By Bob Skolnik
A number of administrators won't be back in Lyons School District 103 next year. At a contentious special school board meeting on March 18, the Board of Education voted by the familiar 4 to 3 margin to not renew the contracts of Technology Director Mike Crowley, Maintenance Director Mark Galba and Lincoln School Assistant Principal Catherine Eichhammer.
Crowley and Eichhammer are longtime District 103 employees, while Galba was hired in late 2017 when the current board minority held the majority.
Voting in favor of not renewing their contracts were board members Vito Campanile, Oliva Quintero, Winifred Rodriguez and school board President Jorge Torres.
Board members Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson voted against the contract non-renewals.
Crowley and Galba both grew up in Stickney and knew Hubacek as children before they were hired by District 103. Crowley, who has worked for District 103 for 15 years, was promoted to director of technology when Hubacek was board president, a position that she held from 2017 until the spring of 2019. Crowley has been technology director for about two years.
Crowley said he believes he is being terminated because he campaigned for Hubacek when she ran for the school board in 2017.
"I just believe that when the board [majority] changed hands, being that I did help Marge, that that had something to do with my release, also considering that how they kind of did the same thing to my daughter," said Crowley, who first met Hubacek when he was a sixth-grader at Home School and Hubacek was the school secretary.
Twice earlier this academic year, a board agenda included hiring Alicia Crowley, Mike Crowley's daughter, to be a full-time paraprofessional at Costello School where she has been working as a substitute parapro.
Both times Torres removed the item from the agenda. Crowley's wife, Patty, also works for District 103 as a kindergarten teacher at Edison School. Mike Crowley is being paid a salary of $79,300 this year.
Johnson, who was elected to the school board in 2017 running on a slate with Anderson and Hubacek, also believes that the decision not to renew Crowley's contract was political retribution.
"He helped us in our election and they know that and, therefore, this is retaliation and they're firing him for it," Johnson said. "They can sugar coat it all they want."
Crowley, who worked as a technology technician for the district for 13 years before being promoted to director of technology, said he had good performance reviews until this year. Crowley said Superintendent Kristopher Rivera told him on Feb. 28 that he would recommend that Crowley's contract not be renewed. His contract runs until June 30.
"He's saying that people are complaining about me, but I never had anyone talk to me about anything, and there's nothing in my paperwork that shows I've ever been talked to," Crowley said. "Up until the 28th he had never said there was a problem with my performance. And again, there's nothing in my file for 15 years."
Galba has been off work for nearly a year battling a serious illness. Eichhammer had been a longtime assistant principal at George Washington Middle School until she was reassigned to the post of assistant principal at Lincoln School in 2018. Because she has tenure, Eichhammer was reclassified to her prior position of social worker.
No reasons were given for the personnel moves at the board meeting, and Torres rebuffed a request from the board minority to go into closed session to discuss the personnel issues.
"The superintendent didn't even tell us that any of these were happening," Anderson said. "We always talked in closed session about any changes like this, because it's not fair to have people vote on it when we don't have any information. How can you take away closed session when we're dealing with people's lives, taking people's jobs away when we have questions about it?"
Rivera said that he would be happy to go into detail on the reasons for his recommendations in closed session, but didn't think it was appropriate for him to talk about personnel matters in open session.
Hastings out as assistant superintendent
There was one matter the school board could agree on. The board voted unanimously not to renew the contract of part-time Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hastings after the district paid him a little over $5,000 this year.
Hastings, a politically connected retired school administrator who also serves as the mayor of Orland Hills, came to District 103 in 2015. He initially was hired as interim superintendent after a new board majority, elected with the help of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, fired the then-interim superintendents.
After serving as interim superintendent for about a year, Hastings moved to the newly created position of assistant superintendent when Carol Baker was hired as superintendent in 2016.
That year, Hastings was given a four-year contract that paid him $1,000 a day with annual raises built in. The contract stated that Hastings, who is receiving a pension from the Illinois Teacher Retirement System, would work no more than 100 days a year.
In 2017, when Hubacek and Johnson were elected to the school board, temporarily causing the Getty-backed board members to lose their majority, Hubacek drastically cut the number of days Hastings worked, first to 24 in 2017-18 and then just 12 in the 2018-19.
Last year, Hastings sued the district claiming that this breached his contract, but a judge ruled against him and threw out his lawsuit.
This year Hastings pay rate was $1,100 a day. Hastings was paid a little over $5,000 this year to settle his contract.