court April 21. According to Myers’ teacher page, she teaches special education at the high school, as well some math courses. She also is a freshman student adviser, her website states. The teen wasn’t a special education student, Sheriff Dave Ernest has said.

Kristen Zambo: 815-987-1339;; @KristenZambo

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Former District 100 superintendent retiring




D-303 grants superintendent financial swap

Extended health insurance exchanged for vacation pay

Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 10:49 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 11, 2017 3:42 p.m. C




(Shaw Media file photo)


ST. CHARLES – St. Charles School District 303 will cover the cost of health and dental insurance for three-and-a-half years for retiring Superintendent Don Schlomann in exchange for vacation pay it owes him.

The school board voted 4-2 on April 10 to amend the superintendent's contract to reflect the exchange. Schlomann desired the exchange so that he would save in income tax he would owe for vacation pay, he said.

Schlomann will retire June 30 after 10 years as superintendent. His contract had stated that – upon his retirement – the district would pay out all his unused vacation time, which district officials expect will total 30 days.

The superintendent's vacation pay would be $25,961. District officials calculated that health and dental insurance for Schlomann through Dec. 31, 2020, would cost $26,352, based on current insurance rates for employees.

The contract amendment grants Schlomann the right to remain on the district’s health and dental insurance plan through the end of 2020, even if employee insurance rates increase.

Board President Kathy Hewell said Schlomann deserved to have his request granted because he accepted the same annual salary of $225,000 for 10 years and never sought a raise.

Hewell also said she is grateful that Schlomann will continue in his position through June 30 to help with contracts up for bid in mid-June related to Thompson and Wredling middle schools' renovation and expansion projects.

“He will be taking us through June during a critical time for our district,” Hewell said. “I'm very happy he is willing to forgo vacation to stay with us during this time.”

Two board members, Edward McNally and Lori Linkimer, opposed the contract amendment because it allowed for a financial exchange that was not guaranteed to be equal.

“If we knew for certain it would be a dollar for dollar exchange, I would have voted for it,” McNally said after the meeting.

Linkimer said she agreed and added, “There is no way we can know what insurance costs will be in the future.”

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Monday, April 10, 2017

New York just OK'd tuition-free college for middle class


by Katie Lobosco @KatieLobosco April 9, 2017: 10:53 PM ET

Five student debt pitfalls

Five student debt pitfalls

New York just became the first state in the nation to make tuition free for middle class students at both two- and four-year public colleges.

Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced the tuition-free plan in January. Lawmakers agreed to include it in the state budget, which was approved by the Assembly on Saturday and by the Senate late Sunday night. The governor is expected to sign the budget bills.

Tuition will be free for residents who earn up to a specific income cap, which will be phased in over the first three years.

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Starting this fall, undergraduate students who attend a State University of New York or City University of New York school will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if their families earn no more than $100,000 a year. The income cap will lift to $110,000 next year and will reach $125,000 in 2019.

Those eligible will pay nothing for tuition, which costs $6,470 annually at four-year schools and about $4,350 a year at community colleges. But they will still be on the hook for the cost of fees and room and board if they live on campus. Those other expenses can add up to $14,000 a year.

Students must take 30 credits a year to receive the scholarship. Some lawmakers had spoken out against this requirement, because it excludes students who enroll part time.

In the final proposal, Cuomo said the credit requirement is "flexible" so that any student facing hardship will be able to pause and restart the program, or take fewer credits one semester than another.

After they graduate, students who receive the scholarship must live and work in New York for the same number of years they received funding. If they leave the state, their scholarship will be converted into a loan. This requirement was not included in the governor's initial proposal.

"Today, college is what high school was -- it should always be an option even if you can't afford it," Governor Cuomo said in a statement.

Related: Bernie Sanders still wants tuition-free college

His office has estimated the scholarship will cost $163 million in the first year, but some lawmakers say that's lowballing it. An estimated 200,000 students would be eligible once the program is fully implemented.

The scholarship is structured to fill in the gap after accounting for other federal and state grants. Nearly half of full-time SUNY students, and more than 60% of those at CUNY, already pay nothing for tuition because of need-based federal Pell Grants or New York Tuition Assistance grants. Those students would not be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship.

SUNY Chairman Carl McCall and Chancellor Nancy Zimpher applauded the budget deal in a statement released by the school, calling the plan "truly ground-breaking."

But they also said they had "hoped for additional support," especially for SUNY community colleges, which they expect to have more students because of the scholarship.

