Eleven years ago, our public high school district was in crisis. An educational, ethical, and most certainly, financial crisis. Rotten leadership from a politically-captured school board, turbulent and unaccountable leadership from an ever-changing school administration, a disaffected and burned-out faculty, powerless parents, and 11 feeder communities which saw only what divided them — this was the sorry state of Proviso Township High Schools.
That was the moment when the state of Illinois, no paragon of good governance or financial management itself, created a Financial Oversight Panel (FOP) through the State Board of Education to directly oversee how money was being spent in District 209. The FOP had the ultimate power in how contracts were let, negotiations conducted, spending priorities set. And especially in those first years, there was no doubt who wielded control in this run-amok school district.
It has been a tug-of-war ever since as new boards and new administrators resented the powers of the FOP and sought their removal. Grudgingly, though, recent school boards and the current superintendent, Jesse Rodriguez, came to recognize the value of the oversight, the best practices taught and demanded, and, ultimately, no one could argue with the results.
Now as 2019 closes out, the clear expectation is that the FOP will give up its role in Proviso. What is expected to be a perfunctory vote of the State Board of Education is due later in December.
The school district is left with rational financial systems in place, a five-year financial plan approved, a master facilities plan ready to be implemented, improved bond ratings and adequate money in the bank.
At a joint meeting of the D209 school board and the FOP on Dec. 10, mutual admiration was expressed. Rodriguez acknowledged that upon his hiring in 2016 he opposed the FOP’s role. But he noted the turnaround in the district “didn’t happen by chance; it happened by design.” Craig Schilling, the longtime chair of the FOP, offered profuse thanks to every D209 constituency, including the board, administration and teachers. “Going forward,” Schilling said, “you are in a great position to do great things with Proviso.”
We agree. This was a school district that needed heads knocked together a decade back. And in recent years as the leadership changed, the district benefitted from expertise and the focus of the FOP.
Now D209 needs to keep that discipline, keep its focus on students and innovation, keep its focus on One Proviso.