D209 hires firm to head superintendent search

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By SETH STERN

The District 209 Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday to hire the Bickert Group, a firm specializing in nationwide superintendent searches, to seek an administrator to lead the district. The firm will be paid $14,500 for the search.

The district is currently headed by an interim team led by Chief Education Officer Robert Libka and Superintendent Phylistine Murphy. Former Superintendent Greg Jackson was fired by the board in July.

The decision to hire Bickert Group was made during a closed session meeting, from which the board emerged to vote on the hiring without naming the firm or stating the amount it would be paid. The board heard presentations from Bickert Group and another similar firm during a closed session at its January meeting.

According to the Illinois Attorney General's office, these meetings may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

At a Jan. 25 workshop on the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act given by Terry Mutchler, public access counselor with the Illinois Attorney General's office, she stated that all discussions of hiring of such firms must be done in open session.

The workshop at the Oak Park Library was co-sponsored by Wednesday Journal, Inc., the publisher of the Forest Park Review.

Mutchler said that a common perception that such discussions are exempt from the act since they deal with personnel issues is incorrect since decisions are made which involve the spending of public funds.

"I'm not aware of that. Our legal counsel did not give us an opinion on that, but we certainly have nothing to hide," said Board President Chris Welch, who offered to send the Review a copy of the contract.

The Proviso school board employs the law firm Odelson and Sterk as its attorneys. The firm received over $88,000 from the board during the 2004-2005 school year, and $202,000 the previous year, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2005.

In 2004, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 changed its plans to discuss a superintendent search in closed session after an article in Wednesday Journal challenged the legality of the meeting. Attorneys from the Illinois Press Association were quoted stating that the closed meeting was illegal.

Libka was originally hired as interim superintendent and Murphy as interim assistant superintendent for operations and technology, but the position of Chief Education Officer was created for Libka after the Cook County Regional Superintendent's office declared that he could not serve as a superintendent since he lacks the required certification.

When Libka and Murphy's job titles were first changed at a September meeting, the audience was assured that though their titles would change, their responsibilities would remain the same.

"The job titles of a newly installed senior management team have been changed, the result of an agreement reached with the Regional Office of Education, though the work responsibilities of all individuals will largely remain the same," read an issue of the Proviso Highlights newsletter announcing the changes.

When the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) wrote a letter to District 209 inquiring about its administrative structure, however, the district replied with differing job descriptions for the two positions.

The ISBE's letter, demanded assurance that "Dr. Murphy is acting in the capacity of the school superintendent and not just in name."

The job descriptions provided in response listed the CEO's basic function as "providing leadership in accordance with the Board of Education objectives and policies," and listed several responsibilities of which the vast majority involved interacting with the school board. The superintendent's job description included the duties the position typically entails, including working with district administration and staff as well as state agencies and contractors.

Questioned as to whom exactly the firm was being hired to replace, Welch said that "they have been hired to do a superintendent search, but it's premature to be talking about the exact organizational structure."

After some prodding, Welch eventually acknowledged that "It's likely, but I'm not going to say 100 percent for sure, that the CEO position will not remain, and we'll probably go back to a more traditional structure."

Welch said that though Libka and Murphy would both be invited to apply for the job, the firm will consider numerous outside candidates from around the country. He said that acceptance of community input would be built into the search process.

Also at the school board meeting:

 The school board voted unanimously to hire Nakita R. Johnson as business manager, replacing Sarah Millon, who resigned.

Johnson previously worked as assistant business manager at J. Sterling Morton High School from and then as Business Manager at Mundelein High School District 120.

She will be paid $110,000 per year.

 For the second straight meeting, the board decided to delay voting on a contract to install a sidewalk along the stretch of 1st Avenue outside the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park.

Board members Charles Flowers and Theresa Kelly asked that more research be done regarding whether the sidewalks are required, or simply desired by the village.

Village Administrator Michael Sturino said that the sidewalk was required by the zoning variance granted to the district.

"It is required and I am puzzled why they would wait until a board meeting to talk about doing research…this is not acceptable, and it's dangerous," he said.

Libka said that he believed that since the district is a state agency, the village cannot force it install sidewalks, but he feels it is important to honor the commitment regardless.

Welch agreed, stating that "It's important to be a good neighbor, and when you say you'll do something, you do it."

The proposed contract would be awarded to J&J Contractors in the amount of $22,900.

