This morning I was able to observe the conditions at McKinley Elementary School in Bellwood. Everyone agrees that the physical condition at McKinley Elementary School is unsatisfactory.
The District 88 Board of Education is divided into a majority block (four votes) and an opposition block (three votes). The majority includes: Marilyn Thurman (president), Ton Anderson, Maria Castrejon and Tommie Miller. (See Proviso Probe
for the meeting that made Thurman president of the board.) The opposition is comprised of Althea Busby, Antonette “Toni” Dorris and John Wicks. Before Castrejon switched factions the current opposition block was in the majority.
The majority block sees the problem at McKinley as primarily being about the water leaking into the school. The majority has voted to put a new roof on McKinley for $300,000 and the school will be replaced at some point in the future.
The minority block disagrees with spending $300,000 to fix the roof. James Graham, Sr., the former director of facilities, has advised the minority that a product exists that will seal the leaks for a few years for $20-30,000. But the leaking roof isn’t the primary problem at this point.
The minority points to a health survey done by University of Illinois at Chicago, an evaluation by the Cook County Department of Health (see Proviso Probe
for text) and numerous ailments of students and staff as evidence that the air quality of the building is unhealthy. Mold growth and asbestos make McKinley an unhealthy place to work and attend school. Replacing the roof isn’t going to fix either of these problems.
Further, the minority points out spending $300,000 fixing a building that everyone agrees should be replaced as soon as possible is wasteful. The minority accuses the majority of wanting to put money in the pocket of a politically connected contractor. Presumably the contractor will engage in some form of kickback—campaign contributions, hiring cronies, etc.
This morning Board Members Dorris and Wicks were at the school distributing a flyer that stated, “MOLD and ASBESTOS KILLS!” [sic]. Along with seven parents and community activists they were inviting parents to attend this evenings District 88 board meeting at the Administrative Center on Eastern.
Board Member Dorris made the case that the district has money to relieve overcrowding at Grant Elementary School (which serves the mostly Latino population of Stone Park), but considers the health threat at McKinley (which serves the mostly African-American population of Bellwood) a lower priority.
Dorris claimed that the Village of Bellwood may contribute funds to rebuilding McKinley out of the newly proposed TIF district money.
Board Member Wicks made the case that District 88 has failed to get reasonable return on investment from past construction. He compared District 88
to District 92
Last week when I spoke to Board Member Castrejon she said that it was unrealistic to expect the students to be removed from McKinley as soon as September, 2006. To build a new school requires a bond to be issued. Issuing a bond requires a referendum. The board is doing the best it can with the options the staff has presented.
In my opinion (IMO) the health threat at McKinley should be a priority. If District 88 can’t obtain the money through normal channels it should go outside normal channels to do what’s necessary to educate McKinley students in an environment that does not pose an active health risk. District 88 should get help from the Village of Bellwood, Cook County, the State of Illinois and the federal government to address the immediate health threat.
Sending affluent “White” children to a mold infested school would be unthinkable. The government would do what was necessary to keep those children safe. District 88 parents have got to demand their children get treated with dignity too.
To get the money to replace McKinley the District 88 board needs to work together. Unfortunately there are interpersonal conflicts that will prevent working together. Part of the conflict may be theories of governance, but much of it is these people just don’t like each other. As Arnie Bryant says, “The District 88 board is dysfunctional.”
If Board Members Anderson and Miller could be untethered from their political boss, board attorney Emanuel “Chris” Welch… And if Board Members Busby and Castrejon could form a strong working relationship… And if the board seated Board Member Thurman far away from Board Members Dorris and Wicks, just maybe, District 88 could put the welfare of staff and students first for long enough to enact a plan that would allow McKinley students to go to school in a safe environment—meaning not the current building—in the fall.