Amidst outcry on social media regarding a public notice seen in the Chicago Tribune in late March, Proviso Township High School District 209 school board members sought a public apology from those they trust for financial guidance for the premature move.
During the board meeting on Tuesday, April 11, Dr. James Cunneen, C & H Educational Consultant and representatives of Mesirow Public Finance, including managing director Todd Krzyskowski, publicly apologized for the premature publication of the notice of public hearing that stated D209 would be having a public meeting to receive input on a proposal to sell bonds in the amount of $44,000,000 to increase the working cash fund.
The notice, which was dated on March 14, 2023, and allegedly signed off on by board secretary Samuel Valtierrez, said the public hearing was to be held during the April 11 meeting at Proviso West.
“We are here today to apologize to you,” said Cunneen. “What happened over that publication should have never happened. I am not here to make excuses, it happened, we take responsibility for what happened, and I apologize to you for that.”
Cunneen said the mistake was due to a communication error during Spring Break, a lack of email checking, and not being able to get in touch with people. He also said while they “desperately wanted” to hear from the people on how to fund potential future building renovation projects, the board was in full control over any notice that is to be made public.
“I had no idea it was published in the Chicago Tribune with my name on it,” Valtierrez said, confronting Cunneen during the board meeting. “I am the person who reads the small print, so I do require some documentation stating that you retracted that.”
Valtierrez said he is still waiting for a retraction and that a public apology be made to District 209 community members in the Tribune as well.
“We wanted to start with me standing in front of you and personally apologizing to you,” said Cunneen.
“This is a big deal,” Valtierrez told Forest Park Review regarding wanting a public acknowledgment by Cunneen and Mesirow regarding the mistake. “I don’t know how the mistake was made. Because it was a big deal and it was something that the community usually gets involved in, it was important to me.”
Valtierrez said he was notified by board member Amanda Grant of the notice around March 25 and immediately spoke with the district’s attorney, followed by Supt. James Henderson, who allegedly told him he was not aware of the notice.
Henderson did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Valtierrez, Cunneen said the public notice was forecasted and scheduled to be sent to the Tribune as they had anticipated the board’s approval but forgot to cancel the notice after the board remained in discussion over the item.
Valtierrez told the Review he was informed there were two notices for public hearing that were published in the Tribune, one for selling $44 million in bonds and another for selling $31 million in bonds. Neither notice was approved by the board, said Valtierrez.
Board President Arbdella Patterson clarified that despite the notice saying, “by order of the President of the Board of Education,” she did not give out those orders.
“I am the sitting president at this time,” Patterson said during the meeting. “At no time, at any time, have I OKd or agreed to any public notice being put out by a directive of myself.”
“The damage at this point is done because the public is under the impression that this board, that this superintendent, gave the okay,” Patterson said.
During the Feb. 14 meeting, Cunneen presented “Proviso Township High School District 209 Financing Alternative for Capital Projects,” during open session for discussion only. The goal of the plan was to allow the district to generate $71 million for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal year’s construction projects.
Grant had previously submitted an op-ed piece to Village Free Press and the Forest Park Review encouraging community response, saying the project, which was developed by an “outside party,” had no foresight and no accountability plan in place. According to the presentation, $41,500,000 would be received through the sale of bonds and another $29,500,000 through district anticipated Evidence Based Funding (EBF.)
While EBF was expected to cover most of the amount borrowed, as well as include a tax abatement for the next five years, the district would be left paying back approximately $4.5 million a year.
Per the recommendation of Mesirow representatives, the district should take advantage of the current 3.5 to 4 percent interest rates on borrowing to lock in rates for bonds to avoid future inflation.
While the district has already had two discussions regarding the proposition, Patterson said, due to the incident regarding the publication of the public notice in the Tribune, she would like to start over “from beginning to end,” in the name of transparency.
“Let the record reflect that we have only discussed, we have not agreed to a bond,” said Patterson.
While Valtierrez said he was not at fault, as secretary of the board, he accepts a certain level of responsibility as he is accountable to the community and hopes this helps them find a better process for addressing public hearing notices moving forward and work towards transparency as well as non-hostile communication with the community.
“I was elected to have their [the community] interest in mind, I have lived in this community for 35 years, I have invested interest in this township, and I want the best for it,” Valtierrez said. “I want to let them know that moving forward, we want to invite the community to give us feedback, give us honest feedback.”