A veteran member of the Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Board of Education called for the resignations of both the district’s superintendent and its new director of business on Oct. 27 over the hiring of a longtime vendor to perform fire extinguisher testing and certification for the 2014-15 school year.
Deanna Viti Huxhold, who has been a member of the board since 2005, also requested that board members be given documentation related to the hiring of Stickney-based L-K Fire Extinguisher Service Inc. No. 2, so the board could determine whether Superintendent Mary Jo Vladika and Director of Business Kevin Slattery had violated district policies related to purchases and contracts.
That information is slated to be a matter of discussion by board members at their committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 10.
“Of course we want to follow our policies,” said school board President Sharon Anderson. “This is something the board will need to discuss and decide what action we need to take moving forward.”
Huxhold, reading from a prepared text at the Oct. 27 school board meeting, said she believed the administrators “blatantly, recklessly and with advance knowledge and forethought tossed aside” district policies by approving L-K Fire for the work.
Specifically, Huxhold demanded written documentation from Slattery regarding how L-K was picked for the job and written assurances that he followed board policies regarding purchasing and hiring that the board mandated in the wake of a year-long independent audit of two district construction projects from 2012.
In the wake of that audit, which cost the district roughly $65,000 to complete, the school board last summer moved to impress upon district employees that they had to follow certain policies already in place regarding purchasing.
The policies state that purchases should be “at the lowest cost, with consideration for service, reliability and delivery promptness, and in compliance with state law” and that the district should not play favorites with vendors.
Another policy specifically forbids any district employee to “be directly or indirectly interested in any contract work or business of the district.”
Huxhold demanded written proof that Vladika and Slattery followed district protocols when they gave the go-ahead to use L-K Fire Extinguisher Service Inc. No. 2, which has serviced the district’s fire extinguishers since 2009, when Stickney resident Larry Kray bought the business.
Kray is the husband of Loretta Kray, who has worked as an accounts payable clerk and secretary to the director of business in the District 103 administrative office for more than a decade.
During the 2013-14 school year, District 103 paid L-K Fire roughly $3,800 for fire extinguisher services.
District 103’s use of L-K Fire Extinguisher Service predates Kray’s purchase of the company by decades. According to Kray, who worked for L-K Fire under its previous ownership, the company has serviced fire extinguishers in the district since the 1960s.
“We aim to provide quality service at a price we can both live with,” said Kray, who added that the use of the company never before has been called into question.
As far as his wife’s employment with the district representing a conflict of interest, Kray said his wife has no purchasing authority for the district.
“We’ve relied on our reputation with the job we’ve done in the district in the past,” Kray said.
Huxhold noted that the contract amount was not a large amount of money in the scheme of District 103’s $23.7 million operating budget, However, in light of the public scrutiny the district experienced because of the questionable practices detailed by the construction audit, said Huxhold, officials had a duty to avoid even a perception that they were snubbing district policies.
Yet, a little more than a month after receiving the audit report, said Huxhold, district officials appeared to be ignoring those same policies again.
“It seems to me that we may be paying nothing more than lip service to the supposed lessons learned over this past year,” Huxhold said, “and we have not absorbed any return on our investment, for the $65,000-plus we have spent in taxpayers’ dollars to be taught these valuable lessons.”
Huxhold said that if the documents provided to the board by district officials can’t sufficiently explain why purchasing protocols weren’t followed, “I would respectfully request that both the business manager and the superintendent of schools submit their letters of resignation forthwith.”
Emails and documents obtained by the Landmark indicate that the district’s maintenance director, Thomas Sheehy, obtained price quotes from five fire extinguisher service companies in July following the board’s directive to get quotes for any contract exceeding $2,000.
Sheehy on July 28 provided Slattery and Vladika a 12-point comparison between L-K Fire and another company, Martin Mack Fire Safety Equipment. The comparison indicated Martin Mack could provide all 12 services to District 103 for a lower cost than L-K Fire.
In a Sept. 9 email to Sheehy, however, Slattery indicated that he had decided “to go ahead with L&K for the fire extinguisher testing.”
Vladika did not respond to several phone calls from the Landmark about the matter. Slattery said someone from the administration would be in touch with the Landmark.