Last week, the Lake Forest High School District 115 and Lake Forest Elementary District 67 mailed magazines to every Lake Forest and Lake Bluff home.
This is part of a beefed-up communications effort that employs three full-time communications staff and at least one PR firm.
We reviewed the magazine titled "Insight 67-115, Your Source for Good News in Districts 67 & 115" and decided to share our analysis with you in a game we call - "Kabuki – Real or Political?"
First, some context: Kabuki is a form of classical theatre in Japan- it's stunning and beautiful. But, the phrase is sometimes also used in political discourse to describe something characterized more by showmanship than by content- not so beautiful.
So let's play!
Round 1: Layout and Design
The magazine is a professionally designed 12-page piece, well laid out with colorful pictures of smiling students learning and having fun. It effectively highlights some great things going on at our schools.
Round 2: District 115 Board President Letter
The District 115 Board President writes that the High School "makes its mark not only because of its exterior beauty but also due to the continued achievement of our students."
Yet, almost 40% of high school students are performing below grade level proficiency, according to the 2022 Illinois Board of Education Report Card. Furthermore, the Board hasn't set specific and measurable goals for improvement.
Round 3: Letter from Director of Operations Jennifer Hermes
The Director of Operations for Districts 67 & 115 writes in her letter:
- "We pride ourselves on careful, conservative fiscal planning aimed at stretching every dollar to impact the classroom positively."
- "The District has worked hard to live within its means."
But, Lake Forest High School District 115 is now asking voters to approve ~$183,000,000 in new taxes to pay for a massive new $10.6 million bond even though the district:
- Already spends more per student than all but three school districts in Illinois.
- Maxes out its property tax levy request to the legal limit every year.
- Has underfunded facility maintenance by over $50,000,000.
- It increased Admin spending by 80% last year.
- Has no plan to control spending for future facility maintenance.
Sadly, it looks to us like the district's mailer is mostly political Kabuki because they're laying the groundwork for a political campaign to support the April bond referendum.
Instead of these expensive publicity stunts, the district needs to be focused on academic performance and fiscal responsibility.
- The Board should set clear and measurable goals for improving academic performance, publish a clear plan, and hold themselves accountable for achieving those goals.
- The Board should not just talk about "living within its means;" it should actually live within its means. No more systemic budget shortfalls for facility maintenance that lead to coercive emergency bond referendums.