How To Buy A School District – With Other People’s Money

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As previously reported Mayor Chris Getty was able to “buy” the $30 million Lyons Elementary School District 103 for $11,512.  He did this by getting five of his henchmen to run for the school board and then created the Parents for Student Excellence Political Action Committee (PAC).  He funneled money through his own two PACs to the Parents for Student Excellence, which then used the money on PR to ensure everyone in the community knew how bad the school district was and how good his henchmen would be at fixing it.  So where did the $11,512 come from?  Let’s follow the money:

The Parents for Student Excellence brought in funds from five sources:

  • Citizens for Christopher Getty – $11,317
  • United Citizens Party – $975
  • Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski – $975
  • Reliable Materials Lyons – $500
  • Stars & Stripes – $500

Citizens for Christopher Getty and United Citizens Party are both controlled by Mayor Chris Getty.  His campaign war chests were the primary source of funds for his henchmen’s election campaign.  Reliable Materials is filling the limestone quarry at the corner of First Avenue and Ogden.  They give a lot of money to Mayor Getty’s PACs on a regular basis.  Jeffrey Tobolski is the mayor of McCook, one of the communities the district serves, and is a Cook County Commissioner.  Stars & Stripes is the printer Getty uses for flyers.  Note no money came out of the pockets of Mayor Getty or any of his five henchmen.

Where did the Citizens for Christopher Getty‘s money come from?  During the first quarter they brought in $59,876 from 84 various contributors including the same Reliable Materials ($5,000), Jeffrey Tobolski ($1,000, which is double of what he usually gives Getty) and Stars and Stripes ($500).  Odelson and Sterk, the Village of Lyons’ law firm and the firm Getty’s henchmen will force the school district to use gave $1,600 in “in-kind” legal advice.  Speaking of those who work for the Village of Lyons, they give generously to Getty’s PAC, too – Frank Novotny & Assoc. gave $2,500 (the village awarded this Civil Engineering firm $805,000 in contracts in March) and Mackie Consultants (Consulting Engineering Firm for the Village gave $2,500).  Lots of other local businesses in the area also gave to Getty’s PAC.

The United Citizens Party only brought in $2,824 during this period.  Reliable Materials gave $500.  Frank Novotny & Associates paid a printing bill from Stars and Stripes of $1,624.  “Mooncotch” gave $200 and state Rep. Michael Zalewski’s PAC kicked in $500.

So that’s a lot of numbers.  Here are some takeaways:

  • Mayor/Commissioner Tobolski fully supported Mayor Getty’s takeover of the school district.
  • Odleson and Sterk’s law firm consulted with Mayor Getty (presumably on how to take over the school district) and charged off $1,600 to do it.  Once hired they will be receiving an estimated $100,000 per year in legal fees billed to the school district.
  •  Stars and Stripes donated $1,000 to two of the PACS.  They were paid $7,754 to print flyers for Getty’s candidates.
  • It’s likely many of the school district’s vendors will be donating to one or both of Getty’s PACS in the future.
  • Parents for Student Excellence had $2,569 in their PAC at the end of March – that’s a good start on a war chest for the next school board election.

Some final thoughts: Nothing documented above is illegal.  It’s the way of doing business not only in Lyons but in a lot of communities.  But it is new to the Lyons School District 103 and it’s unlikely now it will ever go away.  We read about hedge-fund managers and other gazillionaires trying to get their clutches on some of the $1.1 trillion spent on public education each year.  You don’t have to be a gazillionaire to control a school district – $11,512 was all it took to convince a majority of voters that Mayor Getty should be running the schools.  I think other mayors will take note – soon “public education” will be a little less “public” and a lot more “political.”

All figures were taken from the Illinois Board of Elections website and were rounded to the nearest dollar.

How to Buy a School District

Sold-sign

The Lyons Elementary School District 103 was recently purchased for $11,512.  The district, serving 2,600 students in west Cook County, has an annual budget over $30 million.  What a great deal!

How the school district was bought:

The mayor of one of the five communities the district serves, Chris Getty, decided he should be running the district.

Mayor Getty got five of his henchmen to run for the school board.

Mayor Getty helped the henchmen form the Political Action Committee (PAC) Parents for Student Excellence on 2/24/15.  It’s unusual to form a PAC for school board candidates – even in the Chicago area!

Three days later Getty’s own two PACs United Citizens Party and Citizens for Getty each gave Parents for Student Excellence $975 as seed money.  Why such an odd number?  Because the Illinois Board of Elections must be notified within two days of any donations over $1,000.  $975 keeps it under the radar.

Citizens for Getty hid more expenditures as “in-kind contributions” until after the election.  A few days before the election they spent $10,341.95 on “in-kind” printing and mailings on behalf of Parents for Student Excellence.

Not one of the five board candidates gave a penny to Parents for Student Excellence.  Nor did they bother to show up for the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum.

In addition to the $10,341.95 of “in-kind” contributions Parents for Student Excellence spent $1,169.82 on pictures of themselves (for a flyer) and a mailing service.  The PAC spent at total of $11,512.

So what did they spend it on?  They sent out flyers and emails telling the residents that the district was “in disarray,” students got “bad test scores” and that the current board engaged in “wasteful spending.”  (Riverside-Brookfield Landmark)

The PR blitz worked – four of the five henchmen were elected to the board of education.  And Mayor Getty has given them their first marching orders: fire the interim superintendents and hire his political-buddy as superintendent, fire the district’s law firm and hire the mayor’s law firm.  More firings and political hirings will come.

So that’s how you buy a school district for $11,512 – enter your own board candidates (but keep them out of the spotlight), fund their campaign with money from your PAC, use smear tactics against the other candidates, and count the votes on election night.

All figures were obtained from the Illinois Board of Election’s website.

Thanks again to the great reporting by Bob Uphues at the Landmark and his story about campaign funding.

Next time: Follow the Money – where did the money for the three PAC’s come from?