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Vosberg settles in at BBCHS

BRADLEY — In his first two months on the job, Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School’s new superintendent Matt Vosberg hit the ground running with planning for the 2021-22 school year.

When school started a couple of weeks ago, it was the first full in-person school day at BBCHS since 2019.

Finding his footing during a critical time, Vosberg got to work establishing himself in the community.

“I’ve been meeting different community leaders, and everyone has been very supportive and very friendly,” he said.

Vosberg comes to BBCHS from Rockford, where he spent the past eight years as deputy superintendent for Rockford Public Schools. He was previously an assistant principal in Rockford and a high school principal in South Beloit.

He began his career as a high school business teacher after earning his bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and graduate degrees from Northern Illinois University.

Now that he has gotten settled in, Vosberg sat down with the Daily Journal to discuss his vision for the high school.

Did you always know you wanted to be in a leadership position?

As I became more seasoned as a teacher, I could see the impact that the building principals and assistant principals could have on how the school operates. I thought by taking on more responsibility, I could have a bigger impact. I never started out as a teacher saying my ultimate goal was to be a superintendent or a principal. I enjoyed teaching. I still miss it at times, but I felt that I could see the impact of really good leadership in those positions.

What were your first impressions of BBCHS?

I liked the size of the high school. It’s similar to the size I’ve worked with in Rockford. It’s not too big that kids can get lost, but it’s big enough that there’s something for everybody. There’s lots of clubs and activities, lots of opportunities here for kids to branch out and try a lot of different things. It has the programming of a suburban school, but the culture of a small school, because we’re kind of a one-school town. There’s a lot of pride here and a strong sense of community.

What are the biggest challenges at BBCHS right now?

I’ve never seen a high school with seven lunch [periods] before. We have a really small space for a cafeteria, so our first lunch is at 10:30 in the morning, and the last lunch is at 1:30 p.m. Over half our students are in extracurriculars, so if they are here and practicing until 5 o’clock at night, they might have had lunch at 10:30 a.m.

There are 400 kids that take classes in portable classrooms out in the parking lot. The hallways are congested. Parts of the school were built when the school was a lot smaller. For some kids, it’s quicker to get to class to leave the building, to go out and come in another door. The facility is the biggest thing I’m learning about [in terms of] challenges. We have some parts of the building that are not ADA compliant.

Talks of major renovations to fix those issues were put on hold because of the pandemic. When will those resume?

I think it’s time to start having those conversations again and start the process, looking at an in-depth needs assessment, looking at what options do we have, what are the costs, and then after you’ve done a needs assessment, we need to start talking about how much will it cost and how you are going to pay for it, which would mean potentially asking taxpayers to support a referendum.

How soon might those conversations come up at a school board meeting?

I would say this fall sometime, we should have some board member conversations about the facilities. I’ve talked to a couple of board members already in one-on-one meetings, and it’s come up as an issue. We definitely have some challenges with our facilities. We have two boilers that probably belong in the Smithsonian. They are from 1948. We have multiple heating and cooling systems because of the multiple additions, a very inefficient HVAC system, and very costly.

There has been a lot of attendance for a variety of issues at your first few board meetings. What has been your impression?

I think it’s great that community members want to come to board meetings. The work of the board is very important. We’re a large organization. We have almost 200 employees. We have a $26 million budget, and being transparent with the community on how we do our business is really good. I think having community members at board meetings, it’s a very positive thing.

One issue that’s been brought up several times is the concept of critical race theory. How do you view the importance of the “Courageous Conversations” material the school works with?

Our goal is just to make sure all kids feel welcome and respected, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We want to make sure kids feel supported and welcomed at all times. We want to help our staff have those conversations and build those relationships. Ultimately, we’re an academic institution, and we want to make sure that any of those issues are not impacting kids academically, socially, or emotionally. We know we have achievement gaps, like many districts, and we want to look and see, are there things the school can do to help narrow those gaps.

