Accusations of politically motivated personnel moves, which have heightened since the firing of former supt. Gregory Jackson in July, persisted at Monday’s District 209 Board of Education meeting, with board members questioning why longtime employees were being passed over for jobs in favor of outsiders.
At the start of the meeting, board member Theresa Kelly asked whether any of those involved in the hiring process had received any hiring recommendations from individuals holding elected office.
“I am concerned about applicants being pre-selected. … I am concerned about rigging. … I will continue to ask this at every meeting until I am satisfied that this is not occurring,” she said.
All officials who responded said they had not received any such recommendations, including Chief Education Officer Robert Libka, who at last month’s meeting acknowledged that he had.
He explained then that he receives recommendations from a variety of people but that these recommendations don’t necessarily influence his decision-making.
Kelly focused on a few candidates in particular. First, she noted that Vinston Birdin, who was being hired as athletic director at Proviso East, holds a doctoral degree, and questioned why he would take a job as athletic director.
She mentioned that his age might make it difficult for him to keep up during gym class, to which Board President Chris Welch responded that age discrimination in hiring is illegal.
Birdin had previously worked as the principal of an elementary school in District 87, and before that spent 12 years working in Bellwood at District 88.
Kelly also questioned why Corthell McDaniel was being hired from outside the district, stating that she knew of individuals with over 20 years’ experience at Proviso who were interested in the job of night foreman at the Proviso Math and Science Academy.
Libka said that McDaniel had a “litany of credentials,” and noted that one inside candidate had turned down the job.
Another candidate, Angelo Calgagno, was promoted from electrician to building manager at Proviso West, leading Kelly to speculate that his past work as a campaign volunteer for Welch’s Students First Party might have played a role.
Welch asked Libka whether any member of the party had played a role in the hiring decision, to which Libka responded no.
Once the board had finished going through the agenda, the floor was turned over to members of the community, who brought forth a variety of concerns.
Dorothy Lane Thomas of Maywood said she felt that the district had gotten caught up in the elation surrounding the magnet school opening and neglected its other two schools.
She said that the inequality even included maintenance work done at the schools. “At Proviso East, it is so nasty around that school. I come here, and it’s immaculate,” she said.
She said that she felt it was improper that in brochures distributed at the Math and Science Academy’s grand opening ceremony last week, Welch was pictured without the rest of the board.
Ardella Patterson, Teenage Parenting Program coordinator and former school board candidate, continued voicing her concerns that she was in danger of being fired in political retaliation.
At last month’s meeting, she said that her office had been moved to an unsafe room measuring about 100 square feet and without proper ventilation, though Proviso West Principal Alexis Wallace said the move was part of a larger restructuring and politics were irrelevant.
Carl Nyberg, recently sued by Welch for defamation, inquired about the dumping of yard waste in the forest preserve behind Proviso East, which he said could only come from the school, meaning that someone had to be given access to the gate separating the school and the preserve.
He also addressed the lawsuit, asking Welch how many people he had sued in Proviso Township in the past, and how many of these suits had gone to court. “Should I be ready to go to trial, or is this just a bluff?” asked Nyberg, who writes an Internet blog. He also writes occasional opinion pieces for the Forest Park Review.
Welch did not respond, but noted before Nyberg began speaking that he might not respond to his questions depending on legal advice.