State, D103 settle on fine for asbestos

Reduced from $20,000 to $5,000; maintenance head still suspended

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

The Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education approved a settlement with the Illinois Department of Public Health on Sept. 11 that will reduce the fine the district must pay for violating rules regarding asbestos from $20,000 to $5,000, provided the district abides by the conditions of the agreement.

"Five thousand is a lot better than 20 [thousand], so I am happy with the outcome," said Marge Hubacek, the president of the District 103 Board of Education. "We had fabulous attorneys working on that for us. They did a great job."

The IDPH had been seeking to fine the district $20,000 for violations concerning faulty record keeping and the failure to properly train employees in the handling of asbestos.

The IDPH's investigation and action against the district came after an evening remodeling project at the district's administration building kicked up so much dust that smoke alarms sounded and the Lyons Fire Department responded. 

There was concern that the asbestos may have been dislodged. Maintenance Director Ryan Grace was closely involved in the project, and a Cook County environmental investigator accused Grace of not being truthful when questioned about the incident. 

The board voted 5 to 0 to approve the settlement. Board members Michael Bennett and Coleen Shipbaugh were not at the meeting.

The settlement was approved at the board's committee of the whole meeting. Typically, a committee of the whole meeting is limited to discussion and no votes or final action are taken. But Hubacek said that if an action item is placed on the agenda, final action can be taken at a committee of the whole.

"We posted it as an action item," Hubacek said.

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved hiring a special education teacher and health aide at the George Washington Middle School and a secretary at Costello School. 

The board took no action on the last item on its agenda, which was labeled as approving the superintendent's recommendation "to separate from employment with administrative staff member." 

The administrative staff member referred to in the proposed motion is believed to be Grace, who was suspended with pay late last month after not participating in a meeting where he was going to be questioned by the district's lawyer about the February construction incident and asbestos issues.

The school board met in closed session for nearly 75 minutes before approving the settlement with the IDPH and announcing that it would not take any action on terminating the contract of the administrator. 

Neither Hubacek nor Superintendent Carol Baker would confirm that Grace is the administrative staff member referred to in the proposed motion listen on the agenda.

"That's personnel; I'm not at liberty to talk about that," said Hubacek when asked why the board took no action on the matter.

Baker said that Grace remains suspended with pay.

Grace has not appeared at a board meeting since May. He received a new one-year contract on May 31, but many board members have made no secret of their desire to oust him. 

Board members Joanne Schaeffer and Shannon Johnson voted against giving Grace a new contract, while Hubacek and board member Sharon Anderson only grudgingly voted to give Grace a new contract.

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