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D161 Board Runs Afoul of State's Open Meetings Act Again

A workshop to discuss Summit Hill school district programming was adjourned Monday after a parent pointed out the special meeting broke state law by being held on a holiday.

After weeks of tense debates over the budget cuts facing , Monday's board workshop was a chance to move discussion toward education and curriculum and away from finances and controversy.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

For the second time in three consecutive meetings and the third time this school year, the D161 board was challenged over whether it violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act. In this case, a district parent pointed out that the workshop was being held on a legal holiday--Casimir Pulaski Day--which is against state law.

The result: Monday's workshop was immediately adjourned by the board after Supt. Barb Rains talked to the district's lawyer. It is unknown if the workshop will be rescheduled, and if so, when that would be.

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Labeled a workshop, Monday's forum is considered a special public meeting and falls under the provisions of the Open Meetings Act. According to the state law, a public meeting can't be scheduled on a legal holiday. The only exception is if a board's regular meeting day coincides with a holiday.

There have been two other instances this school year when the board's adherence to the Open Meetings act has been questioned:

  • In September, , the minimum time allowed by state law. The district's attorney, however, .

  • Last month, , claiming the agenda item from the original meeting that contained the closure vote was too vague. That item was labeled "Planning for the Future" under old business on the meeting agenda.

In a phone interview Monday night, Rich Marron, the Tinley Park resident with three children in the district who brought up this violation during public comments, said the board's recent issues with the Open Meetings Act prompted him to look into the legality of the workshop after he heard about it last week. He said he didn't finish his research until Monday, which is why he didn't notify Rains or any board members earlier.

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"The community has been very clear that it wants more transparency," said Marron, adding that Rains thanked him after the meeting for bringing the possible violation to the board's attention. "It's a pattern that keeps coming up. When you put something on the agenda that says planning for the future and you close a school, you have to wonder what else could happen going forward."

Marron also said he thinks the board holds too many special meetings to discuss important topics that would be better handled during the regular board meetings. The added assemblies each month aren't just an unfair burden to parents who want to attend to stay informed, but also to board members, he said. Since July, there have been seven special meetings or workshops held, only one more than was held during the same period last school year.

YOUR TURN:

Going forward, Marron said he wants to see how the board polices itself in the face of these possible infractions. During his public remarks, Marron said board President Mary Kenny had violated her oath of office to uphold state laws by allowing this meeting to be scheduled on a holiday.

"I would just hate to see the board ignore these violations," he said.

Patch will continue to update this story throughout the day.

