Business as usual

Opinion: Editorials

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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.

 

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Tracy Kamba from MC COOK, IL  

Posted: May 11th, 2020 7:23 PM

I have been posting that McCook, and it seems Lyons, are too corrupt to continue to verify the best institute for their constituants without outside intervention...but McCook has decided that I am no longer allowed to post things that do not agree with their best interest. Self serving!

Toni Parker  

Posted: May 1st, 2020 8:01 AM

I want to correct a misstatement in my comment below. The Senator and other political individual were not allowed to read there statements during the Special Meeting. That, however, makes the HR director/Ryan Grace usurpation of the slot for a member of the public an even more egregious violation of the Resolution hastily passed with NO provision for public participation or comment in the Emergency Meeting on March 17th. Interesting also, those Police officers preventing your reporter from entering the room. According to the Illinois AG's Public Access Counselor, the only provisions of the Open Meetings Act affected by the Governor's Executive Orders and Emergency Declaration were the requirement for attendance in person and to hold meetings remotely and limit number of attendees. One provision that was NOT affected was 5 ILCS 120/2.05 which states that "(s)ubject to the provisions of Section 8-701 of the Code of Civil Procedure, any person may record the proceedings at meetings required to be open by this Act by tape, film or other means." So if the reporter or a member of the public had tried to set up an audio or video device prior to the meeting, would the officers also have prevented them from doing so? And from removing the recording device once the meeting was adjourned? Seems as if Mr. Torres and SD 103 will ensure that the PAC has plenty of work to do in the near future.

Joanne Schaeffer  

Posted: April 30th, 2020 1:59 PM

Had the 103 board continued meeting in the Geo Washington Caf as they had been for the past two years, there would be plenty of room for the board, their lawyer, the press, and the public. Social distancing would be easily accomplished but instead, the 103 majority decided to move the meeting to a classroom where there isn't near the room for social distancing needed. And to have two police there is inexcusable, for what? To keep a reporter out? Our district is done now, it's over, the politicians are going to bankrupt 103. All the care that was taken for over 18 years to stay in the black and provide a good education has gone down the drain in less than five years. The political board members are so irresponsible that it makes me sick. When will the people of 103 wake up and fight back or will they just wait until it's time to pass a referendum to complain?

Kevin Gleeson from Lyons  

Posted: April 30th, 2020 12:09 PM

There's no reason Lyons' Finest shouldn't let you set up a phone or recorder in the meeting room to pick up when the meeting's over. No valid reason, anyway.

Tom Weiner from Lyons, Il  

Posted: April 29th, 2020 1:05 PM

Great article, excellent unbiased reporting. Thank you

Toni Parker  

Posted: April 29th, 2020 10:51 AM

Actually, if ALL of the ten named parties having precedence attend in person, there is NO provision in the Resolution passed by the SD 103 Board on March 17th for ANY member of the press or public to attend. Per Section B: The first persons to be admitted to the Lyons Board of Education Meeting will be its Board Members choosing to attend in person, Superintendent Rivera, the Board Secretary, and the Board Attorney. If the 10-person maximum is not met, the next person(s) to be admitted shall be one member of the Associated or Local Press. To be eligible for entry, the member of the Press must email Charline Latronica at latronicac@sd103.com. The first email received will determine the Press member admitted to the special meeting. Thereafter, if the 10-person maximum is not met, members of the public shall be admitted. Admittance will be determined by which member of the public emails Charline Latronica at latronicac@sd103.com. In fact, the SD 103 Board violated that Resolution when they used the place allegedly reserved for a member of the public to play "musical chairs" between a district employee, a state senator and another political individual making public comments, and Ryan Grace, representing the Village of Lyons. concerning that intergovernmental agreement, where the same law firm represents both parties. Sad, sad situation for the communities of SD 103.

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