The often politicized and costly agreement between Proviso Township High School District 209 and its insurance brokers was finally killed by a state panel, and it appears there was indeed a great deal of fat to be trimmed from the deal.
Following an almost year-long bid process, members of a financial oversight panel signed-off on a deal with Vista National that’s expected to save taxpayers close to $500,000 in health-insurance costs over the next three years. The schools would pay the broker an annual fee of $48,000, according to an outline of the contract. During the third year of the deal, Vista must demonstrate a savings of $144,000 to receive its fee for that year.
Those provisions are a far cry from the percentage-based commissions that earned previous, politically connected brokers as much as $18,000 a month. Those contracts, beginning in 2005 with a firm operated by Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore, were not bid by the district.
In 2007, a no-bid brokerage deal was handed to Bateast Insurance over the objections of a former superintendent.
Board President Chris Welch is a longtime political ally of Moore’s and the two have made substantial contributions to one another’s campaigns. However, during the oversight panel’s Oct. 23 discussion of the new deal with Vista, Welch distanced himself from the bloated deals of the past and said he is a victim of a politically charged environment.
“Numerous board people have been threatened, their jobs have been threatened,” Welch said of external forces looking to influence the contract. “I’m one of them. But I don’t care about political pressure.”
During their recent meeting, panel members balked when they learned the school board had voted to hire a lobbyist. A six-month, $30,000 contract was approved by the board on Oct. 19. However, the panel currently controls the district’s spending and after a brief discussion voted to table the matter pending greater details on the proposal.
During the Oct. 23 meeting, Welch, president of the school board, asked that the matter not be discussed publicly but rather in a closed session. Panelists rejected the request and asked Welch and members of the district’s administration for a copy of the proposed contract; then expressed a degree of shock in learning that no contract had been drafted.
Craig Schilling, a member of the oversight panel, suggested the district reserve the right to withhold payment to the lobbyist unless the individual secured an agreed upon amount in grants and other funding. The group also asked for more details on Paul Williams, the individual identified by the district for the position.
Welch, who received $250 in campaign donations from Williams in his 2009 run for re-election, told panelists that the position was necessary on two fronts. Williams would secure grant money and would work as an attorney on behalf of the district.
“This is truly an effort to bring additional revenue to the district,” Welch said.
Jim Popernik, chairman of the oversight panel, offered that money for a lobbyist would be better spent on tutoring services for students.