The Proviso Township High Schools District 209 school board approved a five-year contract for Supt. Jesse Rodriguez during a contentious regular meeting on June 12 that could prove ominous, with some people referencing allegations of racist hiring and workplace practices lodged against the administration to argue why the school board should vote the contract down.
The board voted 4-3 in favor of Rodriguez’s new contract. Board members Rodney Alexander, Claudia Medina, Ned Wagner and Sam Valtierrez voted for it, while Theresa Kelly, Amanda Grant and Della Patterson voting against it.
The new contract, which extends from the 2018-19 to the 2022-23 school years, entails gradual salary increases over the next five academic years. Starting next school year, Rodriguez will collect a base salary of $228,960, which will gradually grow to $257,648 by 2023. Currently, Rodriguez makes a base salary of $234,090, according to district records.
Board members who voted for the contract said that it was the result of a painstaking six-month process steeped in due diligence, and that the work Rodriguez has done since he came to the district merited a five-year commitment based on performance evaluations.
Some board members who voted against the measure, however, said that Rodriguez’s performance since being hired two years ago didn’t merit a five-year contract, with Theresa Kelly — among the longest-serving school board members in the district’s history — claiming that the contract was the lengthiest she’d seen during her decades-long tenure on the board.
“I do not feel comfortable … giving a five-year contract,” said Kelly, who added that she had been against a five-year contract since the board started working on it six months ago. She also said that she was puzzled as to why the board seemed to be rushing the vote, since Rodriguez still has a year left on his current three-year contract.
“We’ve never given a superintendent a [contract of more] than three years,” Kelly said.
Kelly and Patterson, who both said that had nothing personal against the superintendent, added that Rodriguez’s compensation should not be on par with the $260,000 a year that the CEO of Chicago Public Schools — a district that has nearly 380,000 more students than D209.
They also thought it was unwise for the district to vote on a new contract for the superintendent in light of the allegations against Rodriguez’s administration that had recently surfaced.
According to multiple sources outside of the district, D209 officials are currently investigating complaints against the administration brought by employees alleging discriminatory hiring practices and discriminatory workplace treatment.
Officials with the district could not be reached on Wednesday evening to comment about the allegations or to confirm whether or not an investigation is underway, but several people made vague references to the allegations on Tuesday.
“That you would consider an additional contract for the superintendent in the wake of the allegations that are out there of racism in this district right now lets me know that something is wrong,” said Robert Jones, of Maywood, at the meeting, adding: “There are some serious allegations that have been brought against the superintendent.”
“I do not feel comfortable with voting until we have settled some internal issues,” Kelly said.
The dialogue around Rodriguez’s new contract at the meeting on Tuesday was different than when the board voted unanimously to hire him on a 3-year contract in February 2016, giving him the mandate to turn the district around.
At the time, Kelly said that Rodriguez — who had come to the district after serving as a regional superintendent for Milwaukee Public Schools — “seemed transformational.”
Rodriguez moved rapidly in his first few years, implementing a strategic plan and overseeing the commencement of a facility master plan process.
During an interview last year, the superintendent said that community consensus around equity across the three schools partly informed his decision to make some significant budget reallocations. He said his administration saw $1.4 million in staffing adjustments, a $300,000 reduction in administrative costs, and re-purposed funding of $2.5 million.
He also lauded the district’s effort to enroll a freshman class at Proviso Math and Science Academy (PMSA) that was 30 percent larger than the previous academic year and much larger than those of years past. And yet, expenses at PMSA remained flat while those at Proviso East and West High Schools were increasing, Rodriguez said.
During his first year, some of the superintendent’s changes were met with widespread applause, with many people, for instance, lauding the new atmosphere at the high schools, which they said were more welcoming and inviting than they were during the tenure of former superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart, Rodriguez’s predecessor.
Over the last year, however, Rodriguez and the board has come under some criticism by community members, particularly in the wake of a public meeting in February, where the idea of possibly merging PMSA with either Proviso East or West was broached by architects and residents.
The concept, which has not been formally considered by the school board, nonetheless prompted a dialogue about the widening academic gap between the schools — PMSA was recently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 8th best school in Illinois — and that at its sister campuses, which were not highly ranked by the magazine.
The superintendent had also recently clashed publicly with some board members over his power to restructure his administrative staff, with the board voting in April against a series of promotions, as well as a new assistant superintendent, Rodriguez had recommended. That assistant superintendent candidate was eventually hired in May after a second board vote.
At the June 12 meeting, some board members and residents argued that the district has not sufficiently progressed under Rodriguez, particularly in the area of equity.
Antoinette Gray, a Maywood resident and active Proviso East alumnus, said that students at East and West don’t receive the same amount of resources as students at PMSA.
“The fact that there isn’t any equity and we’re having conversations about the haves and have nots in a district where we’re struggling is really appalling,” Gray said. “At the end of the day, our students are not getting the same resources and it has gotten worst under the leadership and guidance of Dr. Rodriguez. To even know you all are considering a five-year contract for him is disheartening.”
Board President Ned Wagner said that he was pleased with the district’s progress since Rodriguez was hired and that the district had been working “very laboriously” for six months putting the new contract together.
“We have discussed this contract countless times in special meetings and in regular meeting executive sessions, so I am confident that enough due diligence has been put into creating this contract,” Wagner said, adding that he’s confident that Rodriguez is the person to carry out a transformation of the district.
“If he doesn’t meet the goals I’ll be the first one to motion he be dismissed,” said Valtierrez. “But to find someone guilty before due process is wrong. Anger does no one any good.”