During a regular meeting on June 14, the Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education voted 4-2 to give District 209 Supt. James Henderson his third contract in two years.
Board President Della Patterson, along with members Theresa Kelly, Rodney Alexander, and Sam Valtierrez voted for the new contract while members Amanda Grant and Ned Wagner voted against. Board member Claudia Medina was absent.
The new contract comes three months after perhaps the longest teacher strike in the district’s history — a period of nearly three weeks when the superintendent repeatedly canceled bargaining sessions. Union officials said one of the main points of contention was the superintendent’s lack of good-faith negotiating.
Teachers, parents and community members have also lambasted Supt. Henderson’s overhaul of central office functions, with complaints pouring in over several months about the lack of administrative responsiveness, poor IT capabilities, regular fights that teachers claim are due to the superintendent’s decision to halve security personnel, staff shortages, employee churn, and a general lack of respect shown by Henderson toward teachers and students.
The overwhelming dissatisfaction among teachers and students with the superintendent’s job performance didn’t register with board members who approved Henderson’s third contract in two years.
The initial contract, approved after he was unanimously hired by the board in August 2020, was for three years and paid a salary of $250,000.
His second contract, a five-year agreement approved in June 2021, included a salary of $262,500, including an unspecified pension contribution paid by the district, $32,129 in annual health insurance premiums, a $12,500 annuity, and a $6,000-a-year vehicle allowance. That contract was voted on by all board members except Medina and Grant.
During the June 14 meeting, board member Theresa Kelly said Henderson has shown that he “can move academics forward” and “we have not had any problems with Dr. Henderson.”
Board member Rodney Alexander framed the new contract as protecting a superintendent subjected to “personal attacks, discrimination and sheer hatred.”
Alexander said Henderson has kept the district afloat “flawlessly” and ushered in “fair contracts” for teachers and support personnel, before adding that for most administrations, “once your name is sullied,” future employment becomes difficult.
Wagner said, while he empathizes with what “he’s gone through the last couple of years,” he felt that the superintendent’s “very generous contract last year” should be sufficient to allow the superintendent to achieve the goals the board has for him.
Grant said that the board has not formally evaluated Henderson and singled out a clause in the contract that would commit the district to a three-year payout “if Henderson is released for any reason at all — that’s money taxpayers are on the hook for.”
She added that the new contract also calls for an extra $31,000 annuity in addition to the district’s payments into Henderson’s pension.
“There is so much [in the contract] that I do not understand why we’d even consider giving this out, when we’ve made it clear there’s no money for teachers, or at least the teachers who already work here,” Grant said.
She was referencing the tense disputes between Henderson and the Proviso Teachers Union over pay increases during the nearly three-week strike and the $7,500 recruitment bonus the board approved on June 14 that would provide 19 recently hired out-of-state teachers with a $7,500 retention bonus.
“We already have a contract in place,” Grant said. “This does not make sense to me, and I do not think this is a sign of any kind of healthy management that’s happening.”