A lengthy internal hearings process for former Proviso Math and Science Academy principal Melvin Berry culminated this month with a unanimous vote to dismiss the administrator.

The District 209 Board of Education acted on the superintendent’s recommendation at its Jan. 22 meeting, almost four months after Berry was suspended. Superintendent Stan Fields has declined to comment on the reasons for the initial sanction. Following the board’s vote, President Chris Welch referred only to “improper conduct” as the reason for Berry’s dismissal. He would not confirm or deny any specifics.

Berry could not be reached for comment on the decision, and his attorney, Lewis Myers did not return phone calls.

Fields’ decision to suspend Berry on Sept. 27, 2006, prompted an internal review of the matter that was delayed by scheduling conflicts and a death in Berry’s family, Welch said.

“Mr. Berry had a full and proper due process hearing that stretched for some time,” Welch said.

In October of 2006 the district switched Berry from paid to unpaid administrative leave. The subject of his employment with the district was scheduled for a vote at the Nov. 20, 2006, board meeting, however, the issue was tabled without explanation.

Berry’s suspension at the start of the school year came just two days after board members voted to fire the math and science academy’s co-principal, Richard Bryant. District officials would not confirm the reasons for Bryant’s dismissal though days before he was suspended a police report linked him to several thousand dollars in cash that had gone missing from the district.

For roughly a month afterward, Fields served as the interim principal of the building. In November, Ed Moyer was brought back into the district and is serving as the principal of the math and science academy.

Moyer held an administrative job at the academy when it opened in 2005. He was employed at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, before being hired back to District 209.

Carl Williams, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association, said there’s been little talk of Berry’s absence in recent months. Aside from being unfamiliar with the details of what is a personnel issue, Williams said the organization has been focused on working with the new principal.

“Mr. Moyer has really been on point with the decisions he’s made, and from a parent’s perspective, we’re really happy with him,” Williams said.

Williams acknowledged rumors and speculation as to why Berry was terminated, but said ultimately those decisions are left to administrators.

“You have to trust that the people in charge will do the right thing,” Williams said. “I will put my trust in the people in charge that they will do, and have done, the right thing.”

District’s deficit shrinking

School administrators continue to tighten the belt at District 209, and based on a report given to board members this month, a projected $14 million deficit has been cut in half.

At the start of the 2006-07 school year, Proviso Township High School officials were projecting huge financial losses. However, since joining the district in late August, Superintendent Stan Fields has introduced a number of policies meant to reign in loose spending, largely at the administrative level. Specifically, Fields has targeted consulting contracts, maintenance agreements, energy costs and office supplies.

Business Manager Nikita Johnson informed the board on Jan. 22 that a $7 million deficit is now a more likely scenario.

The adjusted deficit projection marks a roughly $3 million difference from a similar report given in December. Johnson said in a Dec. 18 presentation that spending policies would likely reduce the deficit to $10 million.

Acting on a recommendation from the new superintendent, board members adopted a resolution in October to balance the district’s budget in three years.

-Josh Adams