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The president of the Proviso Township District 209 Board of Education urged allies to come to tonight’s meeting of the D209 Financial Oversight Panel to object to the panel’s asking for more powers granted by the Illinois Legislature.

Emanuel “Chris” Welch sent an electronic letter to supporters which read:

“Please be advised that Proviso High School District 209 is being unfairly attacked by some in our community who have nothing but a political agenda. As a result, the Illinois State Board of Education’s Financial Oversight Panel is actively engaging in an attempt to expand its powers over the school district.”

The oversight panel sent a proposal to the Illinois State Board of Education in Springfield April 24 asking to be upgraded to a 1H designation which would add two community members to the panel. The new rules would give the advisory group new powers such as hiring and firing of a superintendent or chief finance officer or applying for short-term emergency loans from the ISBE. The new status would allow the panel to make, break, modify or execute contracts (except collective bargaining agreements).

Welch has opposed the move, and called an emergency school board meeting May 1 where the board voted 4 -3 to petition the ISBE to dissolve the advisory group altogether.

Tonight’s meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Proviso Math and Science Academy, 8601 Roosevelt Road, Forest Park.

At a school board meeting, last week, Welch gave a list of eight reasons why the financial oversight panel should be dissolved instead of given new powers.

He referred to a cultural gap between the panel and the citizens of Proviso by saying it was “made up of people from Frankfort, Park Ridge and Glen Ellyn.”

Welch said, “They want to close one of our schools. They’ve called PMSA – on the record – a glorified middle school.”

But oversight panelist Jim Popernik said that, under 1H status, the panel could add two community members, which would “add diversity to the panel.” Popernik said Welch was referring to the panel questioning a request for the hiring of a second vice principal at Proviso Math and Science Academy when the school had 600-700 students, the size of a typical middle school.

Welch continued with a list of grievances at the school board meeting: “They want to RIF our teachers. They want to privatize union jobs. They want to consolidate our sports teams. They want to eliminate the district’s transportation program. They want to eliminate all band trips out of state. They want to eliminate our college tours.”

Later in the meeting he added, “They want to raise our driver’s ed fee to $250. Can you believe that? $250. Now our teens won’t be able to afford to get their driver’s license to drive to their jobs at McDonald’s.”

Popernik said the school board is charged with balancing the budget, not the oversight panel. Even under a new 1H designation, the panel would not be cutting programs, he said. “The district still makes decisions and we either approve or disapprove. They submit bills and payrolls every month. They take action as a board. We affirm their action or we change it.

“Their school board approved that $400,000 invoice [for Welch’s personal legal bills]. We denied it. We’re an oversight panel and that’s what we do. The 1H designation would give us slightly more authority.”

D209’s budgets have been balanced over the past three years, said Popernik, “but not by large amounts. It’s very tight. They’re not making any inroads to improving their situation. And it’s understandable that they’re having a difficult time. Property taxes are down. The state payments are slower.”

Other items that have been questioned by the oversight panel include the district’s spending almost $400,000 on legal bills Ð even before Welch’s personal bills were included. The district also spends an average of $60,500 on custodial salaries for 74 employees, including Welch’s brother Billy Welch, whose 2011 salary was $57,075.08, according to www.openthebooks.com. A starting math teacher was hired last year earning $46,195. English teachers with two years toward tenure were paid $42,643.

Jean Lotus

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...