Robert Libka, assistant superintendent at the Proviso township high school district, submitted his resignation to the District 209 Board of Education.
In his Oct. 5 letter, Libka makes no reference to allegations of questionable spending practices that may have occurred during his tenure as an interim superintendent and chief education officer. Libka cites a desire to become a full-time superintendent as the reason for his resignation.
“This past year has been a terrific blessing to me personally, I am indebted to you, the board, for the opportunity to lead our schools, develop external partnerships, introduce new initiatives and grow personally,” Libka said in his letter.
However, newly hired Superintendent Stan Fields said he learned of personal expenses billed to the district by Libka. Most recently, more than $10,000 in tuition and other related expenses were paid for by the district so that Libka could attend classes at Western Illinois University. Board of Education President Chris Welch said he had no qualms in billing taxpayers for Libka’s personal expenses because it is a longstanding practice in the district.
“One of the things we always ask ourselves is what have we done in the past,” Welch said of the board.
According to Welch, the district also paid the tuition for former superintendent Greg Jackson and a former business manager so both employees could receive certifications necessary to keep their jobs.
“We were informed that for a number of administrators this was a perk,” Welch said.
According to records obtained by the Review under the Freedom of Information Act, Libka billed taxpayers for more than $10,000 to attend classes at Western Illinois University. Using district funds, Libka wrote a check to the university on Feb. 14 for $9,000 to cover tuition expenses and then sought the board’s approval more than a month later at the March board of education meeting.
At the time of the transaction, Libka was serving as an interim administrator, but was not properly certified.
Board member Charles Flowers said he suspects Libka’s actions were criminal, and may forward those concerns to the Cook County state’s attorney.
“If he is not terminated, I will forward this information because at that point it’s clearly a criminal act.”
Libka spent roughly $9,500 on tuition and books and the remainder paid for Libka’s gas and hotel costs to attend the classes in Moline, Ill.
Minutes of the March, 2006 board meeting show that Theresa Kelly, Gary Marine and Flowers voted in the minority not to authorize the expense.
Fields said the apparent indiscretion is one more example of how the district’s lack of internal controls has wreaked havoc on its finances.
“School code requires the board of education to approve checks before they’re released,” Fields said.
Libka did not return phone calls for comment.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, Western Illinois University is the only school in the state offering the alternative certification course for education administrators. Libka has a provisional certificate issued by Western Illinois University in July that is good for one year. He was working toward a five-year certification.
According to Flowers, it was no coincidence that the district’s interim administrator was attending the state’s only alternative certification program at Western Illinois University. When Libka was appointed to the superintendent’s job on an interim basis, several education oversight groups stepped in and said Libka was not properly certified.
Libka’s title was officially changed to chief education officer as a result, and Phylistine Murphy was named the interim superintendent.
Flowers, however, said he raised the allegation months ago during an executive session that majority board members were attempting to shuffle Libka through the certification process as a “quick fix.”
“They knew it was illegal and they were trying to fix their error in appointing him to superintendent,” Flowers said.
Libka’s resignation will take effect on June 30, 2007, however, he is no longer serving as an assistant superintendent. The board voted at the Oct. 23 meeting to accept Libka’s resignation and to reduce his salary as discussed in an executive session held prior to the public vote.
Fields declined to comment on Libka’s job responsibilities, but said his pay is equal to that of Phylistine Murphy, who was also shifted from her assistant superintendent’s position to director of human resources. Murphy’s salary is $125,000, Fields said.
“The school district at this point does not have anyone in the capacity of assistant superintendent,” Fields said.