Thursday, April 17, 2014

UPDATED POST: Special Board Meetings Called for Friday, April 18 and 19 at 6 p.m. at Elm School and Ruth Lake Country Club -- Possible Conflicts of Interest?

Earlier today we announced that an agenda for a Special Board Meeting had been published on Board Docs announcing a Special Meeting, to be held on Friday, April 18,  in Executive Session at the Administration Center at Elm School,  for purposes of discussing Personnel.  (Click to open 4/18 agenda.)  We surmised that the meeting would be to conduct second round interviews of the Superintendent candidates, or for the board to deliberate their decision.  That agenda has now been revised to add Ruth Lake Country Club as a second location for not only the April 18 meeting, but also as a second location for a Special Meeting to be held on April 19 starting at 6 p.m. (Click to open 4/19 agenda.)

While it looks like the BOE is moving full speed ahead on the search for Dr. Schuster's replacement, these agendas raise some red flags:

1.  According to both agendas, the meetings will begin in open session followed by an opportunity for public comment, then adjourn into executive session.  The agendas state that the meetings will be held "at the Administrative Center, 6010 S. Elm St., Burr Ridge, IL. and Ruth Lake, 6200 S. Madison St., Hinsdale, IL."  How is it possible for each meeting to be at two locations at once?  Will only some of the board members show up at Elm School and some at Ruth Lake Country Club? Will the meetings open at Elm School and then following public comment, will all of the board members drive over to Ruth Lake Country Club?  Seems rather unusual to schedule a meeting for two locations.

2.  It seems likely that the continuing interviews will be conducted off site at Ruth Lake Country Club, just as the first round were held at the Hyatt Lodge on the McDonald's Campus in Oak Brook.  But is it really a good idea to use Ruth Lake Country Club?

3.  According to Provision 2 of the School Board Member Code of Conduct, all board members "will avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety that could result from my position, and will not use my Board of Education membership for personal gain or publicity."

4.  Everyone knows that Board President Turek is a member of Ruth Lake Country Club.  Unless Ruth Lake is "comping" the district free use of its facilities to hold these interviews, isn't it a conflict of interest for the interviews to be held at a location at which only a "country club member" is typically allowed to rent out the facilities and purchase food and beverages?  Is it possible that the district is paying for the rental fees of these facilities or any food and beverages that will be served during the interview sessions, but that these charges will actually be charged to Mr. Turek's membership account?  Is it possible that such charges -- paid for by the district -- will then be credited against the annual amount that Mr. Turek, as a Ruth Lake Country Club member,  is required to spend?  These are valid questions that should be immediately addressed by the School Board since no Board Member is allowed to benefit financially from their position.  Looks like a Freedom of Information Act request might be required in the near future to investigate these possible improprieties.

5.  The identity of the superintendent candidates is supposed to be confidential until such time as a finalist is announced to the public.  Up until that moment, all interviews should be structured in a manner in which the public cannot easily learn who the candidates are, and all staff or parents that might be involved in the second round of interviews should be required to agree to maintain confidentiality.  The purpose of this is to protect the candidates, who may not have yet informed their current employers -- most likely a boards of education in other districts -- that they are interviewing for a new job.  Such efforts are meaningless if the location of the interviews is such that members of the public are likely to see the candidates as they arrive or leave or while they are at the location.  Ruth Lake Country Club is such a location.  Not only is Mr. Turek a member, but so are many D181 parents and taxpayers.  To make matters worse, conducting the interviews during weekend nights when the club is busy, especially in its dining room, seems like a pretty dumb move on the part of the board, unless, of course, they want the identify of their candidates to be leaked.  In the past, the BOE has used the Hyatt Lodge for all such interviews.  Why the change this time around?  

Once again we are left dumbfounded by the actions of the D181 Board of Education.  It seems like in their haste to hire a replacement for Dr. Schuster, they are getting careless.


Anonymous said...

Pam Lannom's editorial today should have emphasized that had the administration demonstrated competence, that there would have been much more trust in the current superintendent. Trust is earned, not automatic. One terrible decision after another, without any admission of mistakes being made or addressed never is a good way to build trust.

