For years now no one has enforced some basic rules at Proviso Township District 209. As illustrated by a recent Forest Park Review piece, many D209 officials simply do as they please without fear of reprisal.
Despite the fact that the D209 policy manual explicitly requires officials to obtain board permission for such things as travel and lodging, that is not being done.
Since we’re talking about a $60 million operating budget, I’m going to use figures that many of us are more familiar with.
That $60 million the board supposedly oversees-and I use the term loosely-comes from township homeowners like my wife and I. We paid $749 in taxes to D209 and $1,501 to District 91 in 2005.
My wife and I do not have kids in either system, but we don’t begrudge paying the money. We believe in supporting local schools.
But I do begrudge careless, indifferent school officials treating my cash like a slush fund. My entire yearly tax payment went out the window for-take your pick-unused cell phones, hotel rooms or restaurant meals, according to the article.
D209 officials replied defensively that those expenditures are a drop in the bucket. Really? Mind if I just keep my drops for myself?
Wasteful spending is wasteful spending, and the systemic nature of D209’s fiscal irresponsibility is as much a problem as the total dollar amount of the waste. The Review reported that board members and district staff racked up $10,400 in cell phone bills over a recent two month span. Charles Flowers had some of the most outrageous bills at $260 a month. At $166.98 a month, Chris Welch’s cell phone ate up $2,001 per year. Yet he shrugged it off, offering the stunningly lame excuse that he hardly ever used the phone.
“Before I gave it back, it was largely sitting at my house for seven or eight months serving as a voicemail box,” Welch told the Review. The steward of the D209 treasury apparently believes it’s OK to spend between $1,150 and $1,340 over seven or eight months on a phone if you don’t use it.
Unfortunately, Welch isn’t alone in his fiscally cavalier attitude. Three D209 board members gobbled up thousands of dollars in tax money staying at pricey downtown hotels during a conference last year. They were roughly 15 miles from their homes.
Asked why she felt the need to spend $241 per night sleeping a mere 15 miles from home, Theresa Kelly complained that public transportation was unsafe. “I can’t be coming home at night from downtown, I’m a senior citizen. I’m not going to get hit on the head,” she said.
District staffers Phylistine Murphy and Robert Libka racked up at least $4,000 in restaurant bills over six months. That’s more than seven years of Dwyer household tax payments.
Apparently they were attending to crucial D209 business that simply couldn’t be conducted in the 20,000-square feet of newly renovated administrative space that sits atop the new $40 million Proviso Math and Science Academy. Or is that the $48 million building?
Thousands more was spent on out of state travel. One board member who travels regularly on the taxpayer’s dime justified her trips by claiming she’s identified millions of dollars in grants at various conferences.
It’s not necessary to spend several grueling days in November in balmy Florida to learn about the latest federal grants. There’s a highly useful invention accessible in many D209 offices called the Internet.
Though I must admit the weather’s much nicer in Orlando.