In the midst of a pandemic that has caused schools to close their doors to students, businesses to close their doors to customers and citizens to simply stay at home behind closed doors, for some it’s business as usual.
Take, for example, the Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 Board of Education, whose board president, Jorge Torres, and allied board majority continue to steamroll their way through the end of the latest school year.
Call us cynics, but you might even say the school board is taking advantage of the pandemic to try to shield its actions from view.
Let’s take the latest entry – a special board meeting called last week to push through a number of controversial actions including furloughing a half dozen maintenance workers, firing three central office employees and hiring a new maintenance director and a business manager.
But first, a little background. When the state ban against gatherings of more than 10 people went into effect, most school boards and municipal governments began holding meetings partially or wholly by teleconference, with citizens able to participate by calling in and listening.
Not District 103. The full seven member board, along with regular attendees including the superintendent and board secretary, continues to meet in person – that’s nine people if you’re keeping track. That leaves room for one member of the press.
There are two media outlets that regularly cover D103. The Landmark, an independent (and now nonprofit) newspaper operation and Des Plaines Valley News, whose ownership is closely tied to the political patrons of the District 103 board majority.
A couple of hours before last week’s special meeting, Landmark reporter Bob Skolnik got a call from the school board secretary informing him that he didn’t need to show up, since there wasn’t room for him at the meeting.
Of course, the Landmark doesn’t operate that way and Skolnik showed up anyway. Two police officers informed him he couldn’t enter the room, but he stood in the doorway to catch as much of the proceedings as possible.
The question is why is there no way for media or citizens to attend the meeting virtually? The district employs a director of technology. Does the board not trust its own employee to be able to set up a conference call?
The school board’s inability to even attempt to virtually loop in citizens who elected them to serve indicates a level of contempt that’s hard to disguise.
At the special meeting last week, the board again failed to discuss the most recent hirings and firings in executive session before action was taken, and most board members had no idea what the qualifications of the new hires were before voting on them.
When the school board hired a new communications consultant last month – coincidentally at a fee just short of the amount needed to seek proposals — it was the same story.
Who did the school board just hire? Who knows? Torres says they’re OK and that oughta be good enough for you.