Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some have recouped millions from risky type of debt that plagues CPS - Chicago Tribune

 

A Tribune analysis published last month in the newspaper's "Borrowing Trouble" series found that CPS will likely pay $100 million more in interest costs than it would have if school officials had used traditional fixed-rate bonds instead of auction-rate debt paired with derivative contracts.

"What we see across the country is that issuers were lied to about the risks of these transactions," said attorney Peter Mougey of the firm Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, based in Pensacola, Fla. "Internally, in the summer of 2007, these firms knew about the probability of these transactions failing and they didn't tell the issuers. And there was no way (the issuers) could have figured it out."

Beginning in 2003, CPS entered four auction-rate deals worth a total of $1 billion — more auction-rate debt than any other school district in the country and more than many of the governments filing claims.

Three weeks before CPS closed its final deal in 2007 with Bank of America, a senior BofA official warned of a potential market "meltdown," according to a federal complaint brought later on behalf of investors. CPS officials say BofA never shared those concerns with the district.

That 2007 bond issue, in combination with the associated derivative contract

Click on the following to read the entire article:   Some have recouped millions from risky type of debt that plagues CPS - Chicago Tribune

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?- page 1 | Innovation | Smithsonian

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It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try
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something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.

From This Story

Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.

“I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn.

Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”

This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

Read the entire story by clicking on the following:  Why Are Finland's Schools Successful?- page 1 | Innovation | Smithsonian

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Two St. Charles East students expelled for months-long attack on D-303 network | Kane County Chronicle

 

The students were removed from their classes for the rest of the year after a Nov. 17 expulsion hearing. They will be allowed to re-enroll next school year and in the meantime are enrolled in an online school, Schlomann said.

Once confronted by the district, the students admitted to using their cellphones and the district’s IP address to issue a denial-of-service attack, which involved overloading the school’s system with data and page view requests, Schlomann said.

They learned the technique through a fellow online gamer named “Swag” to bump some of their opponents offline, and they decided to try the method out on the school Internet, he said.

“I don’t think they ever recognized that they were impacting the whole district,” Schlomann said of the students.

District officials at first thought it was some sort of virus in their network, then they realized the attack always occurred during weekdays when school was in session, Schlomann said.

Working with the Secret Service, FBI, St. Charles police, district Internet provider Comcast, a school district in Wisconsin that faced a similar attack and other outside consultants at a cost of $9,000, school officials were able to trace the attacks to St. Charles East, then specific areas of the school, Schlomann said.

The attacks were not easily traceable – they could only be researched as they were happening, he said.

The district finally was able to catch the students after word of mouth about their attack spread among other students, who told school officials what they heard, Schlomann said.

Two St. Charles East students expelled for months-long attack on D-303 network | Kane County Chronicle

Thursday, December 18, 2014

North Boone proposes “backdoor referendum” to finance stadium

NOTE DEADLINE IS 12-29-2014

BOONE COUNTY (WIFR) -- A backdoor deal, that's what a group of taxpayers is calling the North Boone School Board's decision to use money from a sales tax referendum, to build a new sports stadium. The group is pushing an effort to let voters decide.

Pages of signatures sit in front of former North Boone school board members Glen Gratz and Tom Kinser. They're part of a group that's trying to collect nearly 500 signatures to get a referendum put on the April 7th ballot.

"My philosophy on the school board was when you went for major capital improvements, that it should be done by voter referendum," said Kinser.

Kinser believes taxpayers should vote on using $4.5 million dollars to build a new sports stadium. The school board has already approved the move.

Money from last year's one percent sales tax referendum would pay for the stadium and that's a concern for some people. In 2013, the district said those funds would likely be used to pay down debt.

Kinser said, "It could either keep property taxes from going up as much, it could keep them flat or it could keep them low."

Kinser and Gratz both admit the old stadium needs work, but they think taxpayers should make the call; a new stadium or more property tax relief.

"At least not do it in a rush without the public voting on this amount of money," said Glen Gratz.

The district will use about $116,000 every year, of the $450,000 they get from the sales tax every year, to pay off debt.

The board also just voted to use a $12.5 million state grant for debt. The district says that $12.5 million was a game-changer and they didn't expect to get that money so soon, when they were initially discussing using the sales tax revenue for debt.

If you're interested in signing the petition to get a referendum on the ballot, you can visit Curves in the Countryside Square Mall in Poplar Grove, Northern Illinois Computer Exchange at 142 W. Main St. in Capron, and Angie's Salon at 115 S. 4th St. in Capron. Group members will also come to your location if you can't make it to any of the above businesses.

