REAL COST OF SEWERS
TOLENTINE PARK SHAM
Community Watch Group of Olympia Fields www.sharpwatcholympiafields.com
Olympia Fields Mayor Linzey Jones has seen enough. In a decisive call for action..., Jones condemned Rich Township High School District 227, which serves the children of his village and six other towns in the Southland.
"It is time for both young and old to stand up and be counted. Through our own apathy, we are abandoning our children to a self-imposed caste system, denying them the opportunity for a high-quality education and a bright future," Jones wrote.
SouthtownStar December 17, 2009
2011-2012 PSAE results now out
26.8% meet State standards, down from 27.3% last year
“So for those who feel our district is not doing anything to help students achieve,
I don’t think that’s fair. We are working in the right direction.
We are a district that does not beat our drums too hard.”
“We are about Continuous Improvement”
Betty Owens - Candidates Forum Debate 1-26-13
SD227 Election Results
What Methodology was used by US News in awarding
Bogus Medal to Rich Central ?
Black, Hispanic, and low income students
held to lower standards than White students.
State board of education attorney Mary Welsh said District 227 has four years to “phase in savings achieved by losing students” to Southland College Prep. “You will lose 12 percent of your student body,” “You won’t have the same costs.” Southland College Prep attorney Robert Hall argued the charter school is needed because the community “deserves better than what they’re getting in 227.”
“(The community) is begging for the option provided by Southland College Prep,” Hall said. “If no one wanted to go there,
District 227 wouldn’t lose a dime.”
Southtown Star.December 8, 2011
District 227 extends Leak’s contract
Southtown Star June 20, 2012 By Sarah Zylstra
The contract of Rich Township High School District 227 Supt. Donna Leak was extended for five years by the school board Tuesday,
even though the existing contract didn’t expire until next year.
The district will pay her $200,000 salary and provide her with medical and retirement benefits. The district also covers her Medicare and FICA taxes, pays her $500 a month for a vehicle allowance and gives her 25 vacation days and 12 sick days a year.
The board also ended a policy that requires administrators to reside in the district…
SD227 Board President hires attorney at taxpayers expense to
defend alleged illegal procedures
After being informed of the alleged unprofessional, unethical, and illegal practices of SD227 Board President Betty Owens, the Attorney Generals office has launched an investigation of the SD227 Board.
District 227 faces $10M budget hole
Southtown Star July 20, 2011 By Sarah Zylstra Correspondent
A slow economy and the Southland Charter School will bankrupt the Rich Township High School District 227 unless it can find an extra $10 million a year, either in revenue or by cutting expenses, Bloom Township Trustee of Schools Treasurer Rob Grossi told the board Tuesday.
Grossi headed a task force that has been working for two months to identify cuts that would have the least effect on student learning and opportunities. Reducing the number of credit hours required for graduation was the committee’s top recommendation followed by decreasing the number of course offerings, decreasing the number of class periods from seven to six and increasing class size.
“None of these are desirable options, but if the district does have to cut $10 million, it can’t cut by going through the budget with a scalpel,” Grossi said. “It will require a significant change in how this district operates.”
The committee also recommended reducing staff across all employment areas and giving maximum transparency to stakeholders, he said.
“I believe the next three years of decisions this board is going to make are probably the greatest decisions this district will ever face,” Grossi said.
“The value of the board in going forward and making these decisions, and the value of administration to craft recommendations to accomplish them with the least impact on student learning, will dictate the future of this school district,” he said.
The board will meet in August to go discuss the task force recommendations.
Rich District Reform Board Members: We Own It?
The three "reform members" of Rich SD 227 found out the school board already bought a 'fixer-upper' building and placed the district in debt through 2022 to renovate it.
Chicago Heights Patch July 19, 2011 By Leslie Fuller Knox
The three "reform members" of Rich SD 227 found out the school board already bought a 'fixer-upper' building and placed the district in debt through 2022 to renovate it.
On the day she was sworn in to the Rich Township District School Board 227, Cheryl Coleman says she was disappointed when she was denied the traditional opportunity to thank her supporters.
Later, Coleman learned she and the other new board member, Shelia Hester-Whorton, were shut out of a party at Matteson's Mr. Benny's Steak & Lobster House, while their ousted political rivals were feted.
After Monday's special meeting of the School Board District 227, Coleman admitted, she had another "Mr. Benny's moment" upon learning that the School Board had already bought a building and committed the district to millions of dollars of debt to renovate it, even as her small army of volunteers passed out petitions in Monday's sweltering heat to put the proposal to a public vote.