At least the former superintendent of neighboring District 107, at the insistence of their BOE, had the decency to apologize for misleading the schools. NO ONE who works for a public institution should be beyond scrutiny and inquiry. If there is nothing to hide, the new superintendent will be transparent. Only transparency, honesty, and most importantly, competence in the area of curriculum and instruction will create a feeling of mutual trust.

Hopefully the BOE will act responsibly with the new superintendent by monitoring and verifying his/her decisions over the first year, THEN decide whether or not they have earned our trust.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree with the last comment regarding the Hinsdalean article. Schuster and her administrators are not to be trusted, nor are the majority of board members. All of these people have their own personal beliefs that they have inflicted on our kids. Yes,we need strong leadership to correct district problems, but I don't trust this board to hire the right person for the job. They will look for a yes man to keep Scneider's dreams alive.

HMS Parent said...

I agree with the bloggers that scheduling the meetings at a private country club at which the board president is a member is problematic. In the private sector, it would be acceptable for a member to use member only facilities to wine and dine a potential client or employee and then get reimbursed out of the employers marketing account. But public officials are not supposed to do anything that is questionable or that could be construed as a personal benefit/gain. Ruth Lake is a private country club. Only members can use their facilities or be designated as a "host" for non-members. Many PTO's have hosted their annual fundraisers at Ruth Lake, but everyone knows that the members who are the "hosts" receive $ credit toward their annual club obligations. The BOE needs to publicly explain itself on this one.

One thing the bloggers didn't point out is that board meetings are supposed to be held at public facilities or private facilities that anyone can access and attend. Perhaps this is why the meetings are scheduled to begin at Elm School, since Ruth Lake will obviously not open the door to just anyone off the street who might want to come and listen or participate in public comment. But the fact is that the executive session portion of these meetings cannot be conducted at a private facility either. What if the board decides to come out of executive session and reconvene in open session to vote on something? Anything is possible, but holding the meeting at a private country club means the public would not be allowed to hang around and wait to see if the board reconvenes in open session.

With all of the available off site facilities in the area that are not members only -- local hotels such as the Hyatt Lodge or many others in Oak Brook, Burr Ridge and Downers Grove -- it is just plain wrong that the BOE has chosen a private country club.

The board should do the right thing and move the location of the meetings.

The Parents said...

HMS Parent: You raise a good point about the private nature of this country club. If the Board is going to use an offsite location to continue the interviews, the facility should be one that is accessible to ALL community members, not an exclusive private club at which you need to accompany a host to gain entry.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we can find a Ruth Lake Country Club Member to host all community members who might want to eat dinner at Ruth Lake on Friday night or Saturday night or "tour the facilities" starting at 6 p.m.? Any volunteers?

Anonymous said...

The local press is saying that the board officers elections will be held at next Monday's special board meeting. It is time Mr. Turek step off as the board president and not be re-elected for a second year. The way he has behaved this year is abhorrent. Between bullying community members who file FOIA's while at the same time bombarding other districts with his own FOIA requests, to making inappropriate statements time and again during board meetings, to not being present during important board meetings like the last one at which BWP reported to the Board on the community's desired superintendent traits and skills, it would be absurd for the board to condone such conduct by reelecting him as president.

Anonymous said...

There are only 2 board members who have shown the transparency, integrity, willingness to prepare for and participate actively during meetings and have the back bone to serve as the Board President. Everyone knows they are Heneghan and Garg. Maybe the majority of the board will surprise all of us and elect one of them as the next president. But sadly, this is unlikely to happen. Probably Turek or Clarin will get elected. Both would be a big mistake.

Anonymous said...

What is that about!! Interviews at a Country Club? Unethical all the way around. What kind of message does that send-interviewing for a superintendent position at a Country Club? Just makes this town look better and better. That's not how public education business should be conducted. I'm not ok with our BOE using its individual member's money/status to entice prospective employees. That is horrible!!

And it's just common knowledge- if you have to flaunt it, you're probably borrowing Peter to pay Paul to keep up with the Jones's. No wonder this community has the reputation it does.

