A slate of candidates running for five seats on the Lyons-Brookfield District 103 school board is attempting to make political hay out of an announcement Monday that the district’s superintendent will retire at the end of the school year.
On Monday night at a special meeting of the District 103 Board of Education, board President Sharon Anderson announced that Mary Jo Vladika would be retiring as superintendent. On March 23, the school board voted to approve the retirement of Marge Hubacek, a longtime district employee who was Vladika’s secretary.
In addition, the school board learned last week that George Washington Middle School Principal Johnny Billingsley was leaving at the end of the school year to become principal of Old Quarry Middle School in Lemont. The School District 113A school board announced the hire at its March 25 meeting.
Vladika has worked in education for 40 years, the last eight in District 103. She spent five years as the district’s curriculum director before being named superintendent in 2012. She is leaving in the midst of a contract that was set to expire at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
“I’ve been in the field 40 years,” Vladika said. “It’s a good time for me to retire.”
Vladika said she’s exploring teaching at the college level as a part-time instructor, something she’s done in the past at Governors State University and Aurora University.
She said she’s leaving on good terms with the school board and has even offered to serve as an interim superintendent while the board searches for her replacement.
“There are no ill feelings,” said Vladika, who added she wanted time to spend with her five grandchildren.
Hubacek has spent 33 years as a District 103 employee. She started out as a part-time library aide at Home School in Stickney and worked at four of the district’s six schools before landing a job as the superintendent’s secretary nine years ago.
“I think it was just time,” Hubacek said. “I love the district and I’m proud of what we were able to do.”
Billingsley has been principal of GWMS since 2011. His new job is much closer to his home, about a 15-minute drive. With a daughter entering third grade next year, Billingsley said he wanted to work closer to home.
“I’ve missed a lot because I’ve been so far away,” he said.
Despite what appear to be ordinary reasons for the employees leaving, on Tuesday afternoon candidates running on a slate calling itself Parents for Student Excellence sent out a mass email calling the departures a sign the district is in chaos.
The email lumped all three departures together, saying, “This week three top officials at School District 103 resigned their offices.”
“If there was ever a louder statement of no confidence in School District 103’s current leadership, the three resignations are a cry for new leadership because our students are important,” said Greg Ramirez, one of five candidates on the Parents for Student Excellence slate, in the email.
Other candidates on the slate include Catherine “Katie” Broderick, Michael “Mike” Bennett, Jorge “Rene” Torres and Coleen “Dawn” Shipbaugh.
The slate is backed by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. A political committee formed for the slate in February uses a Lyons P.O. box which, according to a 2013 Illiinois Board of Elections expenditure filing by the United Citizens Party political committee, is connected to Lyons Retirees, an organization headed by the village president’s father, Ken Getty.
Christopher Getty is listed as chairman and treasurer of the United Citizens Party. He said the address listed in the 2013 political committee filing for Lyons Retirees was incorrect and “will be corrected.” A 2010 expenditure filing for the political committee lists Lyons Retirees at P.O. Box 513, an address it shares with the Lyons-McCook Business Association.
Ken Getty was Lyons president for less than a year before he was indicted for bid rigging. He was convicted and spent time in federal prison. In 2011, after his son was elected president, Ken Getty was appointed to the Lyons Zoning Board of Appeals.
Despite publicly stating that the slate wants to “take politics out of the schools,” Parents for Student Excellence is closely tied to the Gettys and has sought and won endorsements from a host of area politicians.
The slate is being opposed by a slate calling themselves the “Golden Candidates,” led by longtime District 103 board member Joanne Schaeffer. She is backing Antonie “Toni” Parker, Lori Schuler, Jacqueline MacDonnell and Earl Johnson.
Two more candidates, Consuelo “Connie” Esparza and Kristen Goodman — both incumbents who were appointed to the board in 2013 — have the backing of Anderson, the school board president.
Reached by phone, Ramirez, who sits on the Lyons Zoning Board with the elder Getty, said the timing of the retirements and resignation “seemed suspicious.”
Asked to explain how the moves might be construed as suspicious, Ramirez said, “It’s odd it would happen before the election. That’s our feeling, that’s all.”
Both Vladika and Hubacek expressed disappointment that Monday’s announcement has been politicized.
“I just take offense,” said Hubacek. “With all the politics, this school board election has gotten really blown up. The email is making it into something it isn’t.”
Anderson said “nothing out of the ordinary” was represented by the retirements and resignation. She said that now is the time of year such decisions are made and the announcements now give the board time to fill vacancies prior to the next school year.
“There’s nothing out of the ordinary going on, except something being manufactures for someone’s own gain,” said Anderson of Tuesday’s email. “They’re just looking for trouble and that’s sad.”
Schaeffer said that while the announcement of Vladika’s retirement Monday came as a surprise, she said there’s no “chaos,” and that the school board would work to name an interim superintendent and conduct a search for replacements for those leaving.
“I think this district will be able to weather this and weather it strongly,” Schaeffer said.
This story has been updated to reflect a discrepancy in the address listed in campaign filings for a group called Lyons Retirees.