The Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 Board of Education will meet half as often as it used to after the school board voted 4-3 last week to eliminate the committee of the whole meetings that have been taking place on the second Tuesday of the month.
Voting for the change were Vito Campanile, Olivia Quintero, Winifred Rodriguez, and board President Jorge Torres, while Marge Hubacek, Sharon Anderson and Shannon Johnson voted against.
Going forward, the school board will only have one meeting a month on the fourth Tuesday.
Torres said the change was being because meetings have degenerated into personal attacks on him.
“There’s got to be a way to avoid this nonsense,” Torres said. “It is disrespectful to attack one another and all the attention is put on me. We don’t have time for this stuff.”
Torres also said that he wanted district staff to focus on education, not appearing at board meetings.
“I want our educators to concentrate on what they’re getting paid for, what they do best, not coming to board meetings,” Torres said
Torres and the board majority, a slate who were elected in April with financial and political support of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, have been subject to harsh criticism at recent board meetings from the minority school board members and citizens making public comments.
At the Sept. 24 board meeting, Valarie Fahselt, the president of the George Washington Middle School Parent Teaching Organization (PTO) handed out the Illinois Association of School Board’s code of conduct to all the board members and specifically accused Campanile, Quintero, Rodriguez and Torres of violating it by, among other things, not speaking up at board meetings and not acting in the best interests of the district.
Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson argued against eliminating the committee of whole meetings, where issues are discussed but often no action taken.
“I think it is a disservice,” said Anderson who has been on the board for more than a decade. “Tonight’s meeting was 33 minutes. You think they’re going to want to sit here for four hours? When are we going to get the reports for the different department heads? When are we going to find out about the schools?”
Superintendent Kristopher Rivera said that while it was not his idea to eliminate the committee of the whole meetings, he understood the desire to do so.
“The environment at these meetings is one that is not positive,” said Rivera, decrying the bickering between board members.
Not all school board hold committee of the whole meetings and some simply hold them occasionally.
Brookfield-LaGrange Park Elementary School District 95 and Komarek School District 94 generally have just one board meeting a month, while Riverside Elementary School District 96 has two meetings a month — a committee of the whole meeting and a regular business meeting. LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 generally has three committee of the whole meetings a year.
“There are many districts that don’t have two per month,” Rivera said. “We’re going to do the business along the way and have special meetings, if necessary.”
During the public comment portion of the Sept. 24 school board meeting, former board member Tom Weiner criticized the decision, pointing out that the board has not yet hired a business manager despite the position being vacant for four months.
“You’re not getting things done when you have two meetings, now you’re going to bring it down to one meeting,” Weiner said. “If two meetings a month is too much of an inconvenience, step down.”
Only one of the eight people who made public comments praised the majority. That was Ryan Grace, the public works director for the Village of Lyons and a close political ally of Getty.
“I think you’re doing a good job. Change takes time,” said Grace, who was fired from his former job as maintenance director for District 103 in 2017.
Hubacek said that without committee of the whole Meetings the board needed to create committees on such subjects a finance and education. Torres said that he will look into that.
“We’re talking about all that stuff,” said Torres after the meeting. “We do need that.”
The minority board members also were critical of the absence of a superintendent’s report, generally a regular item on a school board’s agenda, implying that Torres was trying to silence the superintendent.
Rivera last gave a superintendent’s report at the July 23 board meeting. But Rivera, who said he had nothing to report at last week’s meeting, told the Landmark that he expects to deliver reports at future board meetings.
The minority board members also criticized the board majority for refusing to go into closed session. The board has not gone into closed session since Aug. 1. Meetings have generally been very brief recently, with the board majority generally not explaining why they vote the way they do and rarely, with the occasional exception of Torres, engaging with the other board members.