Superintendent James Henderson at a ribbon cutting celebration for the advanced manufacturing lab at Proviso West High School. | Shanel Romain

At the Feb. 9 regular meeting of the Proviso Township High Schools District 209 board of education, it was revealed that all board committees are being overhauled based on a plan Superintendent James Henderson outlined to board members at the Jan. 30 board retreat.

During the new business section of the meeting, board member Amanda Grant opened a discussion on the topic.

“At the board retreat, Dr. Henderson outlined a whole new set of committees that kind of obliterated the old ones,” said Grant. “And I really think that any discussion about or decision about committees needs to be board-led.”

During the meeting, Henderson suggested that there would be eight new committees established based on and to oversee district policy. But because it was not an action item, no information about the new committees was provided in the packet available to the public online.

“As I shared with you at the retreat, you have one employee. And that’s me,” Henderson said to the board at the Feb. 9 meeting. “And your role, other than hiring a superintendent and an attorney, is to govern. And you govern through policies. Not day to day operations. The committees that I’ve seen have been performing as day-to-day operations. We must remain in our lanes.”

But board members Amanda Grant and Ned Wagner stated clearly that they felt the committees, especially the finance and facilities committee, should remain as is.

“Committee meetings are a window to the public … a window and an opportunity for engagement of the public, for our parents, for our stakeholders, for our community members,” Grant said during the meeting.

Grant, who chairs the Finance and Facilities Committee, pointed out the necessity of that particular committee, stating that in the board member’s oath of office, the very first thing sworn by each member is to “respect taxpayer interests by serving as a faithful protector of the school district’s assets.”

“If we do not make sure that these assets are spent wisely and properly and legally and in the best way possible for our students, then we can’t accomplish anything else on this list,” Grant said.

Grant called it “shortsighted” to assume that because the district is no longer under the watch of the state’s Financial Oversight Panel and has a financial plan in place that it’s time to abolish the Finance and Facilities Committee.

Rather, Grant said, the district got to a place of solid financial footing with the help of the committee. She added: “I hate to say it, and I hope I’m wrong. But I predict problems if we take our eyes off finances, I really do.”

Wagner agreed that the finance and facilities committee is crucial and should be kept intact. He said that in particular the Facilities Master Plan, which included a “huge community outreach program” and involves tens of millions of dollars over the next few years, should continue to have an extra set of eyes on it.

“It’s a once in a generation opportunity for the school district,” Wagner said.

Like Grant, Wagner also brought up the need to keep the district’s finances in order and ensure there is enough oversight.

“We are only one year out from not having a Financial Oversight Panel from the state,” Wagner said. He went on to say, “The school district has a history of not doing things right, on a large scale. And so, to me, I mean, I’m a big proponent of at least maintaining the Finance and Facilities Committee.”

Board president Rodney Alexander, however, objected strongly to Wagner and Grant bringing up the history of the board and prior financial mismanagement as a reason to keep the committee.

“There’s a lot of talk about the history of the district,” Alexander said. “I have no responsibility or bear no accountability to the public about the history that I was not a part of. Nor will I try to appease them about history that I was not a part of. You judge me by the work that I’ve done since I’ve been on this board.”

 Board member Della Patterson was outspoken about her disapproval of committees in general because, she said, staff tend to defer to board members sitting as chairs of committees.

“Here’s what happens when you have board members that chair committees,” Patterson said. “I’m the employee, you’re the board member. It gets to the point where you tell me or think you can tell me what to do. And when you’re in the position as an employee, what do you do? You kind of do what the board members say do.”

Board member Sam Valtierrez said that several years ago, when the current board members were new and the district had significant issues, committees were needed, but this is no longer the case.

“Back then, we did need all these committees because we had serious issues,” Valtierrez said. “But we came a long way.” He added: “Henderson is just gearing us to a different way, different methods, different strategy to keep the board moving forward.”

Board member Theresa Kelly said she would wait to see the final proposed committees from Henderson before making a decision on the issue.

Presumably, the board will vote during an upcoming meeting on the committees proposed and outlined by Henderson.

The Forest Park Review requested information about the new committees on Feb. 21 from the district’s communications director, board president Rodney Alexander and the superintendent, but no response had been provided by March 1.