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Questionable Spending Practices in Lake Forest School Districts

The 'Chicago Tribune' investigates spending during Harry Griffith's time as superintendent.

The Chicago Tribune reported this weekend on the questionable spending practices implemented by the Lake Forest's District 67 and District 115 school boards.

While overseeing the two districts, which share administrators, former superintendent Harry Griffith was among the highest paid public school administrators in the state, with a salary of $362,000 in the 2011-12 school year alone, the Tribune reports. Besides his salary, he also reaped numerous other benefits – the school boards forgave him a $75,000 loan to buy a house, he traveled twice yearly to an educators conference at a resort in California, the district provided a car – as well as gas and maintenance – which they let him keep upon retirement.

The Chicago Tribune also reported that during the 2010-11 school year, the districts paid more than 60 restaurant bills under his name, with “little or no documentation showing who was with him or whether the meals were business-related.” In his final school year alone, Griffith spent nearly $15,000 on “entertainment, travel, professional development, car repairs and membership dues.”

Both Lake Forest High School and Deer Path Middle School were ranked among the best in the Chicagoland area recently, with LFHS ranking 13th among high schools and DPMS ranking 39th amongst elementary and middle schools. 

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LFHS also ranked 1st among average administrator's salary, with an average of $175,375 per administrator. (For comparison, Homewood Flossmoor District 233 ranked second, with an average of $167, 237 per administrator.)

This wasn’t the first time that the Lake Forest school boards have given hefty perks above traditional payment for administrators. The Tribune reported in a Nov. 25 article that in 2006 Jennifer Hermes, a District 67 business administrator, put her Naperville house up for sale in order to buy a house closer to her job in Long Grove. When the Naperville house hadn’t sold after two years, Hermes borrowed $28,000 from the district to cover her mortgage. As of last month, Hermes still owed the district $16,400, the Tribune says.

But housing assistance is common in the private sector, Michael Jacoby, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials told the Tribune. “Most people don’t move unless there is some support in housing,” he said. “In the public sector it’s a little bit less the status quo, but it’s all part of if you want a quality leader and if those are the issues in stopping them … It’s up to the board of educators to make that decision. 

Griffith retired from his position as superintendent at the end of the 2011-12 school year, which many residents felt was necessary after it was found that former Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert had been convicted in 2009 for misdemeanor harrassment by electronic communication for sexually explicit text messages, voice mails and a lewd photo from his school district-issued cell phone to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student. 

A petition posted by Lake Forest resident Michael Beacham on Change.org  called for District 67 school board members to vote for Griffith's termination, citing that Griffith "demonstrated gross incompetence and derelication of duty to the students in his care." The petition was signed by 113 people before it was closed. 

A Lake Forest city caucus will decide in a closed door meeting on Tuesday whether or not to renominate incumbents of the two school boards to run for re-election in the spring. 

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Sick n Tired in LB December 04, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Mr. Grenier, it's downright absurd to sat that 115 saved a chunk of money by getting Harry to agree to the combined job. These joker superintendents serve at the pleasure of the board. If they had the kahunas to tell Harry to take the combined job at a less stratospheric salary and he turned them down . . .well, they could have easily picked up any number of superintendents at a lower price. Combined, 115 and 67 are smaller than many many many districts whose CEOs get paid a lot less than Harry got away with. So don't try talking out of both sides of your mouth agreeing his salary was way too high but defending the idiots who were supposed to be watching e store. It's either right or wrong, nothing in between. I think you spent too much time on your school board to know the difference any more. But I think that's kinda your style, Eric Grenier, talking out of both sides of your mouth. Case in point you agree to jacking up the D65 surplus for 7 years and then in year 8, with 10 million in the bank and as you were walking out the door wondered if it was "getting too high." One dime in reserves was getting too high in this taxpayer's opinion.
Sick n Tired in LB December 04, 2012 at 05:46 PM
I agree with Me that shifting pension liability from the state to the districts will be a blessing when it happens, and from what I'm reading, it WILL happen in 2013. But I think Me is missing the bigger point. It's not negotiated contracts that are out of control. It's classroom size. That, friends, is the real problem with our North Shore schools and why our taxes are so high. If we had more reasonable classroom sizes (studies show that 30 kids in a classroom is no worse than 20), WE WOULDN'T NEED SO MANY TEACHERS TO BEGIN WITH. That's why our district budgets are so far out of control around here. Yes, we need to stop further "Harry" scandals from occurring, but more importantly, we need our board to "right-size" our classrooms. If we can do it in the pirate sector, you can do it in the school. I for one am happy the Concerned Taxpayers are on their way in. They've been around the block a few times, long enough to remember that we used to get along just fine with student/teacher ratios approaching the Ivy Leagues.
Gandhi December 05, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Sick.... It has obviously been awhile since you and your Geritol popping Concern Citizens have been attending your one room school houses .... been around the block...I bet on their dinosaurs .... Why don't you move to a Del Webb community already. You are obviously no longer on the production end of society but a burden ..the good news for the rest of us hard working tax payers that pay way too much for the houses in the community and for the inflated property taxes for the great schools our children attend is that neither you nor your Concerned Old Farts are actually relevant or persuasive.
Michael Beacham December 05, 2012 at 08:19 PM
For those of you who are interested in seeing competition for the Caucus, check out this website: www.accountabilityparty.us
Nancy J. Thorner December 05, 2012 at 08:55 PM
This is one individual who was extremely pleased when checking out MIchael Beacham 's website. The present Caucus organization has been in existence for many years. It is way past time for voters to have candidates to vote for who are free from any hint of past actions. These actions seem to have called forth all manner of pubic distrust over how candidates were selected in the past and subsequently elevated to board positions, more on their loyalty to ex-superintendent Harry Griffith, then being responsible to tax payers as good stewards of their tax dollars.

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