Last night’s special meeting of the District 202 School Board ended with no replacement – and no vote – to fill the vacant spot left by the resignation of Bill Geiger. Instead, the Board wrestled with process and ultimately adjourned to closed session where no decision was made except to have the Regional Superintendent choose the new member of the Board himself.
Before going into closed session, the Board tried to come to agreement on how to proceed. Board President Pat Savage-Williams, with gavel at the ready, directed members to stick closely to the agenda, which included only two items: “Process for Selection of Member to Fill Board Vacancy” and “Appointment of School Board Member (if so agreed)”.
Board Member Jonathan Baum reviewed what had happened to date, commenting that there were “14 remarkably strong candidates” who applied for the opening but that the Board “did not engage in a thorough review of the qualifications.”
Board member Doug Holt discussed the previous attempts to find a resolution by putting aside the Board’s policy on finding a replacement and instead appointing the next candidate in line from the April School Board election. He said that Board policy “aligns with the IASB” (Illinois Association of School Boards) and
“notably none (of the IASB criteria on choosing a replacement) have anything to do with past electoral success.”
Board member Gretchen Livingston asked the other Board members if they would be willing to discuss the characteristics desired for a Board member, saying that such a conversation had not occurred. Board member Mark Metz disputed that, saying “I disagree with the characterization that we have not had a thorough review. The fact that it did not take hours does not mean it’s not thorough.”
Both Ms. Savage-Williams and Board member Monique Parsons stated that they believed the discussion did in fact take place. “I know we are at an impasse, but going back does not mean we will come to agreement,” said Ms. Savage-Williams. “I have a clear understanding that that conversation took place,” said Ms. Parsons, who asked that the Board proceed with “respect and grace.”
Mr. Baum responded that some applicants asked during the interview process what the Board is looking for in a candidate and “the fact that we could not answer” shows the discussion did not take place. Ultimately, Mr. Baum made a motion to identify a set of criteria for selecting a candidate which failed, with Mr. Metz, Ms. Savage-Williams and Ms. Parsons voting “no;” Mr. Baum, Ms. Livingston and Mr. Holt voting “yes”.
From there, the discussion focused on the possibility of not reaching a conclusion. The conversation got more heated, with several members questioning if others were acting in “good faith”.
“We need to be thinking of the outcome,” said Ms. Livingston, adding that it would be a “terrible thing” to have to turn the decision over to the Regional Superintendent as is spelled out in the law. There is “no excuse for not coming to a conclusion.”
“Do we all agree it would be a shame” to take that step, asked Mr. Baum. “That is the law,” responded Ms. Savage-Williams, “and if we follow policy, the next step is a legal step. I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another.”
“Let’s call this what it is,” said Mr. Metz. “It’s politics, and politics is a full- contact sport.”
While several members said they were “hopeful” that the Board would come to a conclusion, they did not. Members voted to go into closed session to discuss specifics of the vacancy, yet emerged having made no selection.
“We are still at an impasse” announced Ms. Savage-Williams to the remaining crowd of spectators and applicants when the Board returned to open session. The decision will now be left to Regional Superintendent Bruce Brown, who will have 30 days to choose who he wants to fill the position.