At his first board meeting as the superintendent of District 209 on Monday, Stan Fields got a taste of the in-fighting that he said must stop if the district is to get its finances in order.
Fields presented several seemingly innocuous topics that could help control spending in the Proviso Township high school district, and the discussion quickly disintegrated into an argument over which board members had committed the greatest offenses. President Emanuel Welch and board members Theresa Kelly and Charles Flowers launched accusations at one another regarding the abuse of cell phones, computers and travel expenses, all of which are funded with tax dollars.
“I was disappointed that issues of public concern? took a personal turn,” Fields said. “Then the discussion was lost to finger pointing.”
Fields explained that board policy either had not been followed or had not yet established the limits of reimbursement for certain expenses. He broached the subject immediately following a presentation from Business Manager Nikita Johnson, who outlined the district’s roughly $14 million spending deficit.
“I need direction from the board of education on what parameters you envision? for board travel expenses,” Fields said.
Flowers and Kelly objected to certain specific topics being raised in public, given that those topics were not included on the meeting’s agenda. Fields began the discussion as part of the superintendent’s report to the board, which he said has historically been given some latitude.
“I don’t know why Mr. Fields brought this up tonight,” Kelly said.
Among the accusations was that 85 district employees and board members have computers at their homes that were purchased with District 209 funds. Welch and Flowers pointedly asked one another about their cellular phones, which were provided by the district. Kelly vehemently defended her handling of an account that is supposed to contribute to an alumni project at Proviso East High School.
Flowers said he did not object to discussing the board’s accountability in these matters, but said questions asked of the superintendent by individual board members should not be answered in public sessions.
“If in fact you think it’s worthy of open session, then throw it on the agenda,” Flowers said.
Field’s defended his actions by highlighting the board’s fiduciary responsibility to the public.
“Every topic I brought up I referenced a policy that the board of education either adopted or swore to uphold,” Fields said.