Following a meeting of the District 209 school board late last month, President Chris Welch offered his assurances that nothing nefarious was underway when members voted to approve two significant contracts for which no explanation of the costs or terms were provided to the public. Repeatedly, he declined to discuss the nitty-gritty of those deals and assured a reporter that copies of the contracts were available through the superintendent’s office.
Well, we took the president’s advice and submitted formal requests for those records under the Freedom of Information Act. Taxpayers in Proviso Township should be outraged to know that administrators still have no idea what the board actually agreed to in contracting with Bateast Insurance Group and Business Machine Agents.
In a June 27 letter from the superintendent–more than a week after the board’s meeting on June 18–administrators said they have nothing that documents what services will be provided by BMA, which presumably was hired to service the school district’s office machines. Nor do administrators know how much they’ll be paying their new insurance broker for what has been described as an “inefficient” paper pushing exercise. It should be noted that technically, District 209 will be cutting checks to its insurance provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and that the Bateast Group will get its share of the public’s money through increased premiums. As we reported two weeks ago, the unknown is how much those premiums will be impacted by the Bateast contract.
During the wholly inadequate discussion that preceded the split votes to approve these deals, simple questions by board members who voted in the minority were flatly ignored. No one stepped forward to claim ownership for the recommendations. No one stepped forward to explain how these arrangements might benefit the district. Like cowards, those who supported these deals took refuge in knowing that they had the votes to push it through.
It’s appalling that the same people professing to be champions of public education have such little integrity. No one on that board should be voting in favor of a proposal that they don’t understand or that others are too embarrassed to defend. It is even more appalling that the public hasn’t kicked in the doors and taken the offenders to task.
“The public doesn’t understand what happens at these board meetings,” Welch said after that meeting in June. “That’s just the nature of what we do.”
Misunderstanding is not the nature of public office, but this board survives and thrives on the reality that the public doesn’t know what it does. Apathy and ignorance allow this board to manipulate contracts and pervert fair hiring practices. If any board member is sincere in their recognition of the disconnect between what elected officials are doing and what the public understands, they would work to bridge that gap rather than vote for undefined costs.