As Coleman, Whorton, and Dr. David Morgan sat stunned behind a table adorned with a scarlet Rich Township banner, mikes sat at empty places for the rest of the board, who were missing in action: Board President Betty Owens; Vice-President Emmanuel A. Imoukhuede; Secretary Sonya Norwood; and Alyssa Hernandez.
The so-called 'reform' trio needed at least one other member for the quorum necessary to conduct official board business, a fact that was not lost on the members of the audience.
"It's really sad that they're (other board members) not present to answer the residents' questions," said Cynthia Butler, Richton Park village trustee. "And that they knew there would not be a quorum."
"I don't think that this is the right way you're going about it, it does seem like a bait and switch," said Butler. "The rest of your board members, they need to be taken to task."
Raymond F. Coyne, Senior Vice President, of Hutchinson, Shockey, Erley & Co, headquartered at 222 W. Adams St. in Chicago, explained that the board has owed more than $4 million dollars since June, and that the ultimate pricetag on the vacant building will be $6 million dollars including renovations and interest payments.
He also admitted that his fee is 1 percent of the total $4.2 million borrowed by the school board. (In an encounter following the meeting, Coyne refused to tell Patch the exact amount of his renumeration, commenting, 'I don't want to be on Patch.")
Resident Fred Veazey tartly compared the deal to buy the vacant building to a 'payday loan.'
"Did I hear you, Mr. Hampton, that you purchased a building last week? This is about the most fraudulent thing...we need to find ourselves a lawyer to take this in, I think these three board members (Coleman, Horley and Morgan) have been kept in the dark."
Asst. Supt. for Finance and Operations Ilandus Hampton told the reform board members and residents that the machinery of the deal never stopped, even though Coleman and Whorton withdrew their support due to concerns that it lacked community input.
Another resident, upon learning that the procedure is legal, although it is called "Back door" responded, "I would have appreciated it if you had taken it through the front door," while another resident pointed out to Dr. Donna Simpson-Leak, superintendent of Rich Township High School District 227, that as a Flossmoor resident, she would not be paying to fund the building.
For her part, Dr. Leak said it was her understanding that Board President Betty Owens would be notifying the board members that the building had been purchased.
Some asked why the board selected the empty 20550 Cicero Ave. building in Matteson as their top choice. Ruben Valleo, of Orland Park-based RE/MAX Synergy, pointed out that the three-story, 47,495-square foot Lincoln Center Office Building at 4343 W. Lincoln Highway is available.
That building's owner, George Paul Klein, Jr., president of Current Development Corporation, described the Lincoln Center building as centered in the community, while the purchased building on Cicero is much smaller, with much of it consisting of an attached garage.
Klein wryly summed up the evening's events: "The Superintendent can tell the Board President in an email and click it forward to six board members, possibly just three members...that is democracy in action."
Klein had a parting shot for the meeting: "I'd be happy to take the board's building in trade on my building."
Morgan, who appeared appalled by many of the evening's news, said the unfolding of the building project was a surprise, but not shocking. "It's very much what I've been saying the last two years...a board that refuses to listen to the community is a dictatorship," he said.
"This is a violation of the Illinois Open Meeting Act," said Morgan. "The school board czar has given away the storehouse."
"We wanted to make a change and be part of a team, as you can see that's not what's going on," Whorton told the residents. "We need your prayers." She said later that the petition drive would continue, to ensure that residents' voices would be heard, although the way going forward was unclear. Whorton pointed out that one resident suggested returning the borrowed millions, and listing the Cicero building for sale.
After the meeting, resident Tony Veeneman said he was shocked by the evening's revelations. "To see this in action, that they would shut these people out... they're really trying to obfuscate this and shut people out, with three school board members are ignorant, there's something really seriously wrong," he said. "You have to wonder if there's some sort of ulterior motive; why would four people do this?"
The second Meeting will be the "regular board meeting" tonight, July 19, 2011 at Rich Central High School beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Let’s hope Dist. 227 learns from ridiculous and costly legal battle
Chicago Sun Times January 18, 2012 JOHN W. FOUNTAIN
Nearly two years, more than $100,000 in legal fees and apparently 14 brand new toilets later, the Rich Township High School District 227 school board appears to have finally come to its senses.
And yet, the whole mess still stinks.
The south suburban school board had waged a legal battle to eliminate Southland College Preparatory Charter High School in Richton Park, which opened in 2010 as an alternative to the district’s high schools. Contending that Southland and the subsequent loss of funding ultimately would bankrupt the district, the school board sued.
