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Suburban ‘Breakfast Club’ high school makes cameo in unfolding state spending controversy

maine north bcFor most people in Illinois, the last time they caught a glimpse of Maine North High School, the “Breakfast Club” crew was getting picked up from detention as John Bender headed across the football field, fist raised in defiant victory.

The movie went on to reach icon status, but Maine North’s future wasn’t as bright. The school had already closed when it was used for the John Hughes film. It ultimately ended up owned by the state of Illinois.

But the old high school campus was briefly back in the spotlight as suburban lawmakers raised questions about why Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration isn’t utilizing the sprawling but mostly vacant campus for warehouse space rather than spending millions of taxpayer dollars downstate to lease storage space for paperwork.

“It makes no sense. There’s tons of space there. Why would they be spending millions when the state already has plenty of property and sites available?” said State Senator Laura Murphy, a Des Plaines Democrat. The high school site is near the suburban Cook County district she represents.

Murphy’s questions followed a recent Senate hearing probing an array of Rauner administration warehouse leases for storing paperwork. The cost of the leases has raised eyebrows, as have possible political connections.

Questionable Warehouse Deal Costing Illinois Taxpayers Millions  Mystateline.com | April 6, 2017

A warehouse of questions about wasteful state spending  Chicago Sun Times | May 18, 2017

Thumbs down to shuffling papers for a pretty penny  The Ottawa Times | May 7, 2017

Let’s look under the rock  The News-Gazette | May 21, 2017

Governor Rauner’s management team defends the deals, saying all purchasing procedures have been followed and took issue with recent criticism that it prioritizes paper over people when it comes to spending.

files“This isn’t just sticking file cabinets in a room, locking a door and walking away. We have ADA accessibility requirements. These are records that need to be accessed. This is sensitive data. This is not just personally identified information, not just HIPAA-protected information. This is the most sensitive information,” said Mike Hoffman, director of the state’s purchasing and property management agency.

“People talk about paper and prioritizing paper over people. This isn’t paper. These are records that have the most sensitive personal data that someone in need, a fellow Illinoisan, went to the state of Illinois for help and as part of getting the help they were required to provide extremely personal, sensitive information, which they trusted the state was going to maintain the integrity and safety of. And we take that very seriously,” Hoffman said.

He also said the old “Breakfast Club” high school wasn’t used because the Rauner administration wanted to keep these specific records in the central portion of the state. The lease deals to store those records ended up costing taxpayers millions.

Lawmakers were unimpressed with the Rauner team’s spare-no-expense defense of bureaucratic record keeping at a time when the state has $14 billion in overdue bills and hasn’t had a full state budget in nearly two years.

“I wish the governor was as interested in protecting taxpayer dollars as he is state paperwork. If that were the case we wouldn’t be seeing these dubious deals,” said State Senator Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat. Cullerton and State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, have asked the General Assembly’s Audit Commission to look into the leases.