Two competing busloads of supporters trekked to Springfield on May 17 from Proviso Township High School District 209 to make their views heard by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) about the district’s Financial Oversight Panel.

School board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch brought a group of supporters, wearing white T-shirts printed with the words “local control.” Welch and the school board – in a 4-3 vote – petitioned the ISBE to dissolve the voluntary oversight panel. Speakers calling for the dissolution of the panel included Welch, board member Francine Harrell, Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart and administrator Ed Moyer.

“We are not asking the State Board to grant our petition so the Proviso Board can go back to the days of over spending,” Welch told the ISBE. “We are not asking the State Board to grant our petition so the Proviso Board can reconsider issues that have already been considered. We are asking the State Board to grant our petition because our District has proven to be fiscally sound and on the right track.”

A letter read by D209 Attorney Michael DiBartolo asked ISBE to dissolve the FOP, arguing that the oversight group didn’t use the powers it already had. He said in three years, “less than ten (10) items have been outright denied or modified by the Financial Oversight Panel after Board approval.

One of those items was $450,000 in personal legal bills that Welch and the board approved with a split vote. DiBartolo also requested that if the ISBE chose to keep the oversight panel, that all three members of the board be replaced.

Meanwhile a group referring to themselves as Concerned Citizens of Proviso asked the state superintendent to upgrade the oversight panel to the “1H” category, which includes new powers passed by the Illinois Legislature this year. These included former Proviso West principal Alexis Wallace and school board members Kevin McDermott and Theresa Kelly.

Public comments at the meeting lasted from 10 a.m. past 1:30 p.m., according to Jim Popernik, a member of the D209 finance panel.

The ISBE will decide at their meeting June 20 whether to accept D209’s proposal to dissolve the panel or the panel’s proposal to upgrade to 1H status.

The new status would allow the oversight panel to hire and fire a superintendent or chief finance officer. New powers let the district apply for short-term emergency loans from the ISBE. Two members could also be added to the panel from the community. The new status allows the panel to make, break, modify or execute contracts (except collective bargaining agreements).

The ISBE voted to put another school district, East St. Louis District 189 under a financial oversight panel, bringing the total number of school districts with this arrangement to four. D189 will be the first with 1H status, and will have a five-panel board, as outlined in the 1H rules.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...