After a Cook County judge ruled in Southland’s favor in December 2010, the board chose to fight on. About three weeks ago, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s decision that sided with the charter school.
Then finally, at a school board meeting Tuesday night, Betty Owens, president, announced that District 227 would not appeal, thereby officially ending its fight against Southland — at least its legal fight. (I suspect some board members may still be a little salty about the black eye it suffered.)
Sitting there at the school board meeting Tuesday night, I couldn’t help thinking on the one hand, “Well, it’s about time!”
And on the other, “Now, will y’all please get down to business and clean up this mess!”
That mess is a school district that spends $16,601 a year per pupil, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card. That’s $66,404 after four years.
For that investment, only 27.4 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE. Meanwhile, the average salary of administrators in 2011 rose to $128,093, from $113,516 in 2010, an increase of 12.8 percent.
The good news is that the Rich Township high school graduation rate at 90.9 percent exceeds the state’s average. But given that more than 7 out of 10 students test below the norm, one has to wonder just how much a District 227 diploma is really worth.
For the sake of the children, the school board has to do better. And the courts have suggested that perhaps Dr. Blondean Y. Davis — who spearheaded the charter school — and the success of Southland can show them how to steer its schools from the proverbial creek.
“We are left with no doubt that the establishment of the charter high school is in the best interests of the students it was designed to serve and, eventually, its establishment may well serve the best interests of all District 227 students to the extent the academic success of the charter school raises the educational bar for the other three high schools,” Judge Rodolfo Garcia wrote in the Appellate Court’s majority opinion.
“Nothing in the record supports District 227’s contention that the establishment of the charter school is contrary to the best interests of all the students in District 227.”
You heard the court right — absolutely nothing. The truth is in the numbers. And those numbers haven’t added up to overall student success.
The truth is indeed in the numbers: At least $140,000 spent on a fruitless lawsuit and another $4.2 million for new administrative digs, all amid a reported $5.2 million budget deficit; the purchase of new iPads for those board members shameless enough to take them and, according to reliable sources, 14 brand-spanking-new toilets — to replace older but fine working ones — just to coronate the new administrative offices.
And I can’t stop thinking, “How apropos.”
Now, if they could just get the schools out of the toilet.
Rich High School district buys building for admin center
Southtown Star July 19, 2011 By Sarah Zylstra Correspondent
A group of Rich Township High School District 227 board members and residents worked all weekend to gather thousands of signatures on a petition to force the district to seek voter approval to issue bonds to buy an administration center.
Their work was in vain. It turns out the district closed the sale on Friday.
The district purchased an 18,000-square-foot office building at 20550 Cicero Ave., Matteson, from Cypress Point Investments, a subsidiary of Eastern Savings Bank, which had foreclosed on the site in 2009. The purchase price was $835,000.
The news was not announced until about 40 minutes into Monday’s special meeting called by school officials for the purpose of answering questions about the district’s plan to issue bonds for the anticipated building purchase and renovation.
The news surprised almost everyone in the room including board members Cheryl Coleman and David Morgan, who had circulated the petitions.
District 227 Supt. Donna Simpson Leak said she notified board president Betty Owens as soon as she heard the news Friday.
“My understanding was that the board president would be notifying board members,” she said.
“She didn’t do that,” Morgan said.
Owens and board members Sonya Norwood, Alyssa Hernandez and Emmanuel Imoukhuede did not attend Monday’s meeting, even though the date had been changed to facilitate them, board member Shelia Hester-Whorton said.
Residents opposing the building’s purchase and the estimated $3.4 million in renovation costs were expected to attend Tuesday’s regular board meeting to object to Friday’s purchase.
In May, the school board voted to borrow $4.2 million to buy and renovate the building. It now leases a building in Olympia Fields for administrative offices.
The money for the new building was borrowed shortly after the vote in May, Assistant Supt. Ilandus Hampton said last week.
“The district has a $4.2 million debt obligation that can be paid out of operating funds or bond funds,” he said.
Monday’s meeting was called to discuss a bond issue.
“I’m concerned the deal wasn’t structured so the (borrowed) money would be held until the bond sale was approved, Coleman said Monday. “The taxpayers basically had
“This is about the most fraudulent thing I’ve ever experienced living in this community,” resident Fred Veazey told the board Monday. “Now we get a hearing, after you indebted us for $4.2 million. That’s shameless. That’s wrong.”
Cynthia Butler, a Richton Park village trustee, said, “It’s not being upfront and honest with the residents.”
