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By Kelley Elwood
Since the District 202 School Board was unable to reach agreement on who would fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Bill Geiger, the decision will be made by Regional Superintendent Bruce Brown as dictated by Illinois law.
“The [District 202 Board] informed me that they were at an impasse,” said Mr. Brown, who confirmed for the RoundTable that he had received the applications of 14 residents who applied for the vacancy. Illinois law states that he has 30 days from the receipt of the information to make a selection.
Mr. Geiger’s resignation was announced at the May 26 Board meeting, which left a vacancy to be filled to serve the remainder of his term, which expires on April 30, 2017. His resignation was officially submitted the day after the announcement at the meeting. Current Board policy states that the Board must appoint a replacement within 45 days of the resignation. The vacancy must be publicized, interested residents allowed to apply for the position, and the Board must vote on a replacement during a public meeting. If the Board is unable to make a decision in 45 days, Illinois law dictates that the selection be turned over to the Regional Superintendent.
Yet at the May meeting, Board Vice President Mark Metz said, “There is another way to do this.” He proposed that instead of having an open-application process, the Board suspend policy and appoint the candidate from the recent Board election who had the next most votes. The Board should “respect the voters” and select from the candidates who were “vetted by the public” during the recent campaign.
“My response to that is that we have the ability to make the process as open or closed as we want as a Board,” said Gretchen Livingston, Board member and former Board president. “We have a process in place to allow the top vote getter and anyone else to apply. It is important to keep the process as open and transparent as possible.”
Three positions were open in the April election, but Mr. Geiger’s was not one of them. Mr. Metz and Jonathan Baum ran for re-election and won. The third seat, left open by Scott Rochelle’s decision not to seek re-election, was won by Monique Parsons. Anne Sills came in fourth in that election, garnering 2,011 votes, or 19%.
Because Mr. Geiger’s resignation was not official at the May meeting, the Board “could not have a full discussion around the process,” Board President Pat Savage-Williams told the RoundTable. Looking toward the 45-day deadline, she said, “I didn’t want to lose two weeks” so “I went forward” with the policy in place.
Despite the looming discussion of suspending policy, the application was posted on the ETHS website with a submission deadline of 4 p.m. June 5. Fourteen residents of District 202, including Ms. Sills, applied for the position.
At the June 22 School Board meeting, which lasted less than 30 minutes, Mr. Metz made an official motion to suspend the Board policy for selecting a replacement and to appoint Ms. Sills instead. The vote failed with a 3-3 tie. No other motions were made, and the meeting ended without a vote to fill the vacant seat.
A special meeting of the District 202 School Board was scheduled for July 1 to again discuss the open Board position. By then, the Board had interviewed all 14 candidates.
At that meeting, Mr. 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 previous attempts to put aside policy on finding a replacement, saying that Board policy “aligns with the IASB” [Illinois Association of School Boards] and “notably none [of the IASB criteria on choosing a replacement] has anything to do with past electoral success.”
Ms. Livingston asked the Board if they would be willing to discuss the characteristics desired for a Board member, saying that such a conversation had not occurred. Mr. 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 Ms. 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. That motion failed, with Mr. Metz, Ms. Savage-Williams and Ms. Parsons voting “no,” and 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,” she said.
“Do we all agree it would be a shame” to take that step?” asked Ms. 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, that did not happen. The special meeting ended with no replacement – and no vote – to fill the vacancy. Instead, the Board adjourned to closed session where no decision was made except to have the Regional Superintendent choose the new member of the Board himself.
Mr. Brown told the RoundTable that, while, Illinois law sets timeframes on when a School Board vacancy is to be filled, the statute provides nothing in terms of the criteria or process to be followed by the Regional Superintendent in making the selection. He said he intends to follow the same process he would for any other district: He will do a “paper screen,” reviewing information on each applicant, do interviews with select candidates, and then pick the person with “the experience, expertise and dedication to serve the Board well.”
The 30-day deadline for making the selection is Aug. 1.