Some Republican lawmakers criticized the governor's proposal during budget negotiations for excluding students at private colleges.

The final budget includes an additional $19 million to create a new financial assistance program for private school students whose families make under the income cap, according to the governor. Those students would get a maximum award of $3,000. Colleges that participate would have to match that funding and agree to not raise the student's tuition during her enrollment.

Tennessee, Oregon, and the city of San Francisco have recently made tuition free at community colleges for all residents, regardless of income.

But New York will be the first state to make tuition free for some residents at four-year public colleges. Lawmakers in Rhode Island are considering a similar proposal to make two years of public colleges tuition-free.

Are you a college-bound New York resident? Tell us how this might impact your future by emailing

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Colleges to Screw Over More Students


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has already picked a for-profit college official for her team—are more to come?

By Michelle ChenTwitter

March 31, 2017

DeVos and Trump visit private schools

President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visit a fourth-grade classroom in a Catholic school in Florida. (Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)

Remember when candidate Trump promised to make college affordable for everyone? Yeah, that’s not happening. 

Instead, Trump is turning to the notorious corporateers who have been pouring McDiplomas on the nation’s steaming trillion-dollar student debt pyre to shake up higher education.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s controversial pick for a special assistant—for-profit college corporate lawyer Robert Eitel, may be a portent. As counsel for Bridgepoint, the parent company of the now-tainted brands of Ashford University and University of the Rockies, was forced by the Obama administration last year to refund $24 million in tuition and debt costs to students, plus civil damages, after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that its heavy marketing scheme for its online programs, and “deceived its students into taking out loans that cost more than advertised.”

Bridgepoint is just one player in a sector of for-profit institutions that are known for exploiting millions in federal loans and grants, providing substandard academics and granting worthless diplomas. While many companies were reined in by regulators under Obama, the industry as a whole has survived, and is now poised for revival under Trump. In fact, even those companies penalized for defrauding students have not been held fully accountable over federal student debts; Bridgepoint’s sanction, for example, did not encompass federal loans, even though graduates are typically chained to about $33,000 in taxpayer-subsidized debt.

But the for-profit college companies hobbled by financial crisis under Obama might see a major resurrection under Trump’s and DeVos’s deregulatory agenda.

One tactic may be for belly-up for-profits to reinvent themselves as nonprofits, in order to skirt future regulations and wriggle out of liability for financial abuses. The Corinthian college chain, for example, following bankruptcy, was placed under the control of a nominal “nonprofit” called Zenith (which was later exposed for having compromising financial entanglements despite purporting to act as an independent monitor). Yet countless former students remain trapped in devastating debt, after regulatory pressure and lawsuits forced the company into bankruptcy and left over 15,000 in the lurch as campuses were shuttered nationwide. Despite their ongoing financial strife and an angry debt strike campaign led by the Debt Collective, the Obama administration never provided full debt relief. And with education policy controlled by a billionaire who himself has dabbled in the education-marketing industry with the shuttered Trump University, there’s no relief in sight for current debt holders and even worse prospects for meaningful protections for future student debtors.

Last month, another for-profit college corporation, EDMC, sought nonprofit status with distinctly DeVossian flourish. Their chosen nonprofit parent, the Dream Center, also champions Christian private education. Though the Dream Center claims EDMC programs would remain open to students “of all faiths,” EDMC’s fusion with a religious organization parallels DeVos’s hardline-conservative Christian views as well as her overall agenda of promoting school privatization and voucher programs.

The Debt Collective calls the tactic a regulatory dodge and a genius branding move:

More and more people know that “for-profit college” almost always means “scam.” So making a college “non-profit” gets away from this image. People think of non-profits as committed to the public good. Also, people think [of] Christian institutions as committed to the public good.

Critics warn that further blurring church/state, along with profit/nonprofit, divides could open the door to more public financing of religious schooling. Though DeVos has not so far emphasized direct federal funding for religious schools, she may find more fertile terrain for faith-based federal funding in higher education. In the more standardized K-12 system, siphoning funds into Christian school vouchers could encounter constitutional disputes. Many Christian-based private colleges and universities already receive ample taxpayer support through federal grants and loans.

Higher-education investment bubbles have a long history in America’s postwar development.

