Members of the District 209 Board of Education are outraged by what they perceive as repeated incidents of secretiveness and unaccountability on the part of Board President Chris Welch and Interim Superintendent Robert Libka.
The frustration that emerged when the board majority cancelled a regularly scheduled meeting on July 18 and called a special meeting to fire former Superintendent Greg Jackson without informing other board members of their plans has been magnified by another meeting cancellation and the alleged withholding of documents relating to money spent on the district’s new magnet school.
The document in question, an expense report tracking the usage of the $23.5 million left over from the $40 million bond set aside for the magnet school after the building at 8601 W. Roosevelt was purchased for $16.5 million, was first requested by board member Charles Flowers on Monday, August 8.
Flowers said Libka had given him three separate deadlines for delivery of the report ” Tuesday, Friday, and then last Monday ” but still has not handed it over, leading him to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the documents.
Flowers said that Libka told him he wanted to make some corrections to the reports before releasing them, and that he had requested the original as well as the corrected version.
“These are delay tactics,” he said, “because they know (the reports) will expose them.”
Flowers, as well as other critics of the district’s recent moves, have said that the report proves that the district has less than $1 million remaining from the money. Welch said last week that the number was closer to $7 million, and repeated those claims on his weekly radio broadcast Sunday.
Welch has said that the leftover $7 million would be used for maintenance costs as well as to fund projects including the conversion of several offices at Proviso East into classroom space as administrators move to new offices at the magnet school.
“This project has come in well on schedule and well under budget,” Welch told the Review last week.
The report was allegedly prepared by Jackson along with officials from the school’s business office. According to Flowers, Jackson had been preparing to present the report to the school board before being fired in July.
Flowers said he suspects that Welch plans to blame the discrepancy on mismanagement of funds by Jackson.
“He’s going to say ‘look, we all thought there was $7 million,'” said Flowers. He’s definitely going to try to blame mismanagement, but he’s going to have trouble finding records to support that.”
Even with $7 million remaining, Welch has said that the district had not ruled out the possibility of seeking a referendum in the near future.
Jackson told the board on numerous occasions that the magnet school would not be able to operate for more than a couple years without a referendum.
Another cancelled meeting
Flowers and board member Theresa Kelly both say they experienced a sense of déjà vu when they were informed last Friday that the board would not meet on Monday as scheduled.
“This puts us right back where we were in July,” said Flowers, referring to the sudden cancellation of a July 18 meeting when the board majority boycotted the meeting, instead arranging a special meeting later in the week to fire Jackson.
The board majority is already under suspicion of an Open Meetings Act violation for that incident. According to Cook County Regional Superintendent Robert Ingraffia, the matter is now in the hands of the Illinois Office of Education.
Board member Theresa Kelly said she received a call from Libka’s secretary Suzie Crain asking her if she was available for a meeting on August 22. She said she told Crain “I’m available for the regular meeting on the 15.”
“I’ve been on the board since ’99 and we never had our meeting dates changed,” she said.
She said that Crain told her that Libka had said several board members would not be available for the meeting. She noted that she knew herself, Flowers, and Gary Marine could attend, so unless all four majority board members could not attend, the meeting would still have a quorum.
“Chris Welch didn’t have his votes, and instead of coming without one of his people he changed the meeting date ” this cannot go on,” she said.
Flowers said that Libka admitted to him that he had been instructed by Welch to change the meeting date, and questioned why a superintendent is deferring to the authority of a board president.
“One person is doing everything and being everybody. The people did not elect Chris Welch to run the board,” said Kelly.
Flowers said he had also objected to a meeting between Welch, Libka and Ingraffia regarding Libka’s status as interim superintendent.
Libka does not have his superintendent’s endorsement from the State, and Ingraffia has told the district that he must step down.
Flowers said that all board members should have been invited for the meeting since they would all have to vote on the hiring of a superintendent.
Flowers said he suspects that the board majority is now plotting to hire another new superintendent without input from the rest of the board.
Welch and Libka could not be reached for comment for this story.