Fact Checker

endorse-checkmark.jpgThere are a lot of claims about the school district floating around out there. Here you can find the real facts, with sources cited where possible.

Have a fact to add? Please email your research to contact@RightTrackLFHS.org, including links to sources when possible. Thanks!


Claim: "Lake Forest High School Board of Ed loves to spend your property tax dollars ..." followed by a list of food and trip charges. The implication is that the board members are spending on themselves.

FACT: This is simply a list of credit card charges with no context. Most of the charges they cite were for either (a) student field trips that were reimbursed in whole or in part by student activity fees or (b) lunches provided for teachers and other participants in full-day meetings and professional development seminars.

The single biggest expense listed was for a "New York Trip with no work product." This trip to Rockville Center, NY, in 2013, was no junket — in fact, it proved to be the turning point for our school board and staff in adopting practices that have eliminated barriers for students and increased achievement across the spectrum of learners. We don't know how the opposition slate defines a "work product" — maybe a written report? But solid evidence of student growth and increased opportunity for all students in the intervening years seems a sufficient return on investment.

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Among the other expenses listed:

  • Holiday Home Camp in Lake Geneva: a field trip for Outdoor Education students to attend the Outdoor Wisconsin Leadership School.
  • Vertical Endeavors: about half was for Wall Climbing Association training for teachers in the wellness department; the other half was a student field trip.
  • Cluckers, Panera: lunches for teachers and other participants in about nine full-day meetings and professional development seminars.

Claim: Because of a preexisting contract between IBJI (Dr. Tom Nemickas's employer) and D115,  "Votes for him will simply not count. Should he be one of the highest four vote-getters, the fifth person in line on the vote count will actually be seated after the election.”

FACT: This is patently false. There is absolutely no provision in the law for what the opposition describes. This is merely the opposition’s attempt to deceive voters and take away their right to vote for the candidates of their choice.

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IBJI is a large organization with several divisions, each of which operates independently (Tom is employed by the Gurnee division). The Libertyville division has a small contract with D115 to provide athletic trainer services; the contract is at cost and nets no gain to IBJI. Any referrals that could result from students being treated by IBJI trainers would go to the rehab division, not to Dr Nemickas.

Tom has reached out to counsel to understand whether there is any conflict. He has been assured that no conflict exists that prevents him from running and being elected. When elected, he will ensure that there is no conflict between School District 115, himself, or his employer.

Claim: LFHS pays for three times more administrators per pupil than New Trier and over double the state average.

FACT: This is a misleading claim. When it comes to comparing administrators against the number of students, New Trier and Stevenson have benefits of scale that smaller districts like LFHS, Libertyville, and Highland Park do not. In addition, schools may categorize certain positions as either administration or faculty, further rendering comparisons with other schools unreliable.

More information

The most current information is available on IllinoisReportCard.com. The fixed administrative cost of running a school causes the student-administrator ratio to be lower in smaller schools. The Illinois Report Card specifically warns, “The number of administrators varies greatly between districts, depending on the size, student population, programs, and financial resources of each district.”

Claim: ACT scores have been trending down in recent years.

FACT: This is false. A change in 2013 in the way the scores are reported is being used to distort the facts. In fact, ACT scores, when all students are included, have been on the increase and are now at an all-time high.

The details

Up to 2012, scores were reported only for students who took the test under "standard" conditions (no accommodations for IEPs, such as extended time). Starting in 2013, they’ve been reported in three ways: standard, with accommodations, and combined. It's most appropriate to cite the combined figures because they represent ALL our students. But it makes comparison with pre-2013 a case of apples to oranges. Please see the graph below. (It's worth mentioning, too, that these differences in tenths of a point are insignificant—our students' test scores have been and continue to be exceptional.)


Claim: Under the headline "SAT Scores at Lake Forest High School in Sad Decline," the non-caucus candidates are "concerned about the deteriorating academic performance of our high school." They cite a downward trend in SAT scores since 2011 and state that "Because SAT performance implies academic rigor, top performing college admissions use SAT scores as their first cut before looking at the full application."

FACT: SAT scores over the last several years are irrelevant because LFHS has not administered the SAT; the ACT is given instead. A total of only 33 students reported taking the SAT on their own in 2016, and this small sampling of student-reported scores forms the basis of the opposition's argument.

Additionally, top-performing colleges consider the ACT and the SAT equally. Half of the top 100 most selective liberal arts schools do not require either test.

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The non-caucus candidates further state, "The past 2 years of LFHS Administrations’ Annual Reports to the school board DO NOT INCLUDE THESE DECLINING SAT TEST SCORES. Why not? Is this a conscious attempt to hide something?" Obviously, the school's annual reports to the board do not include unreliable and incomplete data on a test that the school does not administer.


"SAT Scores at Lake Forest High School in Sad Decline," email communication from "Final Four," February 21, 2017



Claim: Alcohol and Drug Abuse at All Time Highs at LFHS: The Illinois Youth Survey presentation at the January 2017 LFHS Board meeting showed a disastrous rise in teen drinking at LFHS: 41% of 10th graders admitted alcohol use in the past 30 days and 22% of 10% of 10th graders admitted binging on alcohol in the past 30 days. This is a significant rise from 2010. The news is even worse for 12th graders surveyed: 60% admitted using alcohol in the past 30 days and 40% admitted binge drinking.

