Ryan Grace, the maintenance director for Lyons Elementary School District 103, has been suspended with pay. Superintendent Carol Baker suspended Grace last week.
Sources close to school board members say that Grace was suspended after he refused to answer questions posed last week at a meeting with Baker and the district’s lawyer. The questions apparently were related to activities that resulted in the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) trying to fine the district $20,000 for violations of record keeping matters relating to asbestos. A source said that Grace wanted his attorney present when he was being questioned and that his attorney could not attend the meeting.
The IDPH investigation began after a late-night remodeling project at the Administration Building that Grace was involved in resulted in so much dust being released that fire alarms went off. In a subsequent investigation a Cook County inspector wrote in a report that be believed Grace was not truthful when questioned about the incident.
Baker and the school district’s lawyer were not saying much Monday night at a school board meeting.
“He has been suspended with pay pending an investigation,” Baker said. “That’s all I can say right now.”
The lawyer declined to comment when asked whether Grace had been asked to meet with her.
Baker declined to comment about what Grace was being investigated for and declined to estimate how long the investigation would take.
“That is unknown at this time,” Baker said of the duration of the investigation. “Whenever there is an investigation sometimes you don’t know before you go into it how long it’s going to be.”
Baker said that Grace was suspended with pay because of the way the law is written.
“I think that’s part of school code,” Baker said.
Grace has worked for District 103 since April 2016 when he was hired as maintenance director on an interim basis. He has been a controversial figure in the district. He is a close political ally of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty and served as a member of the Lyons Village Board from 2011 to 2013. He had been working as the Deputy Director of the Public Works Department for the Village of Lyons when he was hired by District 103. Over the past five years Grace has donated $1,000 to Getty’s campaign fund and another $950 to the United Citizens Party which backs Getty aligned candidates in Lyons village elections.
Grace had the interim tag taken off his position a few months after he was hired. He was criticized this year during the school board election campaign by winning candidates Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek, and Shannon Johnson who have aligned with holdover board member Joanne Schaeffer to take control of the school board from a Getty backed majority that was elected in 2015.
Grace actively campaigned in the school board race putting up signs for the Getty backed candidates who were defeated.
In June Grace was given a new one-year contract with an annual salary of $82,400 in a 4-2 vote with Johnson and Schaeffer voting no. Hubacek and Anderson voted to give Grace a new contract because his previous contract stated that he had to be notified by May 1 if he was not going to rehired.
Grace has not appeared at a school board meeting since May 8.
At the Aug. 14 school board meeting Grace did not appear at the meeting despite having a report from the maintenance director on the agenda. This angered some school board members. At the time Baker said that Grace just told her that he couldn’t make the meeting.
Schaeffer and Johnson have been particularly vocal criticizing many of Grace’s actions including hiring a contractor to put down mulch at the schools. That work, they say, was done haphazardly and incorrectly without removing any weeds. They have also criticized the hiring of certain firms to do consulting or other work for the district.
At Monday’s school board meeting the school board voted unanimously not to pay the company Juan Operations Service System $13,175 for the mulch project because there was no spraying or weed removal.
“We want the superintendent to go back to Juan and tell him we’ll pay the bill, but we want them to do the job,” Hubacek said.
The school board also voted 5 to 2, with Coleen Shipbaugh joining Hubacek, Anderson, Johnson, Schaeffer to hold off paying a $20,873 bill submitted by the firm Renovation Associates for miscellaneous consulting work related to operations and maintenance. Board members say it is not clear exactly kind of work Renovation Associates did for the district and they want that clarified before paying the company.
Renovation Associates has donated money to Getty and Getty backed candidates. Earlier this year Renovation Associates contributed $1,125 to Parents for Student Excellence, the campaign committee that backed the three unsuccessful Getty backed candidates in the District 103 school board race, a slate that included two incumbents.
Renovation Associates also has contributed $2,775 to Citizens for Christopher Getty over the years and another $450 to the United Citizens Party. The company also has donated $13,425 to the campaign fund of Cook County Commissioner and McCook mayor Jeffrey Tobolski. The president and agent for the company, Simo Krneta personally contributed $500 last year to the campaign committee of former District 103 Human Resources Director Marty Stack who ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Tax Review last year.
“It just seems like a little kickback going on,” Johnson said at the school board meeting. “This board has made it very clear that we do not want politics involved in our schools.”