What can the school do to address some of the impacts of the pandemic?

We did a lot of work over the summer and spring on credit recovery. We will continue that for this next year, giving students extra opportunities to earn credits, and programming after school. ... It’s going to take more than one year. We’ve already built in some social-emotional curriculum into our Boiler Block to help the students with social-emotional issues, and our counselors are certainly aware of the challenges caused by the pandemic with mental health for kids, so we make sure that’s a focus area for us and provide support. ... Our preliminary graduation numbers for the class of 2021 look pretty good. We actually are on track to beat our graduation rate for the previous year.

State eviction moratorium stands despite U.S. Supreme Court decision on federal order

SPRINGFIELD — While the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a federal eviction moratorium last week, a recently extended state stay on residential eviction enforcement remains in effect at least until Sept. 18.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in issuing the federal moratorium, and a future extension of the moratorium would have to come from Congress. But the order does not affect a state’s ability to initiate such a moratorium, which is what Illinois has done.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed that extension Friday, Aug. 20, when he issued his latest 30-day disaster declaration, a practice he has done monthly since March 2020. The moratorium cannot exceed the length of the 30-day declaration, so it is possible it gets extended again when it comes time for the governor to issue another 30-day declaration in September.

As it stands now, law enforcement agencies “are instructed to cease enforcement of orders of eviction for residential premises entered against a Covered Person, unless that person has been found to pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other tenants or an immediate and severe risk to property,” per the order.

Covered persons include those who expect to earn less than $99,000 individually or $198,000 in a joint filing household, if they’ve experienced financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tenant must also certify they are making “best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment” as “circumstances permit.”

Any covered person must submit a declaration form through the Illinois Housing Development Authority certifying that they fit the categories within the order. The most recent order gave landlords the authority to challenge such a declaration.

Evictions are allowed in cases initiated prior to March 2020 and for health and safety reasons.

The state has made rental assistance available through money it received from various federal stimulus packages. Thus far, according to the Illinois Housing Development Authority, 98,806 applications have been received, and 26,434 have been funded for a total of nearly $228.5 million.

While the IHDA portal has closed, rental assistance may still be available through certain providers coordinated by the Illinois Department of Human Services at illinoisrentalassistance.org/providers. Information is available at that website based on the applicant’s region.

Tenants seeking legal help can receive free assistance through Eviction Help Illinois by visiting https://evictionhelpillinois.org/ or by calling 855-631-0811.

While the governor’s order halts eviction enforcement for covered persons, an Illinois Supreme Court order allows for filings in evictions cases but temporarily stays all judgments and trials on eviction cases pertaining to covered persons. The court has not yet extended this “triage” period for evictions cases, which is set to expire Sept. 1.

For the Neighborhood Building Owners Alliance, which is an alliance of several small Chicagoland area property owner groups, allowing for the cases to move forward is a step in the right direction.

“Just because we can evict doesn’t mean we want to,” Michael Glasser, president of the NBOA, said in a news release. “Housing providers don’t want to go through the long and painful legal process of eviction, especially when they have the opportunity to receive rental assistance. However, having the ability to evict is an important tool. Often, invoking the eviction process brings a tenant to the table, resulting in productive negotiations.”

One issue facing housing providers, according to the NBOA, is the fact that assistance is available only to current tenants at the time of filing. So if someone didn’t pay rent for several months but moved out prior to filing a declaration, a landlord could not apply for assistance for that tenant.

As well, a poll of NBOA members showed that for the applications filled out by landlords, about a third of them did not receive confirmation by tenants.

Other landlord groups have warned that while the governor’s order protects those earning up to $99,000, assistance is available to only those earning 80 percent of the Area Median Income, which equates to $38,000-$52,000 depending on the region.

In Cook County, where the NBOA is centered, assistance can be found at https://chicookilrenthelp.org.

The NBOA also noted cases often take months to come to a final eviction decision, so the eviction enforcement the current moratorium is halting would likely not occur for months anyway.