FACT: Alcohol and drug abuse are not at all time highs at LFHS. Alcohol and drug abuse by all surveyed measures were higher in 2006 for both 10th and 12th grade students. Since 2008, alcohol use has fluctuated within 9 percentage points. While there were increases for 10th graders on both measures from 2010, both have dropped for 12th graders since 2010.

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Claim: In February 2016, the District administered The National School Climate Center’s “Comprehensive School Climate Inventory” to LFHS staff and students only, and not to parents. Incredibly, there was no reason to disinvite parents from participating in the 2016 survey: the survey is priced “per student”, not per survey. [from opposition slate's website]

FACT: Only 22% of parents surveyed in 2015 responded, and not enough parent responses were received to be statistically significant. Limiting survey frequency is considered a best practice for improving survey participation.

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Claim: Lake Forest High School is ranked a "dismal" 580th in the nation, compared to Stevenson's #166.

FACT: That's what US News & World Report says. But according to Newsweek, LFHS is #37 in the country and the 4th best high school in the state. This disparity occurs because each publication uses its own ranking system based on criteria that may or may not be relevant to our district or reflect the priorities of our community.


It's also worth noting that the US News 2016 ranking (which heavily weights AP participation) is based on data from the 2013-2014 school year. This doesn't reflect the almost 60% increase in the number of AP exams taken by LFHS students since 2013 (http://www.lfboe.net/d115public/meetings/November_07_2016/Reports/BAsse…).

Ranking systems choose their own unique methods to measure a student’s proficiency. A key factor in US News and World Report’s high school rankings is a student’s "college readiness." It’s a weighted score that reflects Advanced Placement participation.

As a comparison, 53% of LFHS students take an Advanced Placement exam compared to 80% of Stevenson students. A significantly smaller percentage of LFHS students are enrolled in AP classes than are enrolled at Stevenson. These statistics matter in the US News ranking.

Lake Forest’s rank can be improved in this category. The current board and administration have been addressing this already by (a) removing rigid prerequisites, (b) encouraging students to take AP classes regardless of their previous level of instruction, and (c) broadening the school's AP class offerings. The current school principal is a firm proponent of this, having proposed a more inclusive approach to the “tracking” students even before she was selected for the job.



For the College Readiness Index, the quality-adjusted participation rate was weighted 75 percent in the calculation and the simple AP or IB participation rate was weighted 25 percent. The test that was taken by the most students at a particular school – either AP or IB – was used to calculate that school's College Readiness Index.

The maximum College Readiness Index value is 100, which means that every 12th-grade student during the 2013-2014 academic year in a particular school took and passed at least one AP or IB test before or during their senior year.

To summarize, to be numerically ranked, a high school had to pass Steps 1, 2 and 3 and have a CRI at or above the median benchmark.

Claim: The number of National Merit semifinalists has dropped 67% from 2011-2016.

FACT: In 2011, LFHS had nine National Merit Semifinalists and in 2016 the school had six. First, that represents a much smaller decline: 33%, not 67%.

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When you consider that the school typically has enrollment around 1,700 students, 9 students represent 0.5% of the student population, and 6 students represent 0.4% of the population.  This is not a significant difference, and should not be cause for concern.




Claim: District 115 taxpayers currently spend nearly $37,000 to educate one student.  Stevenson significantly outranks LFHS in the US News ranking but spends about $30,000 to educate one student, or about 27% less than what LFHS spends

FACT: District 115 spends $13,064 per student on instructional costs vs $11,779 for District 125 (Stevenson HS). This is a difference of 10.9%, which is not surprising given that Stevenson's enrollment is more than twice that of LFHS.

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When all operating costs are considered, District 115 spends approximately $23,518 per student vs. District 125's $18,662. This is a difference of approximately 20%, which is certainly significant, but is most likely related to economies of scale that a larger district can benefit from.




Please note the following from the Illinois State report card website:

"Instructional Spending Per Pupil includes only the activities directly dealing with the teaching of students or the interaction between teachers and students.

Operating Spending Per Pupil includes all costs for overall operations in this school’s district,including Instructional Spending, but excluding summer school, adult education, capital expenditures, and long-term debt payments."

The $37,000 figure quoted by the Final Four is the addition of the instructional spending per pupil and the operating spending per pupil, which is double-counting the instructional spending, as that amount is already included in the operating spending per pupil. This is inflating both the total amount the Final Four is suggesting the District spends per student and the percent difference vs. District 125.

Furthermore, it is difficult to compare these two schools as the size of the student body is considerably different. District 115 has 1,706 students enrolled, while District 125 has 3,978. District 125 has a significantly larger group of students across which to spread fixed costs, which inherently means there will be differential in per student spending.




Claim: Dr. Holland has been working with the administration at Lake Bluff Middle School where they have transitioned away from an A – F grading system to a “standards-based” grading system composed of scores 1 – 4.

FACT: Lake Bluff Middle School students currently receive traditional letter grades in all of their academic subjects. Lake Bluff is considering a shift to standards-based grading for grades 6 and 7 for the 2017-2018 school year, with a rollout into all three grades starting in 2018-2019.

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There is significant communication between the leadership at LFHS and the administration at LBMS, as is appropriate since LBMS is one of the feeder schools for D115.  

Some Lake Bluff Middle School classes have incorporated elements of standards-based reporting into their comprehensive systems of student evaluation. Standards-based reporting is used in many schools in Illinois, including the Stevenson (http://www.d103.org/page.cfm?p=2970 ; http://www.orland135.org/Page/5075) and Deerfield (http://dps109.org/standards-based-grading/) school districts.