 

 

 

Open Meetings Act may have been violated

By SETH STERN

The District 209 Board of Education voted unanimously on Monday to hire the Bickert Group, a firm specializing in nationwide superintendent searches, to seek an administrator to lead the district. The firm will be paid $14,500 for the search.

The district is currently headed by an interim team led by Chief Education Officer Robert Libka and Superintendent Phylistine Murphy. Former Superintendent Greg Jackson was fired by the board in July.

The decision to hire Bickert Group was made during a closed session meeting, from which the board emerged to vote on the hiring without naming the firm or stating the amount it would be paid. The board heard presentations from Bickert Group and another similar firm during a closed session at its January meeting.

According to the Illinois Attorney General's office, these meetings may have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

At a Jan. 25 workshop on the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act given by Terry Mutchler, public access counselor with the Illinois Attorney General's office, she stated that all discussions of hiring of such firms must be done in open session.

The workshop at the Oak Park Library was co-sponsored by Wednesday Journal, Inc., the publisher of the Forest Park Review.

Mutchler said that a common perception that such discussions are exempt from the act since they deal with personnel issues is incorrect since decisions are made which involve the spending of public funds.

"I'm not aware of that. Our legal counsel did not give us an opinion on that, but we certainly have nothing to hide," said Board President Chris Welch, who offered to send the Review a copy of the contract.

The Proviso school board employs the law firm Odelson and Sterk as its attorneys. The firm received over $88,000 from the board during the 2004-2005 school year, and $202,000 the previous year, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2005.

In 2004, Oak Park Elementary School District 97 changed its plans to discuss a superintendent search in closed session after an article in Wednesday Journal challenged the legality of the meeting. Attorneys from the Illinois Press Association were quoted stating that the closed meeting was illegal.

Libka was originally hired as interim superintendent and Murphy as interim assistant superintendent for operations and technology, but the position of Chief Education Officer was created for Libka after the Cook County Regional Superintendent's office declared that he could not serve as a superintendent since he lacks the required certification.

When Libka and Murphy's job titles were first changed at a September meeting, the audience was assured that though their titles would change, their responsibilities would remain the same.

"The job titles of a newly installed senior management team have been changed, the result of an agreement reached with the Regional Office of Education, though the work responsibilities of all individuals will largely remain the same," read an issue of the Proviso Highlights newsletter announcing the changes.

When the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) wrote a letter to District 209 inquiring about its administrative structure, however, the district replied with differing job descriptions for the two positions.

The ISBE's letter, demanded assurance that "Dr. Murphy is acting in the capacity of the school superintendent and not just in name."

The job descriptions provided in response listed the CEO's basic function as "providing leadership in accordance with the Board of Education objectives and policies," and listed several responsibilities of which the vast majority involved interacting with the school board. The superintendent's job description included the duties the position typically entails, including working with district administration and staff as well as state agencies and contractors.

Questioned as to whom exactly the firm was being hired to replace, Welch said that "they have been hired to do a superintendent search, but it's premature to be talking about the exact organizational structure."

After some prodding, Welch eventually acknowledged that "It's likely, but I'm not going to say 100 percent for sure, that the CEO position will not remain, and we'll probably go back to a more traditional structure."

Welch said that though Libka and Murphy would both be invited to apply for the job, the firm will consider numerous outside candidates from around the country. He said that acceptance of community input would be built into the search process.

Also at the school board meeting:

 The school board voted unanimously to hire Nakita R. Johnson as business manager, replacing Sarah Millon, who resigned.

Johnson previously worked as assistant business manager at J. Sterling Morton High School from and then as Business Manager at Mundelein High School District 120.

She will be paid $110,000 per year.

 For the second straight meeting, the board decided to delay voting on a contract to install a sidewalk along the stretch of 1st Avenue outside the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park.

Board members Charles Flowers and Theresa Kelly asked that more research be done regarding whether the sidewalks are required, or simply desired by the village.

Village Administrator Michael Sturino said that the sidewalk was required by the zoning variance granted to the district.

"It is required and I am puzzled why they would wait until a board meeting to talk about doing research…this is not acceptable, and it's dangerous," he said.

Libka said that he believed that since the district is a state agency, the village cannot force it install sidewalks, but he feels it is important to honor the commitment regardless.

Welch agreed, stating that "It's important to be a good neighbor, and when you say you'll do something, you do it."

The proposed contract would be awarded to J&J Contractors in the amount of $22,900.

 

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