Though acknowledging a failure in communication, Proviso High School District 209 Chief Education Officer Robert Libka said that there was “nothing slippery or underhanded” involved in the district’s decision to hold summer school at the new Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park without informing the village.
The village delivered a letter to Libka earlier this month demanding that the summer school be shut down, alleging that Dist. 209 had violated a zoning agreement barring remedial programming and academic programming for non-Math and Science Academy students at the Academy, located at the corner of Roosevelt Road and 1st Avenue.
Libka said he has a meeting scheduled next week with village officials to discuss the matter. “I’m committed, and my administrative team and, I believe, the school board are committed to working with the village. We could have done better in terms of communication in this case…if we messed up, we want to apologize,” said Libka after Monday night’s relatively uneventful school board meeting.
Previous attempts to contact Libka and other Dist. 209 representatives regarding the issue over the last few weeks have been unsuccessful.
Forest Park Police Chief James Ryan has also expressed his displeasure at having to send several officers to the school each day to ensure security during dismissal time. During the school year, just over 120 students attended the school, but around 800 students attend summer school there.
Libka attributed the confusion to the fact that it is the school district’s first year operating a facility in Forest Park, as well as his own first year at the helm of the district. He said that in the past, the district has not met with village staff from Maywood and Hillside to inform those villages that summer school would be held at Proviso East and West, as the police departments would usually be informed by officers who worked as Student Resource Officers at the schools.
He acknowledged that Kyle Hastings, the district’s director of auxiliary programming who oversees the summer school, had met with police officials to request a police presence only after summer school began, but said that the district had not requested the extent of the presence that Forest Park provided.
“We’re certainly extremely grateful for the police support. They offered more than I at first thought was necessary,” he said, noting that the district’s own security officers had helped to make this year’s summer school the safest and most productive in recent memory.
“We only had one major conflict the whole summer,” he said. “Our summer school programs are generally smooth running.”
Asked about the number of officers sent to the school during dismissal, Village Administrator Michael Sturino said “I’m certain the police department deployed the force that was necessary to keep the situation under control.”
Libka said he will wait until after his meeting with the village to determine whether the district plans to comply with a provision in the zoning variance which calls on it to reimburse the village for any security work necessitated by the Academy.
He questioned the village’s interpretation of the zoning variance, referencing a Review report which stated that Sturino had at first requested that summer school be named as a prohibited use in the zoning variance, but relented from this position at the district’s request.
“It sounded to me like they ended up permitting summer school … I’d like to sit down and review the minutes of those meetings,” said Libka.
Sturino has said that school district staff requested that summer school not be banned so that the school could hold summer programming for Math and Science Academy students. The village, he said, never intended to allow summer school for the entire district. Informed of Libka’s differing interpretation, Sturino simply stated “he’s wrong.”
The variance was granted to Dist. 209 in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Mark Hosty dissenting.
Asked whether the district would be willing to comply if the village asked that it not hold summer school at the Academy in future years, Libka seemed unsure.
“There’s a concern that [the Academy] is only open to the elite students, and I’m personally thrilled to have more taxpayers from the community involved,” he said. He noted that in addition to the summer school in Forest Park, the district held summer programming for about 200 students at each Proviso East and West.
Sturino said that if the district wanted to hold summer school in Forest Park, they would need to petition the zoning board and village council to change the conditions of their zoning variance. “They’d have to make that request. They don’t have the power to do it unilaterally,” he said.
Libka framed the dispute over summer school as an isolated incident. Though he was vacationing in Mexico when the issue was first reported, he said that upon returning he immediately contacted the village to smooth over the situation.
“We’ve had a history of honoring the village’s requirements during our short relationship with Forest Park,” he said, though when pressed he was unable to provide an example of a time the district had done so.
“[Review opinion columnist Bill] Dwyer seemed concerned that your Mayor was not more angry about it … maybe that shows something,” he said.