District 227 residents protest building purchase
Southtown Star July 20, 2011 By Sarah Zylstra Correspondent
More than 65 residents turned out for a public hearing Tuesday about the funding of the controversial Rich Township High School District 227 administration building Tuesday.
The building, located at 20550 Cicero Ave. in Matteson, was purchased for $767,000 Friday, Asst. Supt. Ilandus Hampton said. The board has borrowed $4.2 million to pay for the building and its renovation.
While the hearing was scheduled to discuss moving the debt out of the general operating funds and into general obligation bonds, much of the discussion focused on the district’s acquisition of the building.
The building’s purchase was made public Monday at a special board meeting, three days after the closing.
If the money isn’t moved to bonds, the district has to repay the debt from operating funds, to the tune of $867,000 a year for the next five years, Hampton said.
Holding a public hearing after the building already was purchased was “a sneaky trick,” resident Fred Veazey said Tuesday.
“You’re almost holding us hostage,” he said, calling on the board to sell the building and get out of the deal.
Richton Park Village Trustee Cynthia Butler said the process was unclear and unfair.
“It was wrong, the way it was handled,” she said. “It will impact your students because of what you did.”
But board member Sonya Norwood said the project is not new.
“This is not a fast quick deal,” she said. “It’s been going on a long time.”
A strategic plan developed in 2005 called for the remodeling of all three high schools and moving the administration to a temporary location, with the expectation that it eventually would be moved to a permanent home, she said.
The community knew about that plan in 2005, Norwood said...the board didn’t go public with its search for a new home for the administration offices recently because “you never tell people you want to buy property, or the price goes up,” she said.
Board member Cheryl Coleman asked for a policy that would change the process in the future.
“In order to protect taxpayers, that deal should have been structured so the money would have been held until the board approved the bond,” she said. “In case we decide as a whole the money wasn’t in fact viable for the community, we would have had time to do something different with that whole decision overall.”
“The public needs to understand when you talk about selling bonds, the purpose is not to pay them out of operating costs,” he said. “That would be more detrimental than anything else. And they need to understand that with the way the bonds will be structured, there will be no tax increases.”
District 227 is allotted about $5.1 million annually to spend on outstanding debt, he said.
The district plans to tack the $4.2 million for the new building on to its existing debt and pay it off over several years from the annual allotment.
So the money will be spent, he said. The question is on what.
Some district residents aren’t convinced the new administration building is the answer, Coleman said.
“I want to make sure whatever we do with the money, that we make the best decision on that,” said Coleman, who said she’d like to see $1 million freed up to spend on tutors. “We’ve got the money. Now what’s the best use of that money?”
The board will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday at Rich Central High School to try to answer residents’ questions, she said.
If residents like what they hear Monday, the petition won’t be necessary, she said.
If they don’t, they have another day to collect signatures before Tuesday’s public hearing on the matter.
Daughter of 227 board member hired to teach at Rich Central
Southtown Star June 29, 2011
Asia Norwood, daughter of Rich Township High School District 227 board member Sonya Norwood, has been hired to teach special education at Rich Central High School, starting August 15.
The board unanimously approved her hire. Rich Central principal Jammie Poole recommended the move.
“The primary reason is that she did her practicum here,” he said. “I thought she was able to establish herself with staff and students.”
Norwood’s son, Michael, is an instructional assistant and football coach at Rich South High School.
Former Educator Rips District 227 School Board Meeting
Chicago Heights Patch, June 24, 2011
Helen Burleson has served on two boards of education and compares Tuesday's board meeting to a "fascist concentration camp."
Burleson, who served on Flossmoor Board of Education from 1972 to 1981 and the Illinois State Board of Education from 1981 to 1983, attended the June 21 Rich High School District 227 Board meeting.
Fascism Reigns Supreme at Rich High School District 227 Board Meetings
On Tuesday, June 21, 2011 I attended the District 227 Board meeting, which was run like a fascist concentration camp. The hierarchy of the board rule and control with an iron fist allowing only to be said what they want to hear. If it pleases them, it’s fine. If it displeases them the president gavels you to an instant halt not even allowing one to finish a sentence.
The rudeness, the arrogance, the disrespect and disdain that is shown (to) members of the community are intolerable.
New board members don’t seem to be given time to review proposals that were discussed before they came on board. A new member asked that a very important expenditure be tabled until the new members could review the plans, the bids, and the decisions that had been made. To any reasonable person, such a parliamentary movement would have been granted; but not this board that runs rough shod over the newer members and the community.
There is nothing democratic about this manipulation and domineering fiasco.