Since the enactment of the GI Bill for veterans, commercial vocational schools and colleges have been mass-marketing cheap, easy degrees—often to socially and economically disadvantaged students in working-class communities and communities of color. One of the most spectacular bankruptcies last year, the ITT college chain, actually made headlines back in 1974 after being exposed as a cesspool of substandard programs with low retention and abysmal job-placement rates. The Century Foundation (TCF) warns in its historical investigation of for-profit higher education, the systematic abuses aren’t a bug, but a feature. Since the interest of for-profit colleges is by definition maximizing profits, “which means they have a strong drive to charge as much as the federal government will allow, to spend as little on education they can get away with, and to enroll as many students as possible regardless of their qualifications.”

Given Trump’s single-minded determination to unravel any and all financial regulations, the next boom-bust cycle in for-profit higher education could be even more devastating, says TCF analyst Bob Shireman via e-mail, warning that tactics like conversion to nonprofit status could worsen the deregulatory spiral:

Nonprofits are accountable to representatives of the public…[and] are prohibited from having a financial stake. For-profits are the opposite: by design, their assets are committed to private parties who also control the enterprise…. Every difference evident in the behavior of for-profit versus nonprofit colleges stems from that difference in internal accountability. The dream of the for-profit school industry is for the Department of Education to pretend that that these differences in corporate accountability requirements do not exist.


Shireman observes that if the White House actively encourages the industry’s profiteering, the responsibility of checking the excesses of for-profit-college schemes will fall to the states and citizens: “[T]he danger at the federal level is both reduced regulations and reduced oversight/enforcement…. Even with staff, the feds can treat violations with warnings or meager fines.”

Under this epidemic of “regulatory capture,” he adds, “To counter the possible reduction in the quantity or quality of federal oversight, states can bolster their rules and enforcement, as they have with relatively strong financial reforms in California and New York.”

And for those at the heart of the crisis, legions of financially devastated students agitating for financial relief, be it through student-debt strikes or by pressing for regulatory reforms, can fuel momentum for the real educational promise the country’s students deserve: free public higher education for all—because the only fair market price for a human right is free.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

How is ex-North Boone Superintendent, Dr. Baule doing in Muncie?




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Muncie school board considers asking state for loan to keep district afloat

By Bennett Haeberle Published: March 14, 2017, 8:03 pm

MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH) — The Muncie School Board is considering asking a state agency for a loan – potentially as much as $5 million – to help the struggling school district stay afloat financially.

The district is currently facing a $15 million deficit and has already asked a state arbitrator to weigh in on its plan that calls teachers to take 10 to 20 percent pay cuts and the potential of closing up to five schools in the district, I-Team 8 has learned through interviews with administrators, a board member and teachers.

Superintendent Dr. Steven Baule told I-Team 8 that the loan would not be a continual source of revenue but more of a stop-gap measure to keep the district operating.

“We are a clear example of what that process was made to help. Hopefully we get some help,” Baule said.

The district is hoping for upwards of $5 million through the loan that could be potentially approved by the Distressed Unit Appeals Board through the Department of Local Government Finance.

The loan would act as a life preserver of sorts while the district sorts out its long-term fiscal health, Baule said.

“Obviously we need short term help to get through that process,” Baule said. “We are asking for salary cuts because we don’t have a choice. I would rather not make those cuts — we don’t have choices.”

When asked if Baule would take a pay cut, he was non-committal.

“I’ve been asked that before, it depends on what circumstances are.”

When pressed if that was a maybe, Baule said: “I think I answered that it depends.

“Administrators are making less than predecessors did. To some extent, we took pay cuts coming in because we knew the fiscal situation that existed,” Baule said. “Everybody already has skin in the game… and I am the one that has to deal with the drama of all this. I am the one that has to tell people that they don’t have a job potentially.”

Colleen Steffen, a parent of a child attending MCS, said: “I think that’s outrageous. If you are asking ordinary staff members to take cuts, you should do it too. It’s the least you can do.”

Dr. Baule said salary reductions won’t be enough to make up for the shortfall.

He also said the district is considering closing schools, but couldn’t say definitively yet. The district is waiting on the arbitrator to make her finding before moving forward with salary cuts or school consolidation plans, Baule said.

“I can’t come up with a scenario that doesn’t involve closing schools,” Baule said.

Baule said the Northside Middle would likely be on the chopping block because the building is in better shape than the district’s other middle school. Baule said that consolidation is necessary because enrollment has dropped.

Pat Kennedy with the Muncie Teachers Association, said that district’s proposal would force Muncie teachers to leave.

In fact, she said some are already leaving mid-year out of fear that the cuts are imminent.

“Teachers are scared for future they are leaving,” she said. “We are sinking as school corporation and it isn’t necessary.

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