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What was to be a self-governed fundraising effort launched later this month in support of classroom programs at Proviso Township high schools has been scrapped by the board of education. In its place will be a new fundraising organization controlled by school board members.

The decision to disband the ad hoc committee of volunteers charged with laying the groundwork for the District Foundation wipes clean the seven months of work done by the committee and a consultant hired to guide the process. The group was set to announce its board of directors on Aug. 21.

Perhaps more importantly, whatever funds might be raised through the foundation can now be spent at the board’s discretion, which according to members of the abolished committee is exactly what they were hoping to avoid.

“I would like to see the politics of the board completely out of the formation of (the foundation),” former committee member Larry Howard said.

Howard, a 1960 graduate of Proviso East, made a last minute plea to the board not to interfere with the committee’s work. Potential donors intending to pay for foreign exchange programs or scholastic competitions may be reluctant to contribute if their money is controlled by public officials who must run for re-election every four years, Howard said.

Several other committee members attended the meeting in support of Howard, including former Parent-Teacher-Student Association president Carl Williams and Linda Howard, who recently lost her bid for an appointment to the board. Linda Howard is the wife of Larry Howard.

“We don’t want their backing,” Williams said of the school board, which he described as “political and divided.”

Glen Gerard, president of Foundation Consulting Services in Grand Rapids, Mich., was hired by the school board in November on a two-year contract worth $33,900 to steer the ad hoc committee. Since the early 1980s, Gerard has worked to establish roughly 60 educational foundations in Illinois alone, and has worked with groups across the country. His list of previous clients includes school districts in Mundelein where District 209 Superintendent Stan Fields was previously employed.

Fields was placed on paid administrative leave by the board at the same July 30 meeting. Board members refused to comment on their reasons for sanctioning the superintendent.

Gerard said his recommendation to committee members in Proviso that they establish themselves as an entity separate from the school board applies universally.

“The autonomy that I’m interested in is the foundation not be perceived as an arm of the board of education,” Gerard said. “They are tax supported, elected individuals … and that makes a difference in the eyes of contributors.”

Gerard’s contract was terminated as part of the board’s vote; a move that he said was somewhat baffling given that the board’s primary concern was that it wasn’t being informed of the committee’s work.

On a monthly basis since November, the school board has received written reports from the superintendent on the foundation committee’s work. Little discussion of those reports took place during school board meetings, however, in recent weeks board members criticized Fields for not providing enough detail.

On July 26, just four days before the ad hoc committee and Gerard’s contract were ended, the board forwarded a list of 26 questions to the superintendent. Those questions were sent by the district’s law firm and Fields was given until 5 p.m. the following day to respond, according to district spokesperson Angela McDaniel.

A copy of the questions obtained by the Review shows the board focused its inquiry on the credentials of the volunteers and the search process used to select those volunteers. The superintendent recruited the members of the ad hoc committee without any input from the school board.

At least nine other questions dealt with whether a contract had been struck with the consultant, how much the consultant was being paid and if “…any written reports (had) been prepared to substantiate what Glen Gerard or his company have provided in way of services….”

Immediately following the vote to disband the ad hoc committee, board members refused to explain their decision. Board members Robert Cox and Theresa Kelly voted against the motion to dissolve the committee. Cox, a Forest Park resident, spoke critically of the majority that he said has struck a new course “without any direction.”

“There’s an opinion, a strong opinion, that the board should be the dominant authority in this case,” Cox said. “That’s not my opinion.”

While board members deliberated privately at their July 30 meeting, Fields said he agreed that if the district is funding the consultant’s contract then board members have every right to be informed. Indirectly, he questioned the board’s motivations for the sudden interest, but declined to comment further on what the underlying cause for the rift may be.

“I don’t know there is a dispute over the foundation,” Fields said.

At their June meeting, board members voted to hire Carla Johnson as a full-time secretary to the foundation. Johnson and a representative from the district’s legal firm, Giglio and Del Galdo, are now charged with creating the foundation.