By Bob Skolnik
In a parting shot, the majority of the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education, who are aligned with Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, gave one-year contract extensions to most of the administrators in the school district at a special meeting held April 13.
After meeting in closed session for about two hours, the school board voted 5 to 2 to approve new or amended contracts for Superintendent Carol Baker, Curriculum Director Natacia Campbell, Director of Student Services Janine Gruhn, Maintenance Director Ryan Grace and Director of Technology John Williamsen.
The vote came just two weeks before newly elected school board members Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson are sworn in. Hubacek and Johnson are expected to ally with incumbents Sharon Anderson Joanne Schaeffer to form a new majority. Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson triumphed at the polls on April 4, defeating incumbents Katie Broderick and Kendra Pierce and newcomer Olivia Quintero.
"Those actions tonight showed exactly why a change was needed," said Anderson, who joined Schaeffer in voting against the new contracts.
Also getting new contracts were all the principals and assistant principals in the district as well as Baker's secretary, Charline Latronica.
Hubacek, who worked as secretary to the superintendent for 10 years before retiring two years ago said that she never had a contract while she worked for the district.
"I'm concerned about the contract they gave to the superintendent's secretary," Hubacek said. "They've never done that."
Anderson, Hubacek, Johnson and Schaeffer made clear prior to the election that they don't have confidence in Baker and many other top district administrators. Giving new contracts to administrators will make it harder for the new board majority to remove them.
Baker's contract was extended one more year to 2020. All the other administrators were given new one-year contracts and all the administrators received 3-percent raises, Baker said.
There was no change to the contract of Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hastings, whose part-time contract expires in 2020. Human Relations Director Marty Stack also did not receive a new contract.
The board members who voted in favor of the new contracts declined to comment after the meeting.
Schaeffer said that Baker's new contract omitted a clause in her old contract that required her the pay the cost of a superintendent search if she voluntarily left her job before her contract expires.
Schaeffer said that the board had not discussed new administrator contracts before the closed session Thursday evening.
"The board had no input, the superintendent did it all," Schaeffer said.
Anderson had words with Baker after the meeting and said that Baker just presented the board with the new contracts without board input.
"She gave herself a raise," Anderson said. "Like I told her, I've never had a superintendent hand me their year extension. She handed us her amendment. I would love to go to my work and tell my boss, 'Here's my review and this is what you're giving me.' It doesn't work that way."
Baker said that the board was just following board policy.
"Our board policy states that are contracts are to be done at the March board meeting," Baker said. "The March board meeting was cancelled, so we are still trying to play catch up from the business of that meeting."
However, administrator contracts were not on the agenda for the March 23 board meeting, which was cancelled less than two weeks before the election. A quick review of the school board's policy handbook did not find any reference to the timing of the renewal of administrator contracts.
Hubacek said she was disappointed in the board's actions but was relieved that other than Baker, no one got a contract of longer than one year.
"I really thought they were going to pull more," Hubacek said. "I'm sorry because I think we have unqualified people there. We are going to change what we can and live with what we can't change."
Hubacek singled out Grace and Williamsen as administrators who ought to be replaced.
"I would like to see the IT guy gone, the maintenance director gone, especially after this asbestos stuff," Hubacek said.
Administrators can still be fired for cause, an often difficult and expensive process.
"It's time for us as we come in to document everything, because you can let people go for cause," Hubacek said. "I think that's what we'll be have to do. Be fair, but be specific and if something's not right call them on it and see how it goes."
Baker said that she is looking forward to working with the new board members.
"I've got a lot of things that I'm excited about," Baker said. "I'm hoping that the new board members will help us focus on the academics of the school district and I look forward to their input and their advice and just moving forward."
Campbell and Gruhn, who were both hired last year, said that they have been surprised by rowdy school board meetings and all the drama and conflict in the district, but they say that they are happy to stay on and focus on their jobs.
"I didn't know it would be this exciting, but I still, really, really like the kids," Gruhn said.
Campbell said she tries to ignore all the drama.
"I'm very happy to keep do doing all the work that I started on," Campbell said.