We get the frustrations of administrators in Proviso high school District 209 and it was good to hear them spoken last week at an unusual joint meeting of both the elected school board and the state-appointed Financial Oversight Panel.
Administrators Ð from the superintendent to the principals to the curriculum chief and the finance officerÐ talked about the practical and the psychic static it causes to effectively be answerable to two separate and often opposed decision making bodies.
There are bureaucratic delays as approvals for things as basic as ordering textbooks. There are philosophical debates that turn into political issues such as the FOP’s contention that the district is frittering taxpayer cash on legal fees and should hire an in-house attorney. With the board president linked to a specific law firm, the FOP’s recommendation was denied and so the FOP came back with a demand that payments made to the outside law firm be reduced 40 percent or $200,000 this year.
That does put Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart in a box. And probably it isn’t fair. On the other hand when school board President Chris Welch is digging in his heels to protect a law firm’s income stream it feels to us like an indicator of all that is wrong with this failed school district and all that has been wrong for years and years.
Insider dealing, nepotism, over-rich contracts, red ink, a cascade of superintendents and principals, disdain for taxpayers from poor communities who are forking over huge riches to this district, and, most importantly, absolutely dismal academic results for generations of young people. Put those cynical results together and even a state as screwed up as Illinois is going to take over your school system. That’s what the FOP has done. It has taken over this school district. And this fall its powers have been extended into areas of personnel and many contracts.
We cheer this broader power and we reject the complaint of some administrators voiced last week that the FOP is concerned only with cost-cutting. Managing finances is the primary power the FOP has had until this point. Squeezing waste and abuse out of the budget is the essential step in redirecting funding into educational advantages. It is the current and past school boards which have been dishing out ice cream to cronies that deserve our scorn. Legal inquiries would be better but we’ll have to settle for scorn at this point.
Finally, with the FOP’s power growing and the failed epoch of Welch mercifully coming to a close by spring Ð when ironically he will have arrived in Springfield as a state rep charged with helping run this decrepit state Ð finally the school board seems to have figured out that simply bashing the FOP isn’t a strategy. Defining their roles, looking to work collaboratively are now on the agenda.
A past-due epiphany for this addled school board. But we’ll take it. And perhaps in the days ahead, the school administrators will be freed from hiring PR hacks and politically juiced law firms, perhaps the wives of school board members will no longer rise to the top of the clerical hiring chart.
Perhaps. Color us dubious. But we are ever so slightly encouraged that at least last week honest concerns were raised and heard.