Click the attached link for more information from the taxpayer group.

Taxpayers Want Voters to Decide on New N. Boone Schools Stadium

Voter's Information Guide

North Boone Consolidated Unit School District 200

Voter Information Guide: Board of Education’s Decision to Issue $4.5 million in New Bonds

Background:

At the November 24, 2014 meeting of the North Boone Unit School District 200 (NBCUSD 200) Board of Education (BOE), a resolution was passed by a vote of 5-2 to “Declare the intention to issue $4,500,000 Working Cash Bonds for the purpose of increasing the District’s Working Cash Fund.”  The BOE intends to use the majority of these funds to finance a new sports facility with the remainder funding unidentified repair projects.  The specific amounts that would be designated towards the expenses were not identified nor were specific repair projects.  It was estimated that the expected interest rate on this money would be 4% with a term of 20 years.   Based on standard amortization tables, total Bond and Interest (B & I) repayment totals would be approximately $6,500,000.

The BOE was able to pass this resolution and begin this process because of the recently enacted 1% Sales Tax Increase for Boone County Schools that has resulted in a new revenue stream of approximately $450,000 annually for NBCUSD 200.  Based on the discussion among the BOE during this meeting, there seemed to be a consensus to use approximately $100,000 of that revenue for property tax relief (abatement of taxes for annual payments on the Transportation/Administration Building) with the remaining amount to support the repayment of these new bonds totaling $4,500,000.

According to Illinois State Law, the BOE may proceed with this action unless 10% (498) of the voters within NBCUSD 200 sign a petition that this decision should go to all of the voters of NBCUSD 200 at the April 7, 2015 election.  These petitions must be filed within 30 days of the BOE publishing their intentions.  Since the notice was published on November 30, 2014, the petitions would need to be submitted by December 29, 2014.

Issue:

The District 200 voters that have provided this information see this issue as neither “for” or “against” the construction of a new stadium or unidentified building repairs.  The issue is one of tax payer rights – who should commit NBCUSD 200 to major capital projects – 5 members of the BOE or a majority of the nearly 5,000 registered voters of NBCUSD 200. At an estimated price tag of $6,500,000, this proposal would add $1,300 of debt to every voter in the taxing district.   This decision will affect property tax rates for the next 20 years and will minimize the flexibility future BOE’s will have.  We believe that all voters should have a voice to vote “yes” or “no” to major capital initiatives within NBCUSD 200.  We also believe that the expression of these rights should not divide the community, but strengthen it as decisions become “owned” by the voters because everyone was a part of the process.

Action:

If you agree that decisions of this magnitude should be decided by the all of the voters, then help us by either signing an existing petition or help us circulate them.
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Reboot Illinois

North Boone to issue taxes for stadium improvement

Below is from the November 24, 2014 District 200 School Board Meeting.  SEE:  http://www.nbcusd.org/board/minutes/2014-11-24%20Minutes%20Regular%20Board%20Meeting.pdf

