Attorneys for Proviso District 209 and the lawyer of a former employee who filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit last year reached an agreement late last month that prevented the case from going to trial. 

According to the agreement, D209’s insurer will pay $74,000 to Joan McGarry, the district’s former director of professional development who sued after being fired last year. The settlement resulted in the dismissal of the case from Cook County Court, on Oct. 31.

The agreement that McGarry and the district reached was identical to a settlement that lawyers for both sides OK’d months ago, and which the D209 board approved at its Aug. 8 meeting.

The settlement was temporarily held up, though, when D209’s state-appointed financial-oversight panel, tasked with overseeing its expenses, did not OK it at a subsequent meeting (it died for lack of a second vote). The panel’s members reportedly had concerns about the terms of the agreement. The oversight panel ended up approving the settlement at its Sept. 8 meeting.

Initially, the panel’s president, Jim Popernik, said the panel was prepared to have the two parties go to court and “let the judge decide,” but he ended up voting in favor of the settlement at the September meeting.

No members of the oversight panel were available for comment.

The district has refused to say anything about McGarry’s firing, the litigation, or the settlement since August, when D209’s board approved the agreement. 

D209 spokesperson TaQuoya Kennedy said the district was prevented from discussing matters related to the McGarry case due to privacy laws.

The Review submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request back in August asking, among other things, for all information related to the case and an account of district money paid to lawyers.

The district initially denied a portion of the request, arguing it was “unduly burdensome” to fill, as over 5,000 documents would need to be retrieved and sorted through. It then suggested that the Review “narrow” its request. The Review submitted a revised request in September.

McGarry’s lawyer, Steven Glink, said in August that the parties had agreed to the $74,000 sum, but the Review only recently received a copy of the document.

In late October, after the Review spent over two months negotiating with D209, and later its lawyers from Berwyn-based Del Gado law firm, and appealing to the Attorney General’s Office, the district turned over roughly 1,500 documents, as part of the original request.

Buried in those documents was a preliminary draft of the $74,000 settlement that McGarry and the district agreed to.

Much remains unclear about the Joan McGarry case – in particular, why she was fired. McGarry politely declined a request for an interview, last week, via email.

Her last day at the district was on June 30, 2010, when her contract ended.

Even though the district refused to comment on the firing of McGarry, it did provide a disciplinary notice sent to her from D209 Assistant Superintendant of Curriculum and Instruction Cheryl Pruitt in March 2010. According to the letter, McGarry violated district policy by hiring employees without the approval of the board, which is required under school code.

The letter does not detail any disciplinary action, although, on April 30, 2010, Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart sent McGarry a letter notifying her that the superintendent was recommending that the board vote not to rehire her. At the May 10, 2010 board meeting, the board voted not to rehire her.

McGarry sued D209’s board and Collins-Hart, individually, alleging that her contract was breached because she was not given 60-days notice, prior the end of the school year, before she was fired. This is spelled out in her contract, which also says that, if she is not given this proper notice, she is to be automatically rehired.

Collins-Hart’s April 30, 2010 letter was not sent 60 days prior to the end of the school year, which was June 4, 2010. But D209’s lawyers argued that McGarry was to be notified 60 days before the end of the contract, which expired on June 30, 2010. This argument, Glink wrote in court documents, “makes no sense” because the contract says: “The school district shall notify McGarry of its intent not to renew this agreement at least 60 days before the end of the school term of the last year of this agreement.” 

Initially, McGarry asked for $114,094.96, or one year’s salary, plus benefits and attorneys’ fees or her job back. Instead, she settled for the $74,000.

“The agreement is more than fair for the school district,” Glink said. “I feel my client had a better chance [of winning] if it went to trial.”

Attorneys from two firms that represented the district did not return phone calls.

“Closure is best for everybody,” Glink concluded.