A closely divided Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 board voted 4 to 3 on Oct. 17 to fire Maintenance Director Ryan Grace for cause. The vote came after a closed-door hearing and deliberation that lasted more than two hours.
Grace’s firing is effective immediately; he received no severance package.
However, Grace appears to have landed softly, and quickly, on his feet. According to multiple sources, the day after he was let go from District 103, Grace was appointed the village of Lyons’ director of public works. He previously served as deputy director of public works for the village.
Voting to fire Grace from his District 103 post were board members Sharon Anderson, Shannon Johnson, Joanne Schaeffer and school board President Marge Hubacek. Board members Michael Bennett, Coleen Shipbaugh and Jorge Torres voted against firing Grace.
The vote came after a hearing that was attended by three lawyers from the district’s law firm. Three custodians testified at the hearing including Jerry Przyzycki, the district’s custodial manager.
Grace and his attorney, Joseph Giambrone of the Del Galdo Law Group, were present for only the first few minutes of the hearing, according to someone at the hearing who did not want to be identified as disclosing what happened during closed session. Grace reportedly did not testify, but his attorney made a short statement.
The grounds for firing Grace had mostly to do with an incident that occurred at the district’s administration building on Feb. 9. Grace reportedly was working on a remodeling project and cut into tiles containing asbestos. So much dust was kicked up by the work that a smoke alarm went off and the Lyons Fire Department were called to the scene.
The Cook County Department of Environmental Control and the Illinois Department of Public Health investigated, and a county report claimed that Grace had lied to a county inspector when asked about when concrete was poured into a trench created during the remodeling work.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) claimed that the district had violated rules regarding asbestos and initially wanted to levy a fine of $20,000 against the school district.
Later, after negotiations, the IDPH and the school district eventually agreed to reduce the fine to $5,000 if the district met certain conditions.
Grace was suspended with pay in August after he apparently refused to be interviewed by a lawyer for the district about the February incident.
The majority of the school board had a number of concerns about Grace, but the cause for his firing apparently centered on the asbestos incident.
Grace’s contract states he can be fired for cause “for any conduct, act or failure to act … which is detrimental to the best interests of the school district.”
Board members voted to fire Grace without any substantive discussion in open session. After the vote, board members were tight-lipped.
“The evidence was there,” Johnson said. “The facts proved it, proved that he was in the wrong and the testimony showed us that we had no other choice.”
Schaeffer said that she was glad that the matter is over but said that she fears that Grace could file a lawsuit against the district.
“This is a situation that took a long time resolving and it appears to be resolved,” Schaeffer said.
Grace’s lawyer declined to comment when contacted on Wednesday for a reaction to the board’s decision. Giambrone also declined to comment when asked if he was considering filing a lawsuit against the district.
Bennett, Shipbaugh and Torres all declined to comment as they were leaving the meeting.
Grace is a political ally of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. Prior to being hired at District 103 in 2016, Grace was the deputy director of public works for the village of Lyons.
From 2011 to 2013, he served on the Lyons Village Board. Over the past five years he has donated $1,000 to the Getty’s campaign fund and another $950 to Getty’s political party, the United Citizens Party.
Bennett, Shipbaugh and Torres were elected to the school board in 2015 with the support of Getty.
Getty-backed school board members gained a majority on the school board in 2015 and controlled the school board for two years until April 2017 when Johnson, Hubacek, and incumbent Sharon Anderson defeated three Getty-backed candidates, including two incumbents, in an election that switched the balance of power on the board.
Before the hearing began on Tuesday, during the public comment portion of the board meeting, four residents spoke critically of Grace while one parent spoke in support of him.
Grace had been making $82,400 under a one-year contract that was approved by the school board in a 4 to 2 vote in June. At the time, Johnson and Schaeffer voted against giving Grace a new contract.
Hubacek and Anderson reluctantly voted in favor of the new contract, saying that the deadline had passed under Grace’s old contract to inform him that he would not be rehired.
Anderson and Schaeffer voted against Grace’s original hiring in 2016.