The Financial Oversight Panel, appointed by the Illinois State Board of Education just over a decade ago to help right the financial ship at Proviso Township High Schools District 209, will disband this year, district officials said during a joint board meeting between the FOP and the D209 school board, held Dec. 10 at Proviso East High School in Maywood.

Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said during the meeting that the change will be effective Dec. 31, after the state education board votes on the FOP’s exit from the district. In 2008, amid crippling financial deficits, the D209 school board requested that the state assign the FOP to provide oversight about financial decisions. Within two years, the district had balanced its budget and achieved “financial recognition,” the state’s highest designation. 

In 2012, after the district unsuccessfully appealed to the state board of education to remove the FOP, the state, instead, implemented a new statute that gave the oversight body even more authority over financial decisions.

Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said that when he was hired in 2016, he was initially opposed to the FOP’s presence. He said he’s since had a change of heart.

“I didn’t have an idea of what an FOP was — I was against it,” he recalled during the Dec. 10 joint meeting. “But after working with the FOP, I learned that it was necessary and I appreciate the assistance.”

Rodriguez said the FOP helped the district finalize a five-year financial plan, a facilities master plan and a higher bond rating, and assisted the district with securing $77 million to fund the first phase of facilities master plan construction work. He also said that the FOP taught his administration and the board best practices.

“This didn’t happen by chance; it happened by design,” Rodriguez said of the financial turnaround.

During the joint meeting, Craig Schilling, the FOP’s longtime chairman, lauded teachers, as well as current and former school boards and superintendent administrations for cooperating with the oversight body.

“I would like to thank the board and past boards, the administration of Dr. Rodriguez and past administrations, and all the other stakeholders, including the unions in the district, the teachers and so forth who worked collaboratively, not only with the board, but the FOP and everybody who supported this effort,” he said. “Going forward you are in a great position to do great things with Proviso.”

“I was one of those people who took the bus to Springfield with [D209 board member Theresa] Kelly to ask for them to do an extension,” said Della Patterson, a current D209 member who was not on the board at the time.

“I’m really happy you guys came and got the district back in order,” she said, adding that if the school board doesn’t maintain that financial order, she’ll go back to Springfield and advocate to the state board for the FOP’s return.

School board member Sam Valtierrez said that, like Rodriguez, he initially was no fan of the FOP.

“I thought it was a bad thing and it’s not,” he said. “Sometimes we need people like the FOP to give us ideas on how to best protect our monies and that’s what they did for us.”

School board member Rodney Alexander thanked FOP members for their professionalism and their willingness to answer his questions about school business and finance, but said he was anticipating their exit by the end of the year.

“I’m sad to see you go, but I’m glad to see you go,” he said. “And I know that as long as we stay on this trajectory of being transparent and doing what we’re elected to do, that we won’t see you guys again.”