Updated Oct. 30, 2012 – 4:50 p.m.
Romanier Polley, the chief financial officer of Proviso Township High School District 209 submitted a letter of resignation to the district Oct. 22. Polley, who started in August, 2011, said she accepted a job with the Thornton School District 205 in South Holland.
Working conditions influenced her decision to leave, she said.
“Administrators have to be empowered to do their job,” said Polley.
Polley said she had no problems with the school board or the Illinois State Board of Education-appointed financial oversight panel.
“It’s the superintendent,” said Polley, referring to Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart. “It’s not a healthy work environment overall.”
Polley is the fourth high-level administrator to leave the district in the past year. Others were Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Cheryl Pruitt, Special Education Director Marianne Fidishin and Senior Athletic Director Milton Patch, who is a former principal of Proviso East. All three are now working for the Gary, Ind. School Community Corp.
Polley came to Proviso from the Unified School District in San Diego. She also worked for the Avondale school district on the outskirts of Detroit. She earns $121,462.50 per year, plus $40,042.50 in benefits.
She said her experience was, “working with districts in trouble.”
Since Polley started, she cut $2 million from the budget and eliminated internal intra-fund loans by restructuring how money is levied and moving money from the working cash and education funds to special funds for transportation, capital projects and operations and management.
She said the district would be in good shape by “living within our budget, proper oversight and internal controls put in place.”
Polley also said the district would need to address its crumbling infrastructure by fixing and maintaining the buildings by finding new sources to borrow money.
“We’ve hit our district’s bond limit. But we’ve hired a financial advisor to see if we can look for alternatives for extra revenue,” Polley said, adding that a 10-year plan outlined $58 million in needed repairs and maintenance. “We’ll also need an emergency fund for unforeseen things you can’t put in a budget.”
Her resignation puts the spotlight on the district’s financial oversight panel, which was given new powers by the ISBE to hire and fire the school’s finance officer and superintendent in June.
“[Polley’s resignation] opens up some opportunities if we want to pursue them,” said Financial Oversight Board Chair Jim Popernik. “My guess is we will work with the school board to get an interim CFO and see what the ISBE wants us to do.”
School board member Kevin McDermott made the first public mention of the resignation at the Oct. 23 financial oversight panel meeting at Proviso West High School.
“I would like to know who has the authority to [hire a replacement] and what is the best way?” McDermott said later. “The state statute clearly gives the [financial oversight panel] the ability to hire. We’ll find out whether they want to do that or collaborate with the board and how they want to proceed.”
Popernik said any CFO of the school would face challenges because of “poor school facilities, dropping [local property tax revenues] and the state not paying its bills.”
He also characterized the administration as having “instability” and said the work environment might add difficulty to the quick hiring of a replacement.
Polley’s tenure had a couple of rough moments. She brought on negative publicity in the Wall Street Journal, Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune when she failed to provide Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas a completed district audit in January, when it was requested. Pappas singled out District 209 and 62 other government bodies for not responding and threatened to sue them.
Polley’s office also neglected to place a classified ad announcing the public display of the district’s budget in local papers 30 days before it was to be approved, as legally required, and at one point submitted the wrong year’s district salary report to the board for the ISBE report. All problems were quickly rectified.
She also had trouble with the complexity of reconciling the district’s accounting with the Proviso Treasurer’s Office accounts.
But Popernik called those “ameliorating circumstances,” and pointed out that Polley had no Illinois experience and problems could be expected for someone “transitioning to a different state and different laws.”
“She would make projections and balance the budget and keep the place running under tough conditions,” he said.
Polley said labor negotiations with the operations and management workers at the district were going well, and that would help keep costs under control for her replacement.
“I want Proviso to be successful and moving forward. I don’t feel like my job is done, but there’s only so much you can do,” Polley said. “It’s a good school district, and I hope that they move forward and educate kids.”