Bob Palmer, policy director of Housing Action Illinois, said his affordable housing advocacy organization is lobbying for an extension of the Supreme Court’s triage period. But even if it expires after Sept. 1 as is scheduled, he’s not expecting a wave of judgments.

“So I wouldn’t expect that in the worst-case scenario from our perspective – that is, the Supreme Court just quits the order, just lets the order expire – that on Sept. 2, you know, there would be a wave of eviction orders filed to be enforced by the sheriff the next day or within a week or something. I think it’ll be slower than that,” he said.

Several county courts are providing mediation services for renters and landlords in eviction proceedings, Palmer said, noting that the pending September launch of a court-based rental assistance program is another reason to extend current orders.

Kinzinger resigns from county board

Editor's note: This report was updated to clarify the timeline of the company's work with the county. 

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Board will be looking for another board member for the second time in recent months.

Ronald Kinzinger, who represents District 20, resigned effective Friday. Kinzinger, a Republican, had been a board member for four years and is stepping down due to a conflict of interest.

“It’s regrettable,” he said. “I enjoyed the work and enjoyed being a member.”

Kinzinger is a partner in R & R Inc., a commercial and industrial general contractor in Bradley. Prior to Kinzinger coming onto the board, R & R Inc. had done some work for the county, so Kinzinger resigned to avoid any conflicts. The last time the company worked with the county was in June 2017, with a final payment on September 2017.

“I’m sorry he couldn’t stay,” said Board Chairman Andy Wheeler at Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting.

The District 20 seat encompasses parts of Bradley and the Old Oak area of Bourbonnais. The vacancy will be voted on and become official at the next full Board meeting on Sept. 14.

The Board Chairman then has 60 days to fill the vacancy. The appointee must live within District 20 and be of the same political party as the person he succeeds at the time of his election.

Previously, Darrell Smith resigned June 30, and the vacancy was declared on July 13. Smith, a Republican, represented District 12 in the far western portion of the county. A successor to Smith has not yet been appointed.

Northfield Square mall's ownership still sees potential

The company which owns the bulk of the Northfield Square mall’s square footage is moving in the opposite direction of nearly every other investment group in the United States. When it comes to malls, that is.

While most swim downstream away from enclosed malls, Namdar Realty Group, the company which has owned Northfield since July 2016, swims upstream toward them.

In a Bloomberg story authored by Patrick Fallon, Igal Namdar, the Great Neck, N.Y.-based company’s founder, has been purchasing malls since 2012 — at bargain-basement prices — with the belief the location can be turned around.

So far the strategy has worked.

Some might argue Northfield Square has not experienced any transformation since the company purchased the Bradley-based mall for the rock-bottom price of $9.6 million.

Currently, Namdar owns 268 properties in 35 states. Like Northfield, the Bloomberg story notes that most are aging malls in small cities.

Northfield was opened in August 1990 and was anchored by four stores: Carson Pirie Scott, JCPenney, Sears and Venture. All four are gone. The Village of Bradley currently owns two of the anchor locations, the former Venture site, which later became the Carson’s men’s store, as well as the JCPenney location.

Namdar has accumulated a net worth of about $2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The company has not shown a willingness to invest much into Northfield. When area leaders traveled to Great Neck a few years ago to press their case about the importance of the mall, they came back with a report that Namdar would listen to options regarding what the mall could become, but they didn’t come back with any capital to make anything happen.

In fact, Namdar is looking to continue acquiring malls, even as the shift from brick-and-mortar to online retail sales continues to grow.

“Any seller of retail — malls or open-air — any size of portfolio, we’re there,” he stated.

The company’s business plan is rather simple: Invest little and get smaller retailers to occupy space. And then hope for the best.

It is a strategy which leaves most scratching their head. The value of mall locations has fallen off the cliff. According to Bloomberg, the value of U.S. malls has dropped by a whopping 46 percent from its peak in 2017.