It appears that Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, the superintendent of Riverside Elementary School District 96, will be leaving District 96 whether or not she gets a superintendent’s job in Skokie.
Listed on the agenda for action at Tuesday night’s District 96 school board meeting is a “separation agreement and release between the superintendent and the board of education.”
It appears that Sharma-Lewis will stay on the job in District 96 through the end of this school year.
Tuesday night is also when the Skokie School District 69 Board of Education is expected to announce its choice as its next superintendent. Sharma-Lewis is one of two finalists for the superintendent position in District 69.
On March 5, Sharma-Lewis had a second interview with the entire District 69 school board. District 69 serves parts of Skokie and Morton Grove. Its approximately 1,700 students attend two elementary schools and a junior high school.
The other finalist for the Skokie job is Margaret Clauson, an assistant superintendent in Wilmette School District 39.
Sharma-Lewis has not responded to multiple requests for comment. She was not at work Monday due to the illness of one of her children, a District 96 secretary said.
Sharma-Lewis’s departure from District 96 was apparently sealed a few months ago. The Landmark has learned from people with knowledge of the situation that the school board essentially told Sharma-Lewis that she had until March to find a new job or agree to resign. Apparently the majority of the school board wanted Sharma-Lewis’s departure to be a done deal prior to the April 7 school board election.
Three of the seven candidates running in the election, Shari Klyber, Jeff Miller and Lynda Carey Murphy are seen by many as more supportive of Sharma-Lewis than the current school board, with the exception of Art Perry, and the other candidates in next month’s election.
Klyber said she was troubled by the timing of the Sharma-Lewis’s apparent departure.
“I think that’s bad timing,” Klyber said. “It’s really troubling to me.”
Sharma-Lewis almost lost her job in District 96 in early September, but her job was saved for the time being when board members Lisa Gaynor and David Kodama, both strong supporters of Sharma-Lewis, abruptly quit in late August, apparently largely in disgust over the plans to remove Sharma-Lewis.
In the resulting uproar over their resignations, two other board members got cold feet and refused to support removing Sharma-Lewis at a September school board meeting during which a large crowd in support of Sharma-Lewis was present.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, some parents castigated the board and spoke in support of Gaynor and Kodama, and by extension Sharma-Lewis.
However that turned out to be just a temporary reprieve for Sharma-Lewis as the board continued to work to arrange Sharma-Lewis’s eventual departure.
Sharma-Lewis has one year left on a three-year contract that expires on June 30, 2016.
Part of the problem for Sharma-Lewis is that she never worked for the school board that hired her. Three of the members of the school board that hired her were no longer on the board when Sharma-Lewis began work in District 96 in July 2013.
Nancy Jensen chose not to run for another term and the two members of the school board who were perhaps closest to Sharma-Lewis during the interview process and immediately after her hiring, Jennifer Leimberer, who knew Sharma-Lewis in college, and former school board President Mary Ellen Meindl were defeated when they ran for re-election in April of 2013.
Sharma-Lewis never really meshed with the three newly elected school board members, board President Mary Rose Mangia, Vice President Rachel Marrello and Randy Brockway.
Things got so bad in 2014 that Sharma-Lewis reportedly accused Mangia of creating a hostile work environment for her. Sharma-Lewis reportedly felt that Mangia was an intrusive presence. However, Mangia and Sharma-Lewis have worked since then to develop a good working relationship.
“I have been meeting with her weekly since my temporary work assignment ended in September 2014,” Mangia said in an email on Friday. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I believe she enjoys a positive relationship with the vast majority of the board of education.”
Sharma-Lewis’ relationship with Marrello has remained poor. She was a driving force of the effort to get rid of Sharma-Lewis.
At one point last year Marrello called for the district’s law firm to investigate whether Sharma-Lewis deliberately provided the board with incorrect information about other district’s early release plans.