A Proviso Township High School District 209 business meeting briefly had the flavor of the Occupy movement on May 22 – complete with dropped f-bombs, yelling and sign-carrying protesters.

The target of complaints was the oversight panel put in place to oversee the district’s finances.

About 12 speakers used the public comment of the meeting in the auditorium of Proviso Math and Science Academy to complain about the Financial Oversight Panel, which was assigned in 2008 by the Illinois State Board of Education to address a $14 million deficit.

“You can’t speak on behalf of Proviso. They don’t know you, they don’t know what you stand for and they didn’t elect you,” said Edward Porter, who identified himself as an attorney. “The people of Proviso deserve to be represented by the people they voted for and only those people. Go home FOP. Please leave.”

Porter threatened to lead a “petition process to get rid of you guys.”

Some protesters were evidently responding to school board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch’s email plea that “District 209 is being unfairly attacked by some in our community who have nothing but a political agenda.” In the letter, Welch accused the oversight panel of wanting to cut school programs.

The gathering was meant to be a business meeting to approve bills for the school district. But the oversight group got an earful from those who wanted their panel dissolved.

Commenters ranged from the formal to the profane.

Bishop Dr. Reginald Saffo, pastor of United Faith Missionary Baptist church in Maywood, said that the D209 school board had balanced the budget for several years.

“If they’ve met the criteria as outlined in their agreement, there is no need for continued oversight,” he said. “I wonder if there are other motivations behind [the panel’s] intent?”

Parent Dori Wright carried an anti-FOP sign. She said her son received a full band scholarship to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff because of his ability to perform out of state with the band. Welch had told supporters at the May 15 school board meeting that the oversight panel wanted to “eliminate all band trips out of state.”

Several commenters asked what experience the three panel members, all of whom are white, had in minority communities.

The conflict rose to an uncomfortable level when Luke Allen, who didn’t identify his affiliation with the schools, dropped several F-bombs and referred to the oversight panel members as “honkies.”

“As far as the FOP, your presence and voice is not needed in our m—— community,” he said. “Chris, pay close attention, because these honkies will hang your ass here just as well as in Springfield.”

Unlike the NATO protests in downtown Chicago, no security guards were on hand to remove belligerent speakers, although Allen left the podium peacefully.

After public comments, audience members periodically catcalled and interrupted volunteer panelists James Popernik, Dr. Craig Shilling and Marilee McCracken.
After a five-minute recess, Popernik told audience members that the panel had to finish their business meeting and offered to answer any questions they had in writing. Several people left questions on a table and many left the meeting.

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...