Stage set for superintendent's dismissal

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By JOSH ADAMS

Not 12 months after being hired as the superintendent of District 209, Stan Fields was suspended from his job during a special meeting of the school board Monday, pending the outcome of a termination hearing.

The startling decision came with no public discussion from board members. However, it was preceded by a lengthy deliberation held behind closed doors. Fields offered little insight into why the board slapped him with a 60-day paid administrative leave and said he could not speculate as to whether several recent controversies were behind the decision.

"You'll have to speak to the board regarding their reasons," Fields said. "All I know is I've been doing all I can."

The board also voted to rehire Robert Libka - whom Fields had replaced when he was hired in August of 2006 - as the interim superintendent.

As the meeting adjourned, board members who voted to begin termination proceedings against Fields were quick to leave the room. Robin Foreman, who made the motion to suspend the superintendent, declined any comment as she attempted to leave the math and science academy where the meeting was held. President Chris Welch also did not stop to answer questions.

"It's a matter of personnel; I'm not going to discuss it," Welch said.

Theresa Kelly, who voted against the motion to suspend Fields, said she knew little of the majority's reasons for doing so and speculated from the dais that her colleagues were being less than forthright.

"I believe there's more to this than meets the eye," Kelly said.

Board member Dan Adams was absent from Monday's proceedings.

Over the last several months, Fields' relationship with the school board had undergone a noticeable change. With greater frequency, the board was voting on contracts and other initiatives that the superintendent refused to recommend. Additionally, Fields began to publicly criticize board members for this behavior, which he said made it increasingly difficult for the district to overcome its poor reputation.

In June, the district hired an insurance broker against Fields' recommendation and without bidding the contract. At the same June meeting, Fields found himself at odds with the board over another no-bid contract awarded to Business Machine Agents, which was hired to service the district's copy machines.

At the time of the votes, the superintendent said he had no record of the terms for either agreement.

On July 10, Fields was served with a federal subpoena from the U.S. Attorney's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for documents stipulating the school board's actions since the start of 2007. That order specifically sought written and audio records of non-public discussions, though it is unclear what the focus of the investigation might be.

Attorney Michael DeBartolo of the district's law firm Giglio and Del Galdo said after the meeting he could not speak to the opinions of individual board members but that there did not appear to be a relationship between the federal subpoena and Fields' suspension.

"In my mind, the subpoena did not have anything to do with it," DeBartolo said.

Early in his tenure as district superintendent, Fields was touted by Welch, the school board president, as being an agent of change who would force the district to begin living within its means. Proviso high schools began the 2006-07 school year with a deficit projection of $14 million. Recent projections put the high schools roughly $7 million in the red, according to financial reports submitted to the board.

Part of those anticipated savings came from weeding out unnecessary expenses, including the misuse of public funds. Libka, who was hired to replace Fields on an interim basis, had previously resigned from an assistant superintendent's position shortly after his own financial indiscretions became public. Records obtained by the Forest Park Review, and reported last November, revealed Libka spent more than $10,000 of the district's funds to pay for classes at Western Illinois University.

Libka was serving as the interim superintendent prior to the board's hiring of Fields when he used the money without the board's approval in February of 2006. He did not have a superintendent's certificate as required by the state and was attending the university to receive the proper credentials.

Libka's resignation, tendered in October of 2006, did not take effect until June 30 of this year. During the nine months leading to his departure, Libka continued to earn a salary of $125,000 performing self-assigned tasks.

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