Without discussing the terms on a pair of no-bid contracts, the Proviso Township High School Board of Education approved the deals Monday night, apparently without knowing even how much the district would pay the vendors.

By a count of 5-2, the board voted to hire Bateast Insurance Group, a Broadview company, as its insurance broker though no one explained how much the contract was worth, the terms of the agreement, or the qualifications of the vendor. By the same margin-and with the same lack of information-the school board hired Business Machine Agents to provide the district’s copier services, rescinding a contract awarded in April to the Xerox company.

Board members Charles Flowers and Theresa Kelly pressed the superintendent and fellow board members for information on the proposals while board President Chris Welch repeatedly called for a vote on the deals.

“What’s their background? What experience do they bring to the table?” Flowers asked about the insurance broker. “I’m also interested in how much money is the board of education going to pay for this service.”

After the meeting, Supt. Stan Fields distanced himself from the contracts and said the proposals were brought forward by Welch. His office has not been provided with the particulars of the agreement, Fields said, and he simply doesn’t know what the contracts will cost.

“This was not my recommendation,” Fields said. “I have no knowledge of the company. I have no knowledge of the recommendations.”

Welch declined to comment on who brought the contracts to the board, and said it’s “irrelevant” where the recommendation comes from. He did, however, speak highly of the Bateast Insurance Group and said that any questions he had about the agency’s qualifications were answered before the meeting. As for the apparent lack of transparency that frustrated other board members and drew derisive laughter from members of the public who attended the meeting, Welch said the business of school management is complicated.

“The public doesn’t understand what happens at these board meetings,” Welch said. “That’s just the nature of what we do.”

In April of this year, Fields recommended and the board approved a five-year deal with Xerox worth $1.4 million. Business Machine Agents was one of three other companies to bid on that contract and came in with an estimate of $636,600. Prior to Monday’s meeting, the board had not discussed putting the contract back out to bid and the superintendent said his office was not asked to solicit new bids.

Just last month, Fields said in an interview with the Forest Park Review that buying insurance through a broker was “probably not the most efficient way to do business.” Over the last year, District 209 has paid out $216,000 in brokerage fees to EMM & Associates, which is owned by Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore. That contract is set to expire on July 1.

Kelly, who voted against hiring the Bateast group, asked why the board would consider hiring another broker when it has been advised not to.

“This is disgusting,” Kelly said in casting her vote.

Bateast Insurance Group is owned and operated by Margerit Bateast, who, according to his myspace.com website, is 22 years old.

District hires former candidate

A candidate who made a losing bid for the school board in District 209 in April was hired Monday night to help oversee a fundraising effort that’s expected to target Proviso’s alumni.

Carla Johnson, a former employee of Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th Dist.) was awarded a $42,000 salary by a split vote of the Proviso Township High School District Board of Education. Johnson campaigned on a slate with Robert Cox and Robin Foreman. Both Cox and Foreman won seats on the board.

For several months the superintendent has been meeting with an ad hoc group to create a fundraising arm that can snare money through its alumni base, and now with Johnson’s political connections through the senate.

“She’s got connections around the state of Illinois to some pretty deep pockets,” Superintendent Stan Fields said.

Fields said he approached Johnson with the job and denied accusations that the hiring decision was forced by local political interests.

-Josh Adams