Most boards allow visitors to have input at least twice during a meeting. Unless one comes with preconceived statements, they have no voice. Intelligence would take into consideration that there are things discussed during the meeting that one might want to respond to for clarification or edification. No, not in the fascist regime of this dysfunctional school board is there any opportunity for tax payers to exercise their right to know. This is taxation without representation in the extreme sense of the phrase.
Attendance at the meetings is sparse. The hostility and mean-spirited tone of the meetings do not provide a welcoming partnership between school and community.
As in everything in nature, there is a day of reckoning.
SD 227 task force tackles money woes
Southtown Star BY A. Jay Wagner Correspondent May 11, 2011 10:20PM
Updated: June 13, 2011 2:05PM
There was jubilation at the opening of Southland College Prep Charter High School’s new building in Richton Park about six weeks ago.
But the mood was more somber Wednesday evening as a citizens group met for the first time in an attempt to figure how the other schools in Rich Township High School District 227 will deal with a growing financial crisis related, in part, to the charter school’s existence.
District 227 Supt. Donna Leak created the Budget Reduction Task Force to tackle the issue of the district losing revenue because of the charter school. The 25-member group consists of community members, from students to parents to community leaders.
District 227 lost about $2 million in revenue this school year because of the 125 or so students who attend Southland College Prep rather than one of the district’s three high schools.
That lost revenue will continue to grow until Southland College Prep has reached its 500-student capacity in 2013-14, which then will mean about $8 million less for the other schools.
District 227 Treasurer Robert Grossi said there’s no avoiding the difficult times ahead.
“You can go into nearly any school and cut expenses with a scalpel. We’ll need to go at it with a chainsaw.,” Grossi said. “People need to realize that this is real, and that it will have a significant impact on the school district.”
Grossi said other factors have led to the district’s financial woes, such as the national recession and the state’s own financial crisis, which have resulted in less tax income for District 227.
Task force member Kim Jones, of Richton Park, hopes the group can find areas to cut costs that don’t adversely affect the quality of education. She had no problem with the opening of the charter school, but not at the cost of other students’ education.
“No harm should come to anyone. One student shouldn’t benefit at another student’s cost,” she said.
District resident Bill Wiley, of Richton Park, said he was concerned about the quality of education being offered in District 227 and the resulting effect on real estate value. Though troubled by the school district’s economic situation, he agreed with the opening of Southland College Prep.
“The state board (of education) felt the quality of education in the school district gave reason to build the school. I happen to agree,” Wiley said.
The task force will hold five more meetings — Monday, May 24, and June 1, 8, and 22 — before presenting its recommendations to the school board. The meetings are open to the public and held at Rich South’s media center.
District 227 to buy office building
Southtown Star May 18, 2011
Rich Township High School District 227 will purchase a building in Matteson for its district office, the board decided Tuesday.
The 18,000-square-foot building, located at 20550 S. Cicero Ave., will cost $835,000 to purchase and will need more than $3 million in renovations, Assistant Supt. for Finance and Operations Ilandus Hampton said.
The timing of the purchase was questioned by resident Fred Veazey.
“This same district claims the (Southland College Prep) charter school is putting them under,” he told the board. “I don’t understand that. Hopefully there will be some discussion about where the money comes from to buy a building. You’re crying broke one day and the next day you have money to spend.”
Owning property is a better financial decision than renting, Hampton said.
“Currently we’re paying about $210,000 as it relates to leasing,” he said. The board’s goal is to use the $210,000 from the lease payment to pay off the purchase of the building, so that money can go back into the operating fund .
The building shouldn’t cost taxpayers anything, he said.
The board unanimously agreed to the purchase and approved $4 million in general obligation debt certificates to pay for the project. The district aims to pay off the debt within four or five years, Hampton said.
District 227 Board Accused of Manipulating Schools Chief Pick
Sun-Times Media Wire Monday, 05 Apr 2010
Rich Township, Ill. - Board members of Rich Township High School District 227 manipulated the selection process and discussed misrepresenting public input to justify their controversial pick for a new superintendent, the Southtown Star is reporting.
A tape of a closed-door meeting recently revealed indicates the distortion of what board members claimed to be an open public process - and a plan to install their own internal candidate.
The school board has been plagued by controversy and accusations of backroom deals. The board has rankled members of the public for barring or restricting public comment during meetings and has drawn fire from Olympia Fields Mayor Linzey Jones for executing a superintendent search "virtually closed to the public."
He stands with other community members who say the possible hiring of Assistant Supt. Donna Simpson Leak as a replacement for retiring Supt. Howard Hunigan is the inevitable conclusion to a search decried by critics as a smoke screen from the start.
