D209 proves it cannot be trusted

Opinion

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Bill Dwyer

The word Chutzpah has its root in the Hebrew term meaning "to be insolent." It's defined as "utter nerve or effrontery." That pretty much sums up the attitude of Proviso High School District 209 in regards to their scheduling summer school classes at the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park.

Chutzpah can also be defined as "supreme self-confidence." And why wouldn't District 209 be confident. They rammed through a 40 million bond issue after steam rolling all opposition, then put on the single most inept display of ongoing planning I've ever personally witnessed. They then went over budget at least $7 million and likely much more.

Now they've pulled off the fait accompli of a summer school session with a thousand or so ill behaved kids from Proviso East and West high schools, and left Forest Park and its police department to deal with the resultant mess. On June 12, with no prior notice to the village, District 209 dumped those students on the Math and Science Academy for six weeks. As anyone with a lick of sense- or concern- could have predicted, problems arose.

Apparently the Proviso folks' thinking goes something like this- we had 125 highly intelligent, highly motivated freshmen in the Magnet School all year with few or no problems. So then, the thinking goes, why not hold our summer school there? Heck, we're so self-confident, we won't even bother to inform the Forest Park Police Department that there'll be eight times as many, far less well behaved kids all letting out at the same time each day. And what if more than a few of them turned out to be gang bangers or wannabes?

Those D209 folk were so confident that Kyle Hastings, the Director of Auxiliary programming who oversees the summer school, reportedly left for a vacation right after summer school started. How's that for total confidence in Forest Park's ability to handle their messes?

To borrow a phrase from Cook County Board President candidate Tony Peraica, "had enough?" Is there anyone left in Forest Park who is still willing to take anyone from District 209 on their word without an iron clad contract?

I really hate to pick on the mayor again. After all, he's basking a bit in the after glow of a largely positive unveiling of the planned Roos Building re-development, a development of which Anthony Calderone can be justifiably proud of.

However, I have to take the mayor to task just a bit on his rather surprising equanimity in the face of what clearly was another shaft job by the Proviso crew. Saying he was "disenchanted" that D-209 didn't inform the village of their plans ahead of time, Calderone none the less said he felt there was "room for compromise."

"We just need to call them to the table and find a solution," he said.

The mayor hasn't hesitated to lash out at political opponents periodically. And he spent three pages responding to a particularly harsh criticism of him a couple months ago, so we know he's got some fire in the belly.

Why then such a calm, measured approach to what is clearly a slap in the face from District 209? Their inexcusable, irresponsible actions placed this town at risk, forced the redirection of already limited law enforcement resources to the most remote and least accessible corner of the village, and placed a "huge strain" on its officers, according to Police Chief Jim Ryan.

Village Administrator Michael Sturino had reportedly sought to have "summer school" included in the list of disallowed activities at the Magnet School, but apparently relented after District 209 officials argued against it. Now we know why.

"This particular summer school is not permitted under the agreement," Sturino said last week. He said he's hoping for "voluntary compliance" by the school district. But if we've learned anything about the District 209 school district under Board President Chris Welch and his crew, it's that you can't trust them under any circumstances.

The disorder at the magnet school could have been worse, and still might be. Last month a gang of little goof ball gangbanger wannabes from the middle school took the opportunity of the last day of school to get their ya-yas out by going after another middle school kid with 2 by 4s. When confronted by neighborhood adults, and then by police, their response was disrespectful and combative, and required the intervention of at least eight officers. They also arrested the mother of one of the kids involved, after she- instead of calling 911 and letting the appropriate authorities handle the situation- recklessly raced to the scene, lost control of her car, and slammed into the corner of a house, narrowly missing a natural gas pipe.

That incident involved just 20 or so middle school kids. Imagine a scenario on the last day of summer school at First Avenue and Roosevelt with a thousand 15-to 17 year olds milling about and some anti-social gangbanger goofball deciding he wants to even a score.

Calderone called the idea of shutting down the summer school "a little unrealistic," and of course it is. But I suspect that's just what District 209 officials were banking on- that once they'd started up the summer school, Forest Park would be between a rock and a hard place. They'd look like heartless ogres, depriving poor students of a much needed educational opportunity if they closed down the school.

People think newspaper columnists cynical, but what we are in actuality is skeptical. The stunt District 209 pulled off with their summer school plan, on the other hand, is cynicism with a capital C, and is something that should anger everyone in Forest Park, our Mayor included.

So what now? In the wake of this latest D209 debacle, the village needs to hold the district's collective feet to the fire in all subsequent negotiations. Make sure everything is spelled out in detail, that nothing is assumed or taken for granted. Dot every I, cross every t, check every comma and period. If there's the slightest bit of wiggle room in any phrasing, tighten it up.

Sturino and Calderone obviously will need to explore their options as they plan their response to D209's latest gaffe. But one option they shouldn't bother exploring is to give the folks at D 209 any benefit of the doubt.

Because after this latest stunt, there can be no doubt anymore that the folks at District 209 simply can't be trusted.

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