A spending report released last week to members of the District 209 Board of Education shows the district to be at least $5 million short of projections regarding money left over from the $40 million bond set aside for the new Proviso Math and Science Academy.
Board of Education President Chris Welch told the Review on August 8 that there was about $7 million left in the fund. The report, which Welch received along with the rest of the board, shows the number at $1,305,627 with a contingency of about $350,000.
Welch said he was “stunned, appalled and upset” by the report. “The board was told several times that we were on budget, and I am stunned that we don’t have (the money) anymore.”
The report was made available a full week after it was first requested by board member Charles Flowers, who had accused Welch and interim Superintendent Robert Libka of using stall tactics to delay its release.
Libka said the release was delayed so that he could confirm that the information was accurate. “For me to authenticate records of a $40 million project the day of the request would have been inappropriate,” he said.
During the delay, several minor revisions were made to the report due to “out of date information and labeling problems,” according to Libka. The original document showed a remaining balance of $1,211,128.
The difference between the two versions comes from the removal of several fees that were listed as estimates on the original. The largest of these removed fees was a $60,000 payment for exterior signage to a vendor called TBD.
The revised version was formulated by Keith Stocker, vice president of the project management firm Ziolkowski, Porter, Damato and Associates (zpd+a). In a letter to Libka accompanying the budget, Stocker stated that additional costs for drywall remediation and additional professional fees by zpd+a, as well as any bills to be presented this month, were not included.
The report’s major expenditures included the acquisition cost for the building at $16.5 million, $16.6 million paid to construction manager George Sollitt, $1,374,820 paid to Legat Architects, $945,184 for furniture fixtures and equipment (down from $1 million on the original), and $619,000 to zpd+a.
Flowers said that the district’s contract with zpd+a was missing a clause stating a deadline for all work to be completed, which he said would likely allow the firm to add last minute charges.
Welch blamed the overspending on former Superintendent Greg Jackson, whom Welch and the board majority voted to fire July 18. “This is a perfect example of the misinformation, miseducation and mismanagement Mr. Jackson engaged in, and this is exactly why we chose to go in another direction.”
He said that Jackson had never presented the information to the board, and that the only reason Flowers was aware of the document is because he and Jackson speak regularly in order to plan their political maneuvers.
Flowers said that Jackson had planned to discuss the budget with the board, but was suddenly fired before he could do so. He said Jackson had told the board “on numerous occasions” that the school would not be able to operate for long without a referendum.
Flowers had predicted last week that Welch would blame Jackson when the record was released. “He’s not there to defend himself anymore,” said Flowers.
Several skeptics have also said that Welch’s blaming of Jackson is inconsistent with his prior statements. When the board fired Jackson in July, Welch did not blame mishandling of funds. Instead, he said that Jackson had been hired to address the financial plight of District 209, and it was now time to hire somebody with an educational background.
Others have pointed to the fact that Jackson was by no means the only person keeping records on the project. Welch voted along with the board in January to hire zpd+a, a firm that in the past worked alongside consultant Anthony Bruno on the $40 million Melrose Park water project currently under federal investigation, as project managers.
The firm was paid $619,000 for their work, while Bruno’s company, Gray and Associates, received a finder’s fee of under $10,000 for helping to locate the site of the magnet school, a former Loyola Medical Center administrative building at 8601 W. Roosevelt.
Zpd+a later hired Bruno as a sub-consultant on the magnet school project, though the budget does not show any of their payments to Bruno coming from District 209 money.
Before the report emerged, Welch had said that the leftover money would be used to convert the offices of several administrators who would be moving from Proviso East and West to the magnet school into classrooms.
Flowers said that Jackson had told the board during a June meeting that the district did not have sufficient funds for the conversion project, but that the project was revived after Jackson was terminated.
Bruno is rumored to have visited both Proviso schools to discuss that project, though Welch has denied that the district had consulted with any potential project managers.
“We are still committed to renovating classrooms,” Welch said after the report was released. He said he will soon sit down with administrators from Proviso’s business office to determine a course of action and “see if grants are available.”
Welch said that the district was not planning to ask for a referendum at this time, but that the option had not been ruled out.