Leslie Gray said...

I am a member at Ruth Lake and so are many many other D181 families. It is a holiday weekend and many catholic schools are on spring break. Therefor the club will be packed. It is important for these interviews to remain confidential. Ruth Lake is not the appropriate setting because it is anything but private. I am going to stay away from the club this weekend, but many other D181 families will be there.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it nice that our board will be using taxpayer dollars to go country clubbing for two nights? Is it the best use of our money for these people and superintendent candidates to be drinking and eating at a private country club? But wait a minute - we don't have the extra budget to put more teachers in the classrooms for smaller class sizes, right? And the teachers will be offered little to no raise in salary, right? D181 board is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Ruth Lake is about as private as Starbucks

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why these interviews "have to" be held outside of one of our district facilities. It is very concerning to me. It's a practice I am unfamiliar with and truly don't understand. What advantage do we have in interviewing candidates off site?

Anonymous said...

The country club fiasco is just the latest example of why our current superintendent and current BOE president cannot be trusted. The forced acceleration of all 3rd graders last year is another.

Since last year, our administrators have continued to tell us that the math acceleration of all 3rd grade children (to do 3rd and 4th grade math in ONE year) was part of the New Common Core. This is false. It makes no sense. Think about it - the common core demands that students are taught "deeper" and that they strengthen their foundation so that they have a stronger basis in math. How would skipping chapters of an Everyday Math book, which was never meant to be skimmed through, help strengthen the foundation of math skills? Especially, when the book was already correlated to the common core? (Look online at Everyday Math's website to verify. It has been correlated for years.)

Our children who graduated D181 even just 5 years ago proved that what we had already was working - regardless of the new push towards the dubious common core. Maybe some of the schools in Chicago Schools had low standards, but the standards in Hinsdale were never low. Too bad Dr. Schuster and Dr. Schneider never bothered to realize that 3 years ago when they were hired.

I am not sure how these administrators ever thought acceleration could happen without any additional instructional time added to the day. Or, that they would begin to blame PARENTS and the TEACHER'S unions for not allowing additional minutes to be added to the day. Perhaps, if they had ever told anyone of their experimental plan in the first place, we might have been able to work out a compromise. This is why transparency is important. What is also concerning is that the administrators did not act with enough foresight to realize that just because the CC was asking our children to swim in deeper waters, that many of them simply were not ready. They should have prepared our teachers and children to be successful.

Bizarrely, our district's Department of Learning, (Schneider, Benaitis, Igoe,) decided that SKIPPING chapters of math in 3rd and 4th grade would HELP children! No wonder 25% of the 4th graders have now been forced to stay after school since (January 2014) with the same teachers being paying additional hours after school to make up for the children's failing math grades this year. The forced acceleration aspect of the Learning for All plan was a failure.

The ultimate irony is, that now, Dr. Schneider is on the lecture circuit touting how his acceleration model succeeded! Huh? Then why are 25% of our students, non IEP students mind you, missing their after school play time so they can re-learn what they didn't learn last year? L4A opt in is great - parents like that idea. But the forced acceleration model did NOT succeed.

There are no shortcuts! Skipping chapters does not lead to "deeper" learning, especially when it applies to regular students who are not developmentally ready for the Cliffs Notes version of 3rd and 4th grade math. So now, parents with valid concerns are being called "naysayers" or "helicopter parers", even though previous year's children were never confronted with this stress.

After parents begged teachers, principals, administrators, and board members for almost 2 years, and after presenting a petition with over 200 parent signatures last May 2013, the BOE and administration still did nothing to make sure that the problem would be fixed. They ignored us. It wasn't their problem, after all. It was ours.

Although D181 provided the after school tutoring halfway through the second year of the "experimental" program, (almost a full year after parents began asking for it) it was clear that the current D181 administration could not be trusted and more importantly, that they did not have enough competence or experience in regular, elementary school curriculum. No wonder we don't trust them.

No Faith in D181

Anonymous said...

Board docs posted for Monday's meeting