Proviso Township High School District 209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said in a recent interview that he’s currently “at a crossroads” after the school board voted earlier this month against a series of hires and promotions that he had recommended. The personnel changes, he said, were critical to his vision of “transformational change” in the district and are a basic function of his office.
The experience, the superintendent said, has left him somewhat disoriented and even to the point where he’s wondering if the district can handle the pace of the “transformational change” he had promised when he was first hired two years ago.
“Everyone wants change, but when it is time for change to happen people are scared,” he said.
Rodriguez wanted to clear up what he said were some inaccuracies about the hiring process perpetuated at the April 10 regular school board meeting where his recent personnel recommendations were discussed and voted on.
He insisted that the hiring and promoting process was compliant with the district’s collective bargaining agreements, as well as state and district policy.
He also pushed back against claims made by union members and board members at the meeting that the district is prioritizing administrative salaries over spending money on instruction.
“In school districts in Illinois and across America, the superintendent has the authority to recruit and hire employees, and he brings those recommendations to the board,” Rodriguez said during an extensive interview on April 18.
The D209 school board voted 4-3 on April 10 against hiring Anthony Brazouski as assistant superintendent of human resources, safety and athletics to replace Kim Waller-Echols, who announced her resignation earlier this month to take a job elsewhere.
Board President Theresa Kelly, along with members Sam Valtierrez, Amanda Grant and Della Patterson voted against the hire because of concerns raised by Maggie Riley, the president of the Proviso Teachers Union, about the hiring process.
Riley, part of the advisory panel of faculty and staff members who helped screen candidates, said Brazouski was not the most qualified candidate for the position, based on a scoring system in which Brazouski performed near the bottom of a pool of four candidates.
During the interview on April 18, however, Rodriguez said several points separated Brazouski from the top candidates in that part of the process. He added that the advisory panel was only involved in one part of a four-part hiring process. There were three other parts of the process, two of which were weighted the same as the one the advisory panel was included in. Overall, the superintendent said, Brazouski was the highest-performing candidate by far.
Rodriguez also addressed what he said “could be” a perception among some in the district that he is quietly bringing on people with whom he had worked while he was employed as an administrator at a school district in Wisconsin.
“We have never worked together,” the superintendent said of Brazouski. “I am from Milwaukee and he is from another place. But we hire people from everywhere. We have not hired anyone from Milwaukee since I’ve been here. [At the same time], if they’re great candidates, they could be from Wisconsin, they could be everywhere. We don’t discriminate.”
Rodriguez said he is “not sure what the issue is with Brazouski other than the confusion about the process, which I can understand.” He said he spoke with union members last week who said, according to Rodriguez, ‘Had we known about the other parts of the hiring process, we would have understood.’
Riley could not be contacted by the time this article went to press on Tuesday morning.
The board’s vote against the Brazouski hire means that Rodriguez is back to square one even as the clock ticks. Along with Waller-Echols’ replacement, Rodriguez also has to find a replacement for Todd Drafall, the district’s chief financial officer, who resigned around the same time as Waller-Echols did. Both of their resignations are effective July 1, which is the start of the district’s new fiscal year.
Along with replacing two top administrators, Rodriguez must also regroup after the board voted 4-3 against reclassifying Rob Daniels, a program analyst, as a digital media specialist, and promoting Cynthia Moreno, the district’s community and public relations coordinator, to director of communications and community outreach.
The four board members who voted against Brazouski also voted against those personnel changes, with most of those dissenting members arguing that the jobs should have been open to other candidates.
Riley said on April 10 that the union’s collective bargaining agreement requires all administrative transfers and chair openings to be posted on the district’s website or emailed to all union members so that those members who are qualified can apply for the openings.
Rodriguez argued that the union’s agreement only applies to positions that are Teacher Retirement System-certified. Daniels’ and Moreno’s positions are non-certified staff positions.
He added that Moreno’s promotion, which would have come with an increase in pay from $68,000 a year to $105,000 a year, was necessary for the creation of an entirely new department, which Moreno would head.
The department, which would include Daniels — whose job reclassification entailed a pay raise from $50,000 a year to $55,000 a year — would be responsible for creating an online “teacher learning community” that would facilitate better communication between teachers and families, Rodriguez said. The new department, he added, would have come ahead of the district rolling out a new and improved website.
He said the new department would include additional English-Spanish translators to help translate numerous district communication material that goes out to families, much of which is still in English despite the district’s student population being over 50 percent Hispanic.
Rodriguez said the additional translators would help alleviate some of the low-level clerical work that he currently finds himself doing — namely translating documents.
Beyond the issue of hiring, some union and board members said on April 10 that the personnel changes seemed to prioritize administrative salaries over financial prudence.
Board member Della Patterson argued that a claim made by some board members in support of Rodriguez’s personnel recommendations — that the superintendent was proposing to spend $60,000 less on administrative salaries this upcoming fiscal year than what was actually spent last year — was not valid, since the cost-saving was made possible by cutting a history department chair.
Patterson also said she was confused that the district “all of a sudden” has money to pay for higher administrative salaries, when she was told there was no money to implement an eight-period day, a recommendation she had made some time ago.
Rodriguez said the $102,000 district department chair position Patterson had referenced on April 10 was indeed cut, but that it was not at the expense of instructional quality.
He said that, prior to his tenure, there were three district chairs — one for social studies, one for technical education and one for guidance. That model, he said, had not worked for his predecessor and he found it did not work for him, either.
“Instead, we’ll have department chairs at Proviso East and West, so the teachers will do it at the building level. The service will continue to be provided,” he said, adding that those building department chairs now receive stipends — a change that the board had already approved.
Addressing the eight-period day, Rodriguez said he had already discussed with the board that the cost of implementing that instructional change would be more than $2.4 million.
Rodriguez said he was particularly bewildered by some board members’ input and their votes because he had already explained to them his plans for the central office changes prior to the vote on April 10. For instance, the board itself voted to cut the district-wide department chair position.
“I still don’t have a decision about where to go with this,” he said of the board’s vote against his personnel decisions. “I am very confident about the process we followed. I have to do my work based on evidence and data. Going forward, I either have to bring another candidate forward or start the process all over again. That will create a delay in our work.”
Correction: This article has been updated for clarity and accuracy.