By Bob Skolnik
Amid raised voices and harsh words a bitterly divided Lyons School District 103 Board of Education voted 4 to 3 on Aug. 13 to pay former Superintendent Carol Baker $10,701.72 to settle her claim that she was owed payment for unused vacation days for the 2018-19 school year.
In July 2018, less than one month into her new contract year, Baker resigned as superintendent in District 103 to take a job as an assistant superintendent in Hinsdale High School District 86.
After leaving District 103, Baker asked to be paid for all 20 vacation days she was due in the 2018-19 fiscal year but, following the advice of its then-law firm, Robbins Schwartz, the district only payed Baker for the two vacation days she had accrued.
On July 8, 2019 Baker's attorney, Sara Boucek, renewed Baker's claim to be paid for all 20 days of vacation she was entitled to in during the 2018-19 fiscal year. Baker's amended contract, approved by the school board in 2017, stated that she "shall be entitled to paid vacation of 20 work days each contract year."
Baker said she filed a complaint against the district with the Illinois Labor Relations Board in June.
"I'm just glad the district was willing to settle and pay it, because if they hadn't they would have had to pay fines and interest and et cetera," Baker told the Landmark. "The reality is a contract is a contract, and it says in my contract if I have any vacation days, I get paid for those vacation days."
All four school board members elected this past spring, Jorge Torres, Vito Campanile, Olivia Quintero, and Winfred Rodriguez voted to pay Baker what she asked for. Those four board members were elected with the support of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. Baker had been hired as superintendent in District 103 in 2016 by a school board controlled by members allied with Getty.
The three members of the school board who voted against the settlement with Baker, Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson, were outraged over the payout and were particularly incensed that the school board also voted 4 to 3 not to go into closed session, so the district's new attorney could review the Robbins Schwartz analysis of the issue.
Anderson passed out a copy of a letter from Robbins Schwartz, outlining its analysis of Baker's claim, asking that they go into closed session to discuss the matter with Felecia Frazier of the district's new law firm, Odelson Sterk, who was at the board meeting.
"I just want to put this on the back burner until it can be looked into further," Anderson said.
Frazier said she had not seen the email from Robbins Schwartz although Anderson pointed out that the Frazier was sent an email by Robbins Schwartz last month.
"You literally took 10 grand away from our kids," Johnson told the board majority.
As board president Torres pushed for a vote at the Aug. 13 meeting, harsh words broke out.
"You can't just shut people up," Hubacek told Torres.
Rodriquez and Anderson began bickering and one member of the audience, Gloria Medina of Lyons, called Torres an "asshole" and walked out of the meeting.
After the vote Torres was so upset that he tried to adjourn the meeting. However, the meeting continued because there were more items on the agenda. Torres said that the board minority was using audience members to bully him.
"You guys bring your bullies to attack," Torres said.
Another member of the audience, Helen Triplett D'ambrosio, loudly called on Superintendent Kristopher Rivera to intervene by taking control of the meeting and following through on his promise to try and bring the board together.
Rivera, who was taking notes and acting as the board secretary during the meeting because of the sickness of the regular board secretary, sat quietly as the board members bickered and talked over each other.
In a subsequent telephone interview Rivera said that he wished he had tried to cool the tempers.
"That was not a scene I was very proud of," Rivera said.
But he said there is a limit at what he can do at a board meeting.
"It is the meeting of the board in public," Rivera said. "The gavel is held by the board president. That's who the authority is and it's the board's president's meeting so I got to be careful not to overstep my bounds, but I feel I could have done a better job of maybe mediating, or asking for a recess to get things calmer."