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At a relatively uneventful meeting Monday evening, the Proviso High School District 209 Board of Education was asked to pick up half of the $500,000 budget needed to operate Loyola University’s School-Based Health Center at Proviso East beginning in 2007.

The merits of the center, which is currently funded by the federal Department of Health and Human Services as well as local agencies like the Illinois Department of Commerce and Opportunity, were presented by Sheila Haas, director of the Loyola Medical Center School of Nursing.

Richard Boykin, representing the office of 7th District Congressman Danny K. Davis, was also on hand to urge Dist. 209 to fund the center.

The center, said Haas, has reached the end of its federal funding grant, and in order to continue funding the federal government has requested proof of community support. Haas said the center will be able to continue operating for the remainder of the current fiscal year, but would need $250,000 from the district in 2007. The number will increase in coming years along with the salaries of the center’s staff.

In addition to federal money, the center receives funding from the Illinois Department of Human Services and the state’s Department of Public Health.

Among the services provided by the center, according to Haas, are primary healthcare for students, dental care, physical exams for athletes, counseling and mental health examinations and treatment.

The center, which has served Dist. 209 since 1998, also provides mentoring to prevent drug abuse and scholarship opportunities for students entering health related fields.

Though the board did not vote on the proposal, District 209 Chief Education Officer Robert Libka said he was in favor of supporting the center, and was under the impression that much of Dist. 209’s administration shared his view.

“I think they provide an invaluable service, and for our $250,000 I think we get $1 million in benefits,” he said, stating that he would like to explore collaborations between the center and the school’s nurses.

Still, Libka acknowledged the argument that healthcare should not be the responsibility of the public school system, and that by requiring community funding in addition to its own the federal government was passing its own programs off to local property taxpayers.

He said that if the district should decide not to fund the center, it would be for that reason.

District 209 is already in substantial debt, with a deficit last estimated by former Superintendent Greg Jackson at $14 million. Libka said he was looking to raise funds from outside sources to keep the center open for the time being.

The center’s clinic and other facilities are located on the first floor of Proviso East, and include exam rooms, offices, a laboratory and a reception area. According to a survey cited on the Loyola University web site, there there were approximately 1,300 school-based health centers in operation in the U.S. in 2000.

Connected hires questioned

As she has at the last several Proviso board meetings, board member Theresa Kelly questioned Dist. 209 administrators on whether they had received any recommendations for hiring from local elected officials or political power brokers.

Libka said that though he receives tips from many people, the district is focused on qualifications rather than connections in its hiring.

“We welcome input from all members of the Proviso community, but our principal requirement is qualifications, not family ties,” he said.

As an example of a suspected political hire, Kelly pointed to hiring of Thomas Sloan, nephew of Proviso Township Trustee Don Sloan, as a night watchman at Proviso East, at a salary of $46,251 prorated at 75 percent for the 2005-2006 school year.

The board voted 4-2 in favor of the hiring, with Kelly and Charles Flowers voting in opposition. Board member Gary Marine was absent.

Don Sloan has supported Dist. 209 Board President Chris Welch in his current campaign for 7th District State Representative, and was present at Welch’s campaign kickoff event on Friday, Nov. 11.

After the meeting, Libka said he could not explain how so many relatives of politicians end up on Proviso’s payroll, as there are separate interview committees for different departments. He did not comment on the possibility that these committees are staffed by political insiders.