By Bob Skolnik
Some parents and three school board members are angry that a job offer to a woman to be assistant principal at George Washington Middle School was abruptly rescinded after she passed her background check, leaving GWMS with just one assistant principal at this time.
Socorro Mendoza, a nine-year veteran of the Chicago Public Schools, was offered a job as an assistant principal at GWMS in August by Principal Don Jones, who said she was the "top candidate" out of nine people who were interviewed.
Mendoza's fingerprint background check took longer than expected, so she was not able to start when school began on Aug. 28.
On Sept. 9 her background check results came back clean and she thought she was ready to start working as soon as the school board approved her hiring. But that very afternoon she received a voicemail message from new District 103 Human Resources Director Brian Towne, telling her that the job offer was being rescinded.
Mendoza would have replaced Rubi Ortiz, who was named the district's bilingual program director over the summer.
Mendoza, who had spent time in August touring GWMS, meeting staff and getting prepared for what she thought was her new job was shocked, disappointed and confused when her job offer was suddenly yanked.
She came to the District 103 school board meeting on Sept. 10 to try and find out what happened. She addressed the school board during the public comment period.
"I just wanted to know what is going on," Mendoza said.
Mendoza said that she was told by Superintendent Kristopher Rivera on Sept. 5 that her hiring would be placed on a school board agenda as soon as her background check was completed.
She said she called Towne after receiving his voicemail message on Sept. 9, but that she received no response.
"I reached out several times, including today prior coming here, and there was no response," Mendoza said. "I just wanted to know what happened between speaking to the superintendent on Thursday and [Sept. 9],"
Rivera told the Landmark following the Sept. 10 meeting that he held off on the hire because of concerns expressed by a financial advisor from Baker Tilly, an accounting firm that is helping District 103 prepare its 2019-20 budget, because the district has been without a business manager since July 1.
School board President Jorge Torres noted that Mendoza's hiring wasn't on the Sept. 10 agenda, because her background check wasn't completed until the day before the meeting and agendas must be posted 48 hours in advance. He also said during the meeting that finances played a role in holding off on the hire.
"The reason why we're not considering that position is because it's a high-paying position and we're building our budget now," Torres said.
Ortiz made $82,500 as assistant principal last year.
But board members Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson as well as some parents criticized the decision to start the school year with just one assistant principal at GWMS.
They said students need all the adult support they can get, pointing to the suicides of two GWMS students last year, one of them taking place inside the school itself.
"Now is not the time to make budget cuts on the back of our students' safety and the back of our students' mental health," said Susan Magasi, the mother of a GWMS seventh-grader and a resident of Brookfield, during the public comment period of the Sept. 10 school board meeting.
Magasi said that it was important for GWMS to have a woman, particularly a Latina, as an assistant principal. Principal Don Jones and Assistant Principal Gary Wheaton are both white men.
"Having a woman vice principal provides important role modeling and support," Magasi said. "Having a bilingual administrator is also an important support for our students, our families."
After the meeting both Torres and Rivera said that they hoped to eventually have two assistant principals at GWMS this year.
"We want to fill the position," Torres said. "That will happen eventually, but we need to look at other aspects of the matter."
Torres said that he does not have confidence in hiring decisions made before Towne started as HR director this month and that Mendoza could still be hired.
"We want that to be handled by our HR person," Torres said. "If she's one of them and she's called back, I'll be happy."
Anderson noted that Mendoza was the not the only person this year who received a tentative job offer from a District 103 administrator but was not hired.
"That's three candidates we've done that to," Anderson said. Who is going want to work for us?"