Last night the District 209 board of education held its first meeting under the guidance of the new superintendent Stan Fields.
Nikita Johnson briefed her list of ways she proposes to save money. Johnson said that without new revenue or massive cuts the district will be out of money at the end of the 07-08 academic year.
In the audience comments portion of the meeting a special education parent complained that her child’s classroom did not have the teacher’s aide required by state law.
Fields provided an agenda for the meeting with no specifics. The agenda was so vague it had no value for understanding what the district is doing. An omnibus consent agenda covered everything “as discussed in closed session.” I have filed an Open Meetings Act complaint with the State’s Attorney.
The fireworks occurred during the time set aside for the superintendent’s report, although board members Theresa Kelly and Charles Flowers complained that Fields was using the time to introduce issues without notifying them in advance.
The superintendent’s report started innocently with the board agreeing to allow Fields to work with one of his contacts to develop an RFP (request for proposal) to hire a consultant to assist D209 in creating a foundation to raise money for the district. Fields asked the board if the foundation should raise money for some specific area or have a general mandate. The consensus was that the mandate should be general.
Next Fields started asking about the fund associated with the Proviso East “Wall of Fame”. It was an opportunity for board president Chris Welch to make allegations against Kelly. Welch alleged she was refusing to account for the funds. He alleged the money was improperly spent. He alleged the project inappropriately intruded on students’ schedules. And Welch got Fields to say that what she was doing was illegal. According to Welch and Fields the law requires the fund be administered by the board of education because the organization has “Proviso East” in its name. Kelly accused Welch of lying. Welch attacked Kelly by loudly and repeatedly saying, “Mrs. Kelly, show us the money!”
Kelly got flustered and accused Fields of making a “public skeptical” when she meant “public spectacle” Fields mocked her by saying, “I’m not sure what a ‘public skeptical’ is.”
Next Fields went after Kelly and Flowers over mobile phones. Flowers responded by saying, “Who are you trying to front?”
Welch did much of the attacking on cell phones repeatedly telling the audience that Flowers had a Blackberry. Welch indicated he’d be happy to give up his D209 mobile phone to save money. Welch neglected to tell the audience he was the board member who originally pushed for the district to provide cell phones. Although the original way Welch implemented the policy was to only provide phones to the board majority.
Then Fields attacked Kelly over travel expenses. Kelly explained she goes to two board trainings per year.
The next issue Fields raised was that District 209 had 85 computers checked out to staff at their homes. Welch raised his voice when explaining one of the computers was at the home of “board member Charles Flowers”. Flowers denied it. After the meeting Flowers determined that the computer in question goes back to 1999 when he was on staff. According to Flowers the computer was returned and District 209 has a problem with its record keeping.
In my opinion Fields conduct was appallingly unprofessional. This is the guy who told both Josh Adams (Forest Park Review)
and me (Forest Park Review)
about his desire to get the board to work together by focusing on the big picture of the good of the students. Then in his first board meeting he acts as a political hatchet for Welch while evading the spirit and probably the letter of the Open Meetings Act.
Fields would have behaved differently if he were trying to work together and bring unity to the district.
For each of his attacks on Flowers and Kelly, Fields kept saying he was raising the issue to get clarification from the board. He didn’t get anything clarified because he wasn’t prepared to get anything clarified.
On the Proviso East Wall of Fame Fields should have called Kelly with his questions. As Kelly pointed out her name and Pam Marine’s are on the wall. (Pam Marine is the wife of board member Gary Marine and a Proviso East alumni.)
Fields claimed he wanted clarification on district cell phone policy. Why didn’t he provide a suggested policy to board members in advance? No motion was approved on cell phones. Chris Welch agreed not to use his. But Fields didn’t have a specific policy proposal that was advanced in the form of a motion.
On the board member travel issue Fields reminded the board that they must approve board member travel. No new policy was sought. What did Fields accomplish by attacking Kelly at the meeting that he wouldn’t have accomplished equally by merely sending an email to board members? He antagonized her and was clearly trying to do political damage. But he could have accomplished the same fiscal goals without the public spectacle.
And setting up Welch to attack Flowers over a computer that was missing since 1999? If District 209 signed out a computer from the ‘90s to an employee that has been gone seven years, what are the odds the computer is going to be recovered?