Excerpts from the tape:
The board debates how much information about the superintendent search to withhold from absent board member David Morgan.
Board president Sonya Norwood tells board members the pick for superintendent will be presented as the public's top choice, not the board's. And members discuss what to do with community members' rankings of the candidates.
A short discussion after the meeting adjourns about shredding materials set aside for board member David Morgan. One board member reminds board president Sonya Norwood "the numbers are in there." Twice the board member is advised to shred the materials.
Conversation recorded during the board's Feb. 28 closed session details the board's plan to explain its choice by saying it was the will of residents who came to a series of public input sessions the day before the closed session. The problem is that most of the 70 people who showed up voted for someone else.
In a copy of a tape of the meeting obtained by the SouthtownStar, board member Betty Owens clearly indicates the board's choice for the next superintendent.
"Everybody knew we had four (finalists). She's our final choice. That's all there is to it," Owens says on the tape, referring to Leak.
Board president Sonya Norwood even discusses whether they should tell Leak she is one of two, four or the only finalist when they arrange a site visit as a final step in the interview process.
And when the time comes to announce the winner, Sonya Norwood says they simply will say Leak was the public's No. 1 choice.
Community input disregarded
The day before the closed session, six groups - representing teachers, students and other community members - gathered to judge the four finalists for the superintendent post. The groups later ranked the candidates.
Just two groups ranked Leak as their top choice, according to interviews with members of each committee.
"What we will share is: 'The Community Speaks' ... their No. 1 pick was her. That's all we say," Norwood says on the tape, referring to Leak. "Board listens. Community speaks. Board listens in bold letters."
One of the groups that supported Leak was made up of citizens selected by school board members; the second included school board members from neighboring elementary and high school districts.
Eileen Waite, a 71-year-old retired teacher, was a member of the citizens committee. She said about half her group believed all the candidates were unqualified and Leak barely squeaked by as their top choice. Waite said she ranked Leak dead last of the four candidates.
A group of 14 District 227 employees - including three district principals - picked an outside candidate as its top choice. And a committee of district students picked finalist Michael Brophy over Leak, according to 16-year-old Ben Simington, a junior at Rich South High School. Brophy is an assistant superintendent from Washington .
Leak said she still believes she has strong backing from the community and is committed to healing whatever is behind the dissension.
"We really need to come together and rally around our students' needs," Leak said. "That's the only way we can get to where we need to be."
Rankings kept a secret
Walter Mosby, school board president of Park Forest-Chicago Heights District 163, said his group believed Leak to be the most qualified candidate.
"We kind of felt Donna Leak basically stood head and shoulders above the other candidates," Mosby said.
At the end of the the interviews, group members were asked to turn over their candidate rankings to the board.
"They're (committee members) going to ask what we did with the numbers, that's all I'm saying," board member Alyssa Hernandez says on the tape.
"We're not giving them the numbers," a female board member replies.
"Freedom of Information Act, Freedom of Information Act," chants another female board member in a cautionary tone.
Norwood acknowledged Wednesday that there were top picks from different groups in the forum and said the rankings
from the community members only will be a partial measuring stick in determining who the board chooses as superintendent, a decision she hopes will be made this month.
Norwood said she could not confirm Leak was the final choice.
"The board speaks in one voice," she said. "The board really hasn't had a chance to go into closed session and talk."
In an 11th-hour bid to halt Leak's appointment, community members are circulating a petition urging the board to scrap all four finalists and start fresh using a national search firm. As of Thursday, 20 of the 70 committee members had signed.
David Morgan is the only District 227 board member to have publicly criticized the search process and Leak's candidacy.
"They had already made their pick over a year ago regardless of what the community wanted," Morgan, who didn't attend the Feb. 28 meeting, said. "Meanwhile, they have continued to proclaim publicly that they welcome community input, while privately denouncing it."
Leak said Friday all she knew was that she applied for the job and put forth her best effort in the application and interview process.
"It's really hard for me to comment on a process of which I was not directly involved," Leak said.
SOMETHING TO HIDE?
Board members of Rich Township High School District 227 conspired to hide information about their controversial pick for superintendent from another board member, according to a tape of a closed board meeting obtained by the SouthtownStar.
At least four of the six board members present at the Feb. 28 meeting can be heard discussing how much information they can legally withhold from board member David Morgan, who was absent.
"The only saving grace we have today of keeping it confidential is Morgan isn't here," one female board member is heard saying.
There also is a discussion following the meeting of shredding materials that were intended for Morgan.
