Despite an inconclusive ruling from the Illinois Attorney General regarding the approval of a host of school administrator contracts in April, the Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 Board of Education voted 4 to 2 at a special meeting on May 31 to rescind a two-year contract extension for Superintendent Carol Baker and new contracts for various administrators.
The board also voted 4 to 2 to rescind the approval of five new instructional coach positions, a new case manager position and a new data evaluation position that were also approved at an April 13 special meeting.
Board members will convene again at special meeting on June 6 to vote again on all the administrator contracts, other than Baker’s, and to consider the instructional coach positions.
New school board President Marge Hubacek said that attorney general’s ruling, which was issued May 30 in response to a request for review filed by the Landmark, was inconclusive.
The newspaper had asked the Illinois Attorney General to review whether the school board had violated the Open Meetings Act in its presentation of the contracts to the public on April 13.
“They didn’t make a determination,” Hubacek said.
But, Hubacek said Baker’s contract extension violated the Illinois School Code, which states that a superintendent’s contract shall not be extended before performance goals specified in the original contract are met.
Baker, who started at District 103 a year ago, has not been formally evaluated yet by the school board. That evaluation has been scheduled for later this month.
Hubacek said she had been advised by the district’s new law firm that the board could lawfully rescind the contracts approved on April 13.
“They told us we could go ahead, and we’re well within our rights to do it,” Hubacek said.
Hubacek and board members Sharon Anderson, Shannon Johnson and Joanne Schaeffer voted to rescind the contracts. Board members Michael Bennett and Jorge Torres voted against the measure. Board member Coleen Shipbaugh was absent.
Bennett said he wanted to hear from the law firm directly and pointed out that the attorney general did not find that the board acted improperly in approving the contracts in April.
“I just don’t want people to think we’re a rubber stamp for the attorney,” Bennett said.
Before the vote, teachers’ union President Toni Brandt asked the board to consider the impact of its actions on teachers who have accepted the new instructional coach positions.
“All those who applied and were chosen for these positions are suffering undue stress not knowing where they’ll be next year,” Brandt told the school board in the public comment portion of the meeting. “Teachers went home for the summer expecting that their positions would be safe.”
Brandt, who teaches seventh-grade science at the George Washington Middle School, said the new instructional coach positions, an additional special education case manager, and a new data evaluation position called Multi-Tiered Support System (MTSS) were necessary.
“These roles are common is most school districts and are necessary to support teachers, which, of course, support students,” Brandt said. “Instructional coaches and data coordinators are an extension of the teacher in the classroom.”
But some school board members said that they did not have enough information about the new positions and wondered if the district could afford the new positions.
“The board desires to provide for its 2,600 students the best possible educational program the district can afford,” Hubacek said. “However, it is not clear whether adequate consideration has been given to whether it’s feasible to add all of the new positions and the resulting need to hire more teachers, in light of the financial challenges this district is facing.”
Anderson said she needed more information about the new positions.
“In years past any time there was a brand-new position created in the district, that position was brought to the board and the board voted on making the position prior to be it being posted and filled,” Anderson said. “We didn’t know about these until they were posted and filled practically.”
Bennett said that not approving the new instructional coaches and the case manager and MTSS position would be an attack on the teachers and students of District 103. Bennett noted that the new school board majority had already ended a weekly late start day that allowed teachers time to meet in a professional learning community once a week.
“I want the district to go in a progressive manner,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to take away these techniques that have proven to be successful.”
After the meeting, Brandt said she was relieved that the school board has quickly scheduled a special meeting to vote again on the positions.
“My concern was simply to make it clear to them what the consequences will be and to encourage them to become educated about what the positions are,” Brandt said.
On June 6, the board will also vote again on one-year contracts for administrators who were hired in the last year, including Maintenance Director Ryan Grace, Curriculum Director Natacia Campbell and Special Education Director Janine Gruhn. Also up for revote are contracts for the district’s principals.
The vote on Grace could be controversial as he has been associated with Lyons Village President Christopher Getty and has become a lightning rod for criticism from some of the more fervid supporters of Hubacek, Anderson, and Johnson is the April election.
At the May 31 special meeting Baker read a letter of apology from Grace to Lyons resident Gloria Medina who was upset about a heated conversation that occurred at the district headquarters during the April 13 meeting and upset her adolescent daughter. Police were ultimately called, but no one was arrested.
“Emotions were high,” Grace wrote in his letter to Medina. “You and I engaged in a conversation which upset your daughter who attended the meeting with you that evening. I am sorry that our conversation upset her.”
Neither Anderson nor Hubacek would say whether they planned to vote to renew Grace’s contract.