Joe Vince (Editor) March 06, 2012 at 05:47 PM
@Stella Nyder: Any issue that needs action from the board, such as voting on hiring a new financial director, needs to be specifically listed on the meeting's agenda. Board members can discuss items not on the agenda, but they can't take any final action on them. Joe Vince Local Editor, Frankfort
Kerri U March 06, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Here is a crazy idea. How about parents with too much time on their hands stop trying to to stand in the way of the district from moving forward since they are angry about other things that have occurred. I would like to see some movement on decisions beyond financial decisions in the area of curriculum and this meeting was announced way ahead of time so it comes down to pettiness and trying to cause problems, way to go Mr. Marron. What was your real purpose, to interfere with progress in my child's education??
Stella Nyder March 06, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Kerri, I read on FB community forum that some community members questioned the Board's motives. This was questioned because the Workshop was labeled somewhere as a "board workshop/meeting". The concern was that there wouldn't only be discussion on the Curriculum but would be taking action without the community being prepared. So being that there is already a lack of trust Mr. Barron as he stated in the article started researching...
informed March 06, 2012 at 06:46 PM
@joevince, I disagree. hiring a financial director is under employment of staff. Not a special line item on the agenda.
informed March 06, 2012 at 06:54 PM
@Kerri U, Thanks for you comment - Rich Marroon doesn't sound interested in educating children, just nit-picking. The practices that THIS board is using went on while Mr. Doyle was president and way before him...where was Rich then....it sounds like he's playing a game of "I gotcha" at the children's expense.
Joe Vince (Editor) March 06, 2012 at 07:06 PM
@Informed: You're absolutely right. I misspoke. Employment issues would fall under that umbrella on the agenda. Also, discussion of personnel issues happens in closed session, which means there's no agenda item mentioning it. I apologize for the mistake. Joe Vince Local Editor, Frankfort
Citizen March 06, 2012 at 07:10 PM
@Kerri U & @informed - Here's a crazy idea- Follow the rules! I for one think Rich has our children's best interests at heart. Any action that the board may have taken last night could have been challenged. The last thing this BOA needs is a legal challenge. One un-related question, does anyone know what the early "retirement" of th HW Princpal will cost our district? Are any other administrators "retiring" early?
informed March 06, 2012 at 07:17 PM
@joevince, Thanks for getting the correct information out! Thanks for keeping us well informed.
informed March 06, 2012 at 07:21 PM
@Citizen, If the school board didn't close Mary Drew School the meeting last night would have went on like usual with no interruptions because they have for years and years. No matter what this board does "their damned if they do and their damned if they don't" and the soap opera goes on......
Stella Nyder March 06, 2012 at 07:56 PM
The MD community is still trying to process the magnitude of their school closure. They are vigilant now and want to be informed and educated and contribute. Informed I hope what you are sharing doesn't happen. I am choosing to believe that good will come out of this and we will have a stronger district community. I can see that there are others who are unrelated to MD but are harboring resentment and will try to get in the way of the Board doing the work that needs to be done. I hope that the majority however will be able to help the Board do their work with excellence. In this instance I didn't see anything wrong with their questioning the meeting. At the same time I don't think that the Board intentionally was doing anything wrong as well. Being that MD parents are just now getting involved need to realize at certain times a year decisions need to be made about Curriculum as well as every aspect of our district and they don't need to get defensive about it. This is routine Board business. We DO have a competent Board please allow them to lead. This has been a minor setback but realize it has also taken away from the Board also in terms of focusing on the agenda for next week that they need to be preparing for which is decisions concerning MD school boundaries etc...
Come on... March 06, 2012 at 09:30 PM
To all the negative comments about 1)"parents with too much time on their hands" and 2) Rich Marron.... Shame on you people -- I sure as heck do not want this board making decisions for my children. They are unprofessional and irresponsible. I am not sure why anyone would be ok with a school board that cannot follow simple state rules or even their own rules and regulations. The board is supposed to act responsible and they have shown time and time again that they cannot do that. I have news for all you people – a few board members have made it clear that they not finished with cuts – they have already closed one building, who knows what programs are on the chopping block. With respect to ticking off the board, that is why so many of us are giving up time with our families and working so hard to get the right people and groups involved. We need to look out for the children, neighbors, property values…
Stella Nyder March 06, 2012 at 10:21 PM
The main reasons that I am trusting our current Board is because I have been a part of the community that was paying attention in 2010!!! when suddenly my sons counselor at the Junior High was let go and I didn't even know about it after the fact! I then knocked at the door of a Board member I knew and from her I found out that the nurses were being cut as well! I was shocked. Do you know what Ms. Lenz told me was that I needed to be involved and attend Board meetings...I called a friend of mine who had a diabetic child in 4th grade to share with her about this as it would impact her son directly. She was so upset after our conversation she spoke up at the Board meeting representing 200 children not once did she speak about her own child that she was so concerned about. God honored that desire! I have witnessed Denise Lenz, Joy Murphy and Mary Kenny fight for everyones kids!!! time and time again. Ms. Borgens at the time was a community member being at every meeting and guess what she didn't like what was happening and she started a petition on behalf of all of our kids to retain nurses. Ms. Borgens was the one that taught me what it means to assume a leadership role. For the very first time the community was informed through her e-mails after every Board meeting. I have saved them If anyone would like them I can e-mail them to you. She spoke truth and she was keeping the community informed. That is why I trust them!!! they deserve our respect.
Rose C March 07, 2012 at 02:27 AM
@Kerri - I totally agree. I want to hear what the administration has to say about their plans for educational programming for the 2012-13 school year. I want to move forward, this board may not be perfect (no member of the community is either) but they need to start reviewing how the district is preparing to move toward the federally mandated common core standards...the clock is ticking. @Citizen, I'm sure you can FOIA that info. But I do know that if an administrator chooses to retire early (leaving their district holding 'the bag') the district has not option but to cut a check to TRS. Just ask Mr. Pain how he worked the system on that one. Just sayin. Pulaski Day - do the children even receive any background on this historical figure that they get an extra day off for?
