It appears there are still many, many lessons that need to be learned by board members in charge of Proviso Township High School District 209. Transparency, efficiency and an emphasis on the students have been sorely lacking for so long that sleaze and graft are just part of the culture. It is just the way things are.
The Illinois State Board of Education took a seat at the head of the table at Proviso about 10 months ago, though, and is working through a financial oversight panel to wrestle this shameful, wasteful district onto a path of financial solvency. The idea is to drain enough of the red ink from Proviso so that state officials can step back and let local administrators and board members resume a more responsible stewardship.
Judging from the discussion at the oversight panel’s Oct. 23 meeting, however, that sense of responsibility is still nowhere to be found.
Board President Chris Welch has long dominated the political culture in the district and deserves much of the blame for saddling the community with terrible public high schools. Faced with a smart, independent body of financial wizards who have control over his budget, Welch backpedaled from the cesspool he helped create. He denied that there’s anything weird about wanting to hire a lobbyist. Then, he attested, despite heavy political pressure to dole out a fat deal to an insurance broker, Welch told panelists that he believes in doing what is right for children.
Excuse us, please, while we vomit.
Welch has hammered home several costly, no-bid contracts to cronies interested in collecting lucrative commissions as the district’s insurance broker. Under Welch, the district was paying Eugene Moore, the Cook County recorder of deeds, a monthly commission of $18,000. It is entirely believable that, as he says, Welch was threatened by the political hacks he hangs out with to make sure that deal didn’t disappear, but with the oversight panel in place there’s little he can do about it. At the very least, we hope the state recognizes that any political pressure was invited by Welch’s track record.
Ultimately, the oversight panel voted to approve a three-year deal with Vista National after a months-long bidding process that saw a dozen companies in the mix. Vista estimates it can save taxpayers more than $460,000 in insurance costs over the next three years.
As for the notion that students would benefit from paying a lobbyist $30,000 for six months worth of, um, lobbying, panel members were wide-eyed to learn that Welch’s board approved the expense without a contract and without soliciting bids. They tabled the deal and asked for basic details that were absent during the school board’s discussion.
Finally, in yet another demonstration that Welch has learned nothing by having the state looking over his shoulder, he asked the oversight panel not to discuss the lobbyist or the insurance contract in public. Even the district’s attorney, Michael DeBartolo, of Del Galdo Law Group, cooked up some bizarre justification for moving the conversation behind closed doors. Rightly, the panel dismissed the request out of hand.
The old ways of doing business die hard.