A sharply divided Proviso Township High School District 209 school board voted 4-3 Monday night to hire, subject to the completion of contract negotiations, Dr. Stan Fields as superintendent at a special meeting held at the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park.
The board chose Fields, who is currently the superintendent of Mundelein Consolidated High School District 120 over the Dr. James Harris, who is a former superintendent in Taylor, Mich.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Ingelwood, Calif.; and North Chicago, and Robert Libka the district's current chief education officer. Prior to becoming superintendent at Mundelein, Fields was the principal at Morton West.
School Board President Chris Welch and his usual allies, Daniel Adams, Sue Henry, and Shirley Madlock, voted in favor of the motion to hire Fields subject to the successful completion of contract negotiations.
Voting against the motion were Charles Flowers, Theresa Kelly, and Gary Marine. They preferred Harris who has also been an adjunct professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
The vote came after the board sat in closed session for 88 minutes as they interviewed the two finalists, Fields and Harris, for the third time.
"[Fields] has a proven track record," said Welch. "I just liked his presentation in the interview."
The board minority was more impressed with Harris. They felt Harris was an exceptional candidate and had more experience.
"Harris is the best candidate," said Flowers. "It's an insult to the taxpayers, the residents, and, more importantly, the children. It was the difference between a novice and a professional."
Kelly was equally upset.
"It's just business as usual at this school," said Kelly. "It's a sad day for Proviso. It's not about the kids. How can you not pick a man like this with all these qualifications? At every school district he's been known to raise student achievement."
Contract negotiations may become complicated and some observers speculated that Fields may ultimately end up not taking the job. He earned $204,303 in total compensation at Mundelein in 2005 according to thechampion.org a website maintained by the Family Taxpayers Foundation, which tracks the salaries of public school teachers and administrators.
Kelly said the board initially hoped to pay roughly $140,000 to $160,000 for a new superintendent.
Fields has also completed just two years of a five-year contract with Mundelein which is a single-school district. Welch said it would be up to Fields to get himself released from his current contract.
The current business manager for District 209, Nikita Johnson, worked for Fields at Morton and at Mundelein.
Some have speculated that if Fields ultimately does not accept the position, Libka may end up with the job as superintendent.
Libka was appointed chief education officer last summer when the board fired the former superintendent, Gregory Jackson.
The future of Libka and Phylistine Murphy, who now holds the title of superintendent although Libka has been performing most of the usual duties of superintendent, will be up to Fields, Welch said, before adding that he hoped that they both would stay with the district. Welch praised Libka and Murphy for their work over the past year.
"They have done an exceptional job," said Welch.
Dealing with a fractured school board will be a challenge for Fields.
"I think we'll be a challenge for the new superintendent," agreed Welch.
Carl Nyberg contributed to this story.