Although I was encouraged to attend the Prairie Grove School Board meeting last night, I decided to go to the McHenry County College Board meeting instead.
Someone in attendance shared this description of what went on:
You should have been at this meeting. Your ‘take’ on it would have been priceless.
Regional Superintendent of Education Gives Board Advice
Among other things, at one point Leslie Schermerhorn, Regional Superintendent of Schools stood up, She said,
“I need to make 4 quick points:
- this meeting is in shambles; you need to learn Robert’s rules of order
- the board president role is supposed to be that of a meeting facilitator, not someone who is trying to force her opinions on the others at the table
- the taxpayers are paying for administrators – stop trying to do their jobs and let them use their expertise to run the district
- these meetings are ridiculously long – if they are lasting past 10:00 at night you are spending too much time on topics and/or you are talking about things that should not be board work.”
Besides that, the major ‘highlights’:
Golden Parachutes Approved for Teachers
Margaret Pongo provided a document for the board members that I recommend that you FOIA so that you can get the ‘facts.’
In it she proposed that retiring teachers get the equivalent of up to $40,000 (yes, $40,000!!!!) when they leave the district. (To start with, a proposal like this is so wrong because info like this should be coming FROM the district finance expert, NOT from a Board member to the board and the administrators! If the board wants this kind of date, they should request it from the superintendent!)
Anyway, she had it broken into multiple pieces, and I didn’t see the document yet, but the general info was that the teachers would get a ‘bonus,’ would get $50 for every sick day they didn’t use over their employment (up to 100 days), and also $2,000 per year to use toward health insurance until they qualify for Medicare.
Cal, there WAS something in the previous teacher contracts that gave things like this.
HOWEVER, it was taken out and THAT money was allocated towards existing teachers’ salaries instead.
NOW, after the contract is in force, THIS ADDITIONAL MONEY is going to be given to retiring teachers?
The ‘logic’ explained was that this will make teachers retire earlier, so the district saves money when they replace an old teacher with a new one, but the honest truth is that those teachers have had their retirement dates set on their calendars FOR YEARS.
That is why they were fighting for the retirement bonus in the contract negotiations!
No one who makes over $80,000 a year is going to retire a year or two early for a $15,000 bonus. DUH!
But a handout as you walk out the door on the date you planned 10 years ago is awesome!
After much discussion, the board voted to give anyone who announces their retirement in January of 2014 a bonus of between $5,000 and $15,000 (I think PLUS the $50 for every unused sick day- up to another $5,000. But since the motions were so chaotic it is hard to tell what they exactly voted on.)
THIS IS NOT encouraging teachers to retire early, it is just a HUGE ‘diamond crusted gold watch’ paid for by taxpayers.
Tax money that is NOT going towards the classroom… it is being given to people as they walk out the door!
I am sure it is just a coincidence that the teachers who are eligible for retirement were some of the most vocal supporters of those 4 candidates in the recent election.
Parents Visiting for Lunch
About 8 months ago the administration team at Prairie Grove told the BOE that they were going to eliminate the practice of allowing parents of elementary students to have lunch in the cafeteria with their children.
The Board actually took a vote supporting the administration, but public access to the building is an issue that the administration should control without the board’s interference.
The reasons given were multiple:
allowing individuals access to over 100 students at once is a safety issue, plus cafeteria staff were required to monitor parents who sat at ‘allergy’ tables, brought food and gave it to other children, bullied other children, made other children move away from friends so they had room to sit, or left the café and wandered in the building.
There also were concerns from families who had restraining orders against other parents, threats against children, etc.
This month one board member sent all the other board members (but not the administrators of the district) a contract to be used for ANY family member who wants to have lunch with a student.
At the meeting, that board member, John Bowman, could not explain at all why he created this document and/or who was asking for this, even though he was asked several times to explain why he was proposing this, and why he had not even discussed this with any district administrators before sending it to board members.
One other board member ‘supposedly’ was quoted as saying “this was a campaign promise.”
An ‘email chain’ had been sent out to many parents requesting that SUPPORTERS of parent/café lunches come to the meeting.
In the open comments section, not a single parent spoke in favor of opening lunch to parents again.
However, several administrators and other school district and lunch service employees spoke about how they were STRONGLY opposed to this, and they explained how the area police had also recommended this change.
Then over 20 parents spoke about why they were opposed.
A teacher survey by the admin team was discussed that had 35 out of 37 teachers opposed to this.
Margaret Ponga and John Bowman continued to push this, even though John would not explain why he asked for it.
The lawyer at the meeting said that the board should be supporting the admin team’s recommendations.
The 3 ‘old’ board members asked why a decision previously made by the board would be rescinded.
After what seemed like 15 hours of discussion, where the 4 new board members refused to back down, this is what was decided:
The admin team is supposed to figure out ‘how to make this work’ and report back to the board.
The lawyer at the table said, “and that might mean the admin says it can’t be done,” but Margaret Pong said, “No. I am looking for a proposal that DOES allow parents in the building at either the December or January Board meeting. No later.”
Email Restrictions Sought for Superintendent and Principal
The board also got into a discussion about trying to prevent the superintendent or the principal from sending any email communications about existing board business to past board members.
When the lawyer explained how that was not possible, as these individuals are also taxpayers, and there are times when these individuals could even be on board committees, Margaret Ponga was very upset.
She somehow wanted a group of people to be ‘shut out’ from any district business.
Khushali Shah did a great job of explaining that board business is OPEN because of the OMA laws, and also asked why you would limit an employee’s communications if it was permissible for Board members like Margaret to share board business emails with taxpayers. (Khushali gave multiple examples of this).
Bottom line was the lawyer told the board they couldn‘t put any limits on this and the discussion was tabled.
Background Checks for Citizen Committee Members
One more thing that was mentioned… at the previous COW meeting where they were setting up new Board/Community committees, there was a discussion about requiring background checks on anyone who applied.
Margaret Ponga asked why background checks would be required, because no taxpayer should be prevented from being on a committee.
Dr. Zimmer said that people convicted of certain felonies, convicted drug dealers, child molesters, etc., could not be allowed on the committees and/or in the building.
At last night’s board meeting, another board member said that Margaret Ponga’s reply to that explanation disturbed her.
Margaret’s reply as quoted was, “So these people shouldn’t be given a second chance?”
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