The Cook County Suburban Regional Office of Education is questioning the legality of the hiring of interim District 209 Superintendent Robert Libka, whom the district’s board of education promoted from director of Auxiliary Programs on July 21 after voting 4-3 to fire Gregory Jackson.

Libka has completed several years of post-master’s studies in Education Leadership and holds a Type 75 certificate, but does not have the State’s superintendent endorsement, which is normally required to serve as a superintendent.

“He has to step down,” said Regional Superintendent Robert Ingraffia. “They need to sit down, and they need to find someone who’s qualified and need to do that fast.” Ingraffia said that Dist. 209 would automatically be taken off of full recognition status and would have its status downgraded to pending. If the district does not act quickly, he said, there is a possibility of funding being withheld.

Dist. 209 Board President Chris Welch said the board will take as much time as necessary to find a qualified permanent superintendent. He said that he “respectfully disagrees” with Ingraffia and believes it is legal for an interim superintendent to serve without the endorsement.

“He has a very liberal interpretation of school code”he wants to expand the powers of his office, and the only way he can do that is through the legislature,” said Welch of Ingraffia.

Welch declined to name an official at the state or regional level who would agree with his interpretation of the code, but said he had received “strong legal advice” indicating that his position was justified.

Attorney John B. Murphey, who has been retained by the district to defend the decision to cancel Jackson’s most recent contract extension, referred the Review to Dist. 209 attorney Mark Sterk, who said he was not familiar with the status of Libka’s certification.

In the section that deals with superintendent’s endorsement, the 2005 Illinois school code makes no distinction between interim and permanent superintendents. The only exceptions made to the requirement for the endorsement are schools in the city of Chicago and districts with only one school with fewer than four teachers.

“It’s interim superintendent, not interim assistant”he needs to have the proper certification,” said Ingraffia. Though Libka said he is currently enrolled in courses at Concordia University to attain his certification, Ingraffia said that “he cannot take the courses fast enough.”

Jackson’s predecessor, Dale Crawford, was himself fired largely because he did not have the endorsement. Welch said he sees Crawford’s case as “completely different” from Libka’s since Libka is serving on an interim basis.

He noted that Jackson also was not completely qualified to serve as superintendent under the school code since he had never worked as a teacher.

Welch said that Libka was chosen to bring stability to the district during the transition period between superintendents. “The atmosphere in the schools in the last week has been incredible,” he said, adding that Welch would need to have the endorsement in order to be considered for a permanent job.

Still, the mention of a possible legal battle over Libka’s qualifications is a red flag for some frustrated taxpayers. The district will likely also have to go to court to defend the board’s cancellation of Jackson’s most recent contract extension, which lasted until 2009.

Jackson has retained attorney Edward Copeland to contest the decision.

“We’re spending more time settling lawsuits than we are working with kids under [Welch’s] leadership,” said Board of Education member Charles Flowers.

Open meeting violation?

The board might also soon find itself under fire for a possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The four members of the board majority boycotted a regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, July 18, and the next morning had an agenda prepared for a special meeting to fire Jackson, leading many to believe they met without notifying the rest of the board to plan their actions.

Board members Charles Flowers and Theresa Kelly, both of whom voted against the decisions to fire Jackson and hire Libka, said they were never consulted before the meeting.

Flowers also said that the board had never met to discuss test scores, which Welch sited as the reason for firing Jackson. He said that Jackson had tried to schedule such a meeting on several occasions, but Welch and the board majority were not available.

Ingraffia said that information regarding the possibility of an open meetings violation will be turned over to the State’s Attorney’s office within the next few days.

Attitude adjustment for D209

District 209 Interim Superintendent Robert Libka has distanced himself from the controversy surrounding his hiring, instead choosing to focus on his mission of bringing a spirit of unity to the long troubled district.

He began an interview with the Forest Park Review by expressing his admiration for his predecessor, Gregory Jackson, and said that his goal is to inject the district with a shot of positivity.

"I've been establishing a tone whereby I exercise a passion for valuing people, and direct my team to do the same."

He said that the district needs to spend more time "celebrating small victories," and that academic achievements must be celebrated in the same manner as athletic victories or musical performances.

He noted the importance of collaborations between the school district and community organizations, stating that he would like students to "see themselves as part of a global society, not just the block they live on."

He said that he has reached out to board members who opposed his hiring and that he is glad to have a school board that rarely comes to unanimous decisions.

"I'm sure all of these people would prefer to have a more congenial relationship," he said.