Rose C March 07, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Here we go again another person who is only interested in bashing the board. FYI Come On - the only reason 6 out of the 7 people who are on the board are up there is because our community voted them in. I'm a firm believer that if you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain. Also, if you aren't willing to do the hard work, you also should have to keep your opinions to yourself - but that's the double edged sword we call the 1st amendment. Just in case you JUST started paying attention "Come on" - the district is running out of money. Of course there are going to be more cuts. Then next year, we will probably see increased fees. I'm actually glad the community is finally paying attention (even you) to what we are up against. It was a lot more fun in years past when we thought everything was great and the money was flowing in faster than the district could spend it. That's just not the case anymore. Whether you like this board or not - they have a tough road ahead & only a few people who understand the responsibilities required for this unpaid job they signed up for. So 'Come On' - what is your plan or band aid that would make the entire community happy? Or do you just prefer to say all you want because in the end no one will be holding you accountable since the only thing you volunteered to do was throw your 2 cents in on webpage. Why don't you tell us something we haven't already heard or read.
Come on... March 07, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Last I check this is a well educated community of people from all walks of life. Have you bothered to read the articles about surrounding communities who were in similar situations and what they have done? If not -- go and do a little research. Mokena's school board actually spent the time to do their homework and after the official numbers came in it was determined that it would cost more money to close the school open rather than close it due to busing, moving expenses... So I guess you could say -- I did do my homework, how about you? All I think people want is for the board to make a well informed decision and show us how they came to that decision -- that seems to make sense to me. And no, Rose C -- I am not bashing the board. Simply saying that they should be held responsible for following the rules just like the rest of us are.
Rose C March 07, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Re-read your comment Come on, you did bash the board, like so many others before you. Should they be held accountable - yes. Has any other board in THIS district ever been scrutinized like this before? Nope. They just keep giving us information - just because we don't like what we are hearing does not make it untrue. Do they need to follow the rules - absolutely. But so does the community - I understand their passion, but the methods of the community also make our district look bad. Being disrespectful (board member or community member) does not move us forward. Mokena has struggled for YEARS and is now finally coming together - this did not happen overnight. Which is why expecting our board to fix things overnight is impossible too. Mr. Doyle asked Mr. Gerdes at one of the recent meetings - what it would take to bring the board a balanced budget. The response - cutting 40 teachers. That would be catastrophic compared to closing a school. Please don't assume that just because I (and others) disagree with you Come on, that we are un-educated on what is happening across the state and country. Again, I ask you - what is it that you would do if you had the courage to sit at the board table.
Come on... March 07, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I would allow our director of finance and our superintendent to their jobs and provide me with the appropriate information I need to make a decision. Again -- there is NO PROOF that closing a school is going to save money. Since you and I obviously disagree -- how do you feel about a few board members announcing out-loud that this is part of their personal agenda? How about the fact that some of them have stated they do not want to be there? And just for the record, if you think that teachers jobs are not on the line.... think again! I am not sure why you are backing people who are breaking laws... That doesn't bother you at all hum -- Sorry, it does bother me....
informed March 07, 2012 at 06:50 PM
@Come on...I agree that the 4 board members may have personal agenda when making the decision close Mary Drew... Their agenda's seem to be CUTTING THE 3 MILLION DOLLARS DEFICIT! THAT IS THEIR JOB, they were elected to make decisions. Don't forget the simple numbers 4200 seats, with only 3400 students = close a school and RENT IT OUT. What more can I say?
Come on... March 07, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Again --- They have not been able to show ANYONE that they are going to be saving money... HAVE THEY? What more can I say?
informed March 07, 2012 at 07:29 PM
@Come on....I have faith in the four board members who voted to close Mary Drew. You may not, and that is your opinion. Let's stay focused there is a 3 million dollar hole.....this is just the beginning.
Community member March 07, 2012 at 08:10 PM
This is about the board not following the RULES!!!!!! And if the rules were over looked in the past and no one said anything then shame on them. We all have rules and when you put yourself out there to represent others, then you can be called out if you are not following the rules. And the comment on Stacy with the e-mails, since she was elected to the board have the e-mails continued to help keep the community informed? I just find it sad that many of these comments are about Rich nitpicking, and it's not about how shocked we all should be because the rules have been broken again.
CJS March 07, 2012 at 09:18 PM
I agree with the concern of scheduling the meeting on a state, not federal, holiday. The workshop was posted quite a while ago and I question the timing and motivation of the objection. As a result, we have delayed the discussion and decision process of the curriculum and education for our children whom we claim to want nothing but the best!
Stella Nyder March 07, 2012 at 09:29 PM
@ Community member:There have been no e-mails from Ms. Borgens sent as this would be a violation of her oath! Also, the last e-mail she sent was right before elections. She had consulted with her own Lawyer, who advised her that she couldn't continue in that role as this would cause her to be disqualified! My point is that she taught me that accountability is very important. What is sad is that you would want to discredit her and that is wrong. She voted not to close MD but she confronted the community of how wrong it was to be disrespectful of our Board president. Cutting nurses was their way of saving money.Nurses don't have a contract so at one point in 2010 the only elementary school that was left with a full time nurse with benefits was MD! AH and FS and IT after the petition were granted @6hour days so not to have benefits. Ms.Borgens was fighting for teachers who were let go just like that. If anything Ms.Borgens is that she thinks we have a great community and she desires healing for the district.
Stella Nyder March 07, 2012 at 10:01 PM
continued... Last year, Denise Lenz/Lions club organized a fundraiser for Joe Leone as you may recall who was battling Aplastic Anemia and Samantha K. who was battling Thyroid Cancer. Mrs Borgens was there with her kids who were helping along with Mrs.Perros raffling tickets! They were able to raise about $1000. for each child at the Junior High!!! I don't recall the higher up Board members being there(before elections), forgive me I am telling you what I saw. Since we have all this time to try to discredit the board instead of helping them as it takes all of us to have a great school district, here's an FYI. AH is collecting school supplies for the Harrisburg school district who has been hit by a Tornado. they are collecting through the 16th! Call Mrs Sereleas for any other info. Yes one of the Board members alerted me of this cause because they care.!!! Please stop attacking them!!! I have a problem when I hear that you don't want them to make decisions stated one commenter. They will be making decisionsuntil the next elections! So we don't have