Across a range of areas, Proviso Township District 209‘s state-appointed Financial Oversight Panel last week gave the school administration advice on ways to cut costs. From how to manage discipline hearings to how it handles public relations, the FOP offered suggestions that now come with increased enforcement powers after recent changes in its state board of education charter.

The panel met at Proviso Math and Science Academy, June 26, and pulled a couple of bills for questioning before voting to approve bills for the month. Specifically the panel offered less expensive alternatives for a school discipline hearing officer system that currently costs $84,000 annually. The panel also questioned the district paying for a golf outing for school board members.

Looking at a bill to pay attorney Brian Carey for his work as a school hearing officer, the panel recommended that the process be brought in-house and that cheaper staff be hired to oversee it. The bill in question reflected Carey’s timesheets showing he had worked two hours in the month for his $3,500/month retainer.

‘Why are we paying $1,400 an hour for this person?” asked panelist Marilee McCracken. ‘I donft object to paying a reasonable amount, but that’s not reasonable.”

The district retains two attorneys to oversee discipline and residency hearings at the three high schools. Michael Castaldo and Brian Carey are paid $3,500 each per month.

According to Carey, who has a law office in Melrose Park, his job is to mediate after student fights or discipline problems.

‘They call me when a fight breaks out or something happens, like someone brings a knife to school,” said Carey in May. He helps determine suspensions and expulsions.

The U.S. Department of Labor salary statistics show that hearing officers earn between $50,000 and $72,000 yearly on average.

D209 Supt. Nettie Collins Hart said Carey and Castaldo had offered to change their billing rate to $195 per hour if the district preferred to be billed that way.

But the oversight panel offered ways the district could save even more. Two panel members, James Popernik and Craig Shilling, said they had personally done residency hearings at school districts where they had worked in the past.

‘You could consider doing some of that in-house with existing personnel,” said Popernik. The panel told Collins Hart that hearing officers were often retired superintendents or part-time school officials. They said the job did not need to be performed by an attorney.

Golf outing questioned

The finance oversight panel also questioned a $1,000 payment by D209 for a June 22 golf outing at the White Pines Golf Club in Bensenville to benefit the Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action, run by Maywood’s Bishop Claude Porter. According to Collins Hart, the board participates in the PLCCA golf outing every year.

‘Why is the district spending taxpayer money on this? If the board wants to participate, they should fork up the money, not the school district,” said Popernik later. The bill was tabled until Illinois State Board of Education lawyers could determine its legality.

Public relations rep quits

TaQuoya Kennedy, the district’s independent contractor for public relations withdrew her request to renew her contract for the 2012-2013 school year after finance committee members questioned her relationship with the district.

‘I donft believe she is really an independent contractor,” said Marilee McCracken at the finance panel’s April meeting. The panel asked Kennedy to provide proof that she was adequately insured as an independent contractor and was insured for potential liens from subcontractors such as web designers. The board also wanted provisions placed into her contract that her work was considered ‘work for hire.”

Popernik said he thought Kennedy was overcompensated for her work, which he described as ‘five articles a month.” The district paid Kennedy $5,000 per month. She also received $5,000 from Welch‘s 7th District political campaign at the beginning of the year. She works as a publicist for the Village of Dalton as well.

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...