"Sonya, this is stuff for Dr. Morgan ... well we don't want him to have it just yet," one female board member is heard saying.
"Shred it," another answers.
"The numbers are in there," the first says.
"Shred it. ... I would feel much better."
Morgan has been a vocal critic of both the superintendent search process and candidate Donna Simpson Leak, whom the district appears poised to hire.
Board president Sonya Norwood suggests members phone each other after the meeting to discuss plans for naming the next superintendent, so they don't legally have to inform Morgan.
Under the Illinois Open Meetings law, fewer than a majority of a quorum of elected officials can discuss public business outside of an official meeting.
In the case of District 227's seven-member board, a majority of a quorum is three.
So public officials can technically come to a consensus outside of a formal meeting without breaking the law, which is known as daisy chaining. Norwood appears to reference the practice on the tape.
"You can do ... two, two, two and that won't actually involve him (Morgan) in any situation," Norwood says on the tape. "You two call two ... and then you two call another two."
Can't recall meeting details
Norwood said in a phone interview Wednesday that she couldn't recall saying that but suspected she was advising against the practice on the tape, not advocating it.
"I'm probably warning them not to do that," said Norwood, who also speculated she might have been referencing meetings with district attorneys and board members that take place in groups of two.
While the practice circumvents the intent of public access laws, an Illinois court has yet to call it illegal. In some states, courts have taken a strict view that the method violates open meetings laws, while other courts have said the practice is legal.
Norwood said she doesn't remember telling anyone to shred documents or exactly why she and her colleagues on the board would have discussed hiding information from Morgan.
"My mind is blanking," she said, adding that the conversations might have been in reference to a legal matter involving Morgan and the Illinois attorney general's office.
"There are some things going on that I can't talk about with the state and Dr. Morgan," Norwood said.
"We just can't have one board member leaking information out. It compromises the board. ... It compromises our credibility, it destroys our district," she said.
Morgan revealed the names of four superintendent finalists Feb. 23 to the media - just five days before the closed session was held.
The attorney general's office hasn't received a request from the district asking it to review Morgan's actions, according to spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler.
Morgan not surprised by tape
Morgan said he asked District 227 Supt. Howard Hunigan for a packet from the meeting and was told it had been destroyed.
Hunigan said the candidates' applications supplied to each board member were destroyed as a routine procedure because the applications could include sensitive information such as Social Security numbers.
But Morgan said he believes the materials
destroyed were the candidate rankings from the community interviews.
Morgan said he wasn't surprised by the contents of the tape, saying that pattern was established long ago.
"(The board) realized that they could continue to choose business as usual much more conveniently and efficiently in my absence on this important task," said Morgan, who said he listened to the tape.
Morgan's story underscores a growing trend of public bodies hiding information from colleagues in the political minority, said Terry Pastika, executive director of the Citizens Advocacy Center.
"That is highly problematic and in direct contravention to giving this individual board member the capacity to adhere to his duties as a public official," Pastika said. "That's horrible."
Southland school administrators and board members - many who are running financially strapped districts - dropped a bundle on meals, hotels and travel to an annual fall conference they insist makes them better leaders.
Their big destination: downtown Chicago.
School officials across the Southland submitted receipts for thousands of dollars worth of valet parking, restaurant meals and late-night room service during conferences over the past eight months, a review of expense records by the SouthtownStar found.
The lavish spending habits were uncovered as part of the SouthtownStar's week-long project in honor of Sunshine Week, an initiative by media outlets throughout the country to promote government transparency.
We also wanted to see how, in a time of severe financial problems throughout the state and country, officials are spending taxpayers' money. The answer: not always frugally.
Rich Township High School District 227 alone spent more than $5,000 to attend November's statewide Tri-Conference gathering in Chicago that combines conferences for three main school board associations into a three-day weekend.
The district paid $3,200 for 17 rooms over three nights. Board member Alyssa Hernandez splurged twice on late-night dining, $64 one night and $77 the next, at the Hyatt Hotel. She and Supt. Howard Hunigan each had a valet park a car three times at $33 a pop. Board member Emmanuel Imoukheude parked his twice. And board president Sonya Norwood also charged two room service meals - about $110 - to the district………
Dining in style
Free breakfast was included with some conference sessions and free lunch also was provided. Free dinners - sponsored by vendors - were even available at fancy restaurants such as the Chicago Firehouse.
That didn't stop District 227's Norwood from spending $61.78 on breakfast room service one morning and about $50 on in-room dinner the next night.
And Hunigan spent $59 on lunch in a hotel restaurant…….