Resolution declaring the intention to issue $4,500,000 Working Cash Fund Bonds for the purpose of increasing the District’s Working Cash Fund, and directing that notice of such intention be published in the manner provided by law
Dr. Baule said after the Business Committee meeting, we were asked to come up with a method of working with PMA and Baird to identify a way to gather about $4.5M in working cash for limited tax bonds. He said at this time we had no outstanding limited bonds. Mrs. Balsley asked how the money would be used. Dr. Baule said they were asked to present what it would take to build an athletic complex. Mrs. Balsley asked how we would repay the bonds. Dr. Baule said they would be paid via a portion of the sales tax revenue received monthly. Ms. Bobert said the first step for the resolution is an announcement of intent, required by law. She stated bonds would be sold against the debt service extension base, and noted the amount doesn’t have to be decided tonight. Mr. Ward asked if the process were to move forward, what the date would be for the first bond payment. Ms. Bobert said it would depend on when the bonds were sold. If we were to sell bonds in January 2015, they could go on tax rolls this levy year or next year and the first payment would be January 1, 2016 or January 1, 2017, depending on the tax roll. Ms. Bobert said either way, we would have at least one year before the payment was due. She said once we decide to do this and the amount to be sold, Baird would work with us. Dr. Baule said if we move forward, the next step would be to meet with the architect identify the exact scope of work and meet with the Boosters to discuss what they would like to add to the process. The Board would then make a decision whether to move forward, and would need to determine the amount it would take to build the project. Ms. Bobert stated the resolution doesn’t require us to sell bonds, it is an intent only.
Mr. Ellingson asked why we wouldn’t put this to referendum. Mrs. Morris said the project was within the scope of what the sales tax money can be used for, and if we aren’t going to do it now, we need to come up with a plan for when we will build a stadium. She suggested we take this opportunity to take care of facilities that desperately need care. Mr. Ward said this was a little different than a lot of referendums in the past in that this is not expected to be funded by property taxes. He said because it is a sales tax that is community generated across the county, including those outside the county, this is a type of project that this is meant for and will benefit families and students in the district. He felt it was a good use of the funds that are available. Mr. Ward said because we are accruing sales tax as we go along, next summer we would have a pool of approximately $350K of unencumbered money. He noted the Booster Club had invested a lot of time and $22K into this project, in addition to purchasing bleachers. Dr. Baule said this project was identified as one of the significant facilities issues four years ago. Mrs. Morris said she didn’t know how many students we’ve gained over the years, but knows we lose students because of athletics. She’s heard people separate athletics and education, but she feels they coincide, not just for the athletes, but for the community.
Minutes of Regular Board Meeting
November 24, 2014 Page 7 of 8
She mentioned we have an opportunity to better market our school by building something that will upgrade our entire school district and will hopefully bring new families into our District. Mrs. Morris felt this could inspire incoming families based on the full academic and athletic package and increase community pride. Mr. Ellingson asked if Mrs. Morris felt new families would base their decision more on a football field than their property taxes. Mrs. Morris said she thinks it makes a big impact on families with children. Mrs. Morris said every day she hears first hand parents and students talking about it and she feels athletics make a huge difference in school selection. Mr. Ward said part of receiving the CDB money allows us to cut the bond portion of the property tax by one-third, allowing sales tax to possibly go to a community project. Mr. Ward doesn’t feel like we can keep the Booster Club waiting forever, and feels the Board needs to give them an answer. Mr. Ward said we have been accruing money since May, and we still have a sizeable pool of unencumbered funds, which could go to projects or a future levy. Ms. Bobert said they would help us structure the bonds.
Mr. Reininger asked about the term of the bonds. Ms. Bobert said it depends on the amount we decide to sell and the how much is used to retire the debt. She said she would show us different retirement schedules. Mr. Ward asked if the bonds were callable. Ms. Bobert said they are specified to be sold as current interest bonds, with a typical call date of an eight-ten year range. She said sometimes it is more cost effective to call and restructure if interest rates change. Mrs. Balsley asked if it was approved tonight, when the Board could expect to receive information, including different price points, from the architect. Dr. Baule said we would likely receive information between the January and February meetings. Ms. Bobert clarified that the $4.5M figure came from how much we could borrow from our debt service extension base. This is the figure if we amortized $317K over 20 years. She said Baird produced that number, not the Board. Mr. Ward said the Board has the flexibility to sell less than the $4.5M. Mr. Reininger asked for the typical interest rate and was told by Ms. Bobert we could expect 4% over 20 years as a conservative estimate. Ms. Bobert said if this passed, we would need architect direction and Baird will then run amortization schedules. In January, Baird will provide the Board with various scenarios. Dr. Baule said the next step would be to meet with the architects, Mr. Purvis and the stadium committee to discuss the scale of the options for the Board’s consideration.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Concussion lawsuit threatens high school football programs: IHSA - Chicago Tribune

 

igh school football could cease to exist in some towns if a concussion lawsuit filed against the Illinois High School Association succeeds, officials with the organization said Friday.

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman said some schools would not be able to afford on-call doctors for practices, computer-based concussion screening and other changes sought by the former prep quarterback who is suing the group.

Ex-prep quarterback files concussion suit against IHSA

Ex-prep quarterback files concussion suit against IHSA

John Keilman

On the final day of the state's high school football season, a former prep quarterback filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association, claiming the organization has failed to do enough to protect athletes from the potential damage of concussions.

On the final day of the state's high school football season, a former prep quarterback filed a lawsuit against the Illinois High School Association, claiming the organization has failed to do enough to protect athletes from the potential damage of concussions. ( John Keilman )

"If this lawsuit is successful, it will present challenges to high school football programs that are ... so far-reaching for many schools, they will undoubtedly adversely affect high school programs, and could eliminate some programs in Illinois," he said at a news conference.

The organization's public push-back came less than a week after Daniel Bukal, who played football in the early 2000s at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging the IHSA doesn't do enough to stem the potential damage from concussions.

Read the entire article by clicking on the following:  Concussion lawsuit threatens high school football programs: IHSA - Chicago Tribune