A quick search of the state’s campaign finance records makes it abundantly clear that a pair of law firms vying for District 209’s business share a fondness for local politics. They’ve contributed money to dozens of municipal and state campaigns and undoubtedly have made some friends along the way.

Why a law firm would take an interest in a mayor or a school board when that office holds no sway over legislation affecting the practice of law is another discussion for another time. For the moment, let’s turn the tables a bit and focus on why local officials insist on accepting these donations.

The Proviso Township High School District’s reputation as a trough for bloated contracts, patronage jobs and mismanagement shares a direct link with campaign financing. As long as board members-and for that matter employees-continue to accept money from those doing business with the district, the public has every reason to question the motives involved. If those accused grow tired of defending themselves against allegations of being a puppet, a crony or even a crook they can always sit on their hands when the next envelope comes along.

District 209 needs to adopt a policy restricting board members and employees from accepting money and gifts from those looking for work. Such a policy won’t solve all the district’s problems, but it would go a long, long way toward cleaning the place up.

School board candidates have no business raising huge sums of money, schmoozing with area law firms or otherwise concerning themselves with those that have no bearing on public education. At both a national and local level, money injects skepticism into politics. The success of a school district starts with support from the parents and teachers. If board members feel they must court someone, these are the folks they should be trying to impress.

Adopting a policy of this sort would almost certainly put an end to outrageous brokerage fees, construction contracts and other outlandish expenses that have nothing to do with the classroom. This would not limit the freedom of true stakeholders in the community. If these law firms or other vendors truly believe in the work of a particular board, they should offer their services at a discount so that taxpayer funds are spent on classroom instruction. We’ll wait to see that happen.

Media coverage and the public’s overall perception of District 209 are often less than flattering. Some of the ugliness perceived to be true may not in fact be accurate, but until the insidious webs of patronage and slovenly management are done away with, the public has little reason to think otherwise. Proviso high schools will continue to make headlines, not for its student’s achievements, but for its corrupt politics so long as academics take a back seat.