Ilandus Hampton: Czar of school district spending
Since school started last fall, taxpayers in Rich Township High School District 227 bought Ilandus Hampton four nights in swanky Chicago hotels and two king-size bags of potato chips.
You paid for the District 227 assistant superintendent to drive downtown, park his car in the Loop to the tune of $36 to $52 a night then ride around in cabs (two, at $15 each) between the Sheraton hotel and the posh W Hotel five blocks away, according to receipts he submitted.
That's $3,894 since July 1, 2009, and all in addition to the $151,000 salary Hampton earns in District 227, where 59 percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Hampton said his expenses look high - especially on receipts like a single room-service breakfast for $75 signed by a Ms. Hampton - because his secretary submitted his paperwork incorrectly. She sought reimbursement for entire meals, requiring him to write checks back to the district for meal overages and food eaten by a nondistrict companion, even though he said he initially paid with his credit card. He insisted he stayed under a recommended $75 daily meal limit.
According to copies of Hampton's checks, he repaid the district $222.48 from the November Tri-Conference, and $186 from the October conference for the American School Board Association, a total he said includes a $65 golf shirt he bought from a professional organization.
His receipt from the Chicago Chop House for $256 on one of the conference's nights isn't itemized. Nothing indicates who, besides Hampton, was there or what was served. District policy forbids treating family members or paying for alcohol.
During the ASBO conference the month before, Hampton paid $97.63 at Nick's Fishmarket for himself and an unnamed guest, $75.33 in room service for two at the Swissotel and $40.79 for a meal at a restaurant on Washington Street. That receipt was illegible.
Then he billed taxpayers for $4.68 in snacks - one king-size bag Lays potato chips, one king-size bag of Ruffles potato chips.
Here is a snapshot of expenses submitted by Ilandus Hampton, assistant superintendent for finance and operations at Rich Township School District 227
Date Amount Expense Notes
10/6/2009 $64.99 Golf shirt from Illinois Association of School Boards
10/23/2009 $720.00 Association of School Business Officials conference registration in Chicago
10/23/2009 $97.63 Nick's Fishmarket (2 guests) in Chicago $37 sea bass plus another entree
10/23/2009 $4.68 Snacks, Lays, Ruffles in Chicago
10/23/2009 $294.28 Swissotel Chicago room
10/23/2009 $36.00 Hyatt Regency Chicago - parking Two blocks away from the Swissotel
10/24/2009 $40.79 Meals at restaurant on Washington St. in Chicago Receipt illegible
10/24/2009 $75.33 Swissotel Chicago - room service (2 guests) in Chicago Appears to be signed for by Mrs. Hampton
10/24/2009 $294.28 Swissotel Chicago room
10/24/2009 $52.00 Swissotel Chicago - parking
10/24/2009 $10.00 Cab fare, evening Destination not listed
10/24/2009 $33.00 Mileage both ways @ 30 miles between Chicago & District
10/25/2009 $3.00 Parking meter in Chicago Destination unclear
10/28/2009 ($186.00) Hampton wrote a check to District 227: "Reimbursement of IASBO"
11/12/2009 $624.00 American Association of School Administrators fees: registration, PO fee
11/20/2009 $265.00 Onsite registration for IASB-ASAS-IASBO Conference in Chicago
11/20/2009 $264.27 Sheraton Chicago Walk-up rate, king. Others at same conference paid $183 special conference rate
11/20/2009 $49.00 Sheraton Chicago - parking
11/20/2009 $15.00 Cab fare From Sheraton to W Hotel Five blocks away, motive unclear
11/20/2009 $15.00 Cab fare From W Hotel to Sheraton hotelFive blocks away, motive unclear
11/20/2009 $33.00 Mileage both ways @ 30 miles between Chicago and District
11/21/2009 $264.27 Sheraton Chicago Walkup room, king
Date unclear $256.27 Chicago Chop House Illegible, unitemized. During IASB-ASAS-IASBO Conference in Chicago
Date unclear $47.91 Room service? Meals.Two entrees listed on illegible receipt. During IASB-ASAS-IASBO Conference in Chicgao.
Date unclear $31.26 Meal Receipt illegible. During IASB-ASAS-IASBO Conference in Chicago.
12/1/2009 ($228.48) Hampton wrote a check to District 227: "Reimbursement of Tri-Conference"
1/20/2010 $303.40 U.S. Airways to Phoenix for February conference
Dean Spooltra's reprimand from Superintendent DEAN SPOOLTRA’S REPRIMAND
Fund Expenditures (2011-2012)
Financial Indicators (2011-2012)