Magnet school parents speak out at new supt.'s first board meeting

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By CARL NYBERG

New Proviso Township High Schools District 209 Superintendent Stanley S. Fields and his family were formally introduced at the district's August board of education meeting.

Fields received a three-year contract with the district, and will make $180,000 per year, according to a Dist. 209 press release. His salary at his previous position as superintendent of Mundelein High School District 120 has been reported at over $204,000. He began serving in Mundelein in 2003.

Fields, according to recent Daily Herald reports, often found himself at the center of controversy in Mundelein, drawing criticism for a proposed overhaul of graduation and curriculum requirements as well as a plan to hire an outside firm to provide that district's security.

He was praised for, among other things, helping the district achieve its first balanced budget.

The change in leadership did not prompt a honeymoon among the school board, which voted 4-3 to hire Fields. The board's tension and division continued along the usual partisan lines throughout the meeting.

There was something new though. Two Forest Park fathers, Dwight Decker and Harry Swiatkowski, spoke of their concerns about the Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA), drawing enthusiastic applause from many in the crowd.

Decker said, "What was unique has become more common." Then he challenged the board, stating that "[PMSA] can be great or mediocre. It's your choice."

Swiatkowski read extensively from the district's literature regarding the Academy. Then he asked questions like, "Is this still the case?" and "Is this still your goal?"

The Academy just began its second school year.

Swiatkowski also made some very specific criticisms. Last year, the school's first year, all students received laptops. No laptops were provided to this year's freshmen, he said. Also among his complaints were that the security force remains the same size even though the student population has doubled, and the kitchen only has one cashier to handle twice as many students, creating a long line.

Swiatkowski also complained about cutting 10 minutes from classes which he said would effectively cut the academic year by 10 days.

Swiatkowski closed by saying to the board, "Do you want PMSA to be the same [as Proviso East and Proviso West]? If so, tell us."

After the meeting, Business Manager Nikita Johnson said the cuts to computers in the tentative budget only applied to faculty and staff. She said the decision on whether or not to provide PMSA students computers hadn't been made.

During the meeting, Johnson also presented a summary of the tentative budget. State law requires the tentative budget be available for examination for one month. The final budget will likely be passed on Sept. 25.

Johnson worked for new superintendent Fields at both his previous jobs-superintendent of Mundelein High School District 120 in Lake County and principal of Morton West in Berwyn.

After the meeting, Fields identified two goals for the district: "fiscal responsibility" and "academic performance". When asked about the divided board, he said he would work to get them "focused on the same endpoint; focused on the same goal."

Johnson presented budget cuts she said would total almost $2.5 million. She advocated making supply acquisition more efficient and depleting the stockpile of paper, limiting money for conferences and travel and eliminating new computer purchases and upgrades.

Johnson suggested a number of options for the future. She suggested the district conserve energy, mentioned increasing student fees, reducing meetings to reduce the need for substitutes, scrutinizing cellphone usage, reducing staff and consultants, obtaining corporate sponsorship, creating education foundations and finally, a referendum as future possibilities.

"We will spend $14 million more than we take in revenue," Johnson warned. Currently the district has $6 million in reserves. The fiscal year 2007 budget consumes all this money, leaving the district with no reserves for fiscal year 2008.

In response to questions from board member Charles Flowers, Johnson said the "unaudited" deficit for the past academic year is six or seven million dollars, but that "the actual deficit will change [after the audit]." The district projected a $22 million deficit last academic year, according to Johnson.

Chief Education Officer Robert Libka, who competed against Fields as a candidate for superintendent, made a point of saying that the tentative budget included $1.5 million for contingency expenses.

And Johnson made the point that Dist. 209 has run deficits for at least the last 10 years, relying on periodic influxes of money from tax increases.

Also at the August meeting:

 Evening school for frequently truant students was discontinued after four years. The program will be held during the day again. The board minority complained about not being notified about this major policy decision until the last minute. Libka acknowledged this by saying, "I concur. The board deserved earlier notification. The superintendent search delayed notification."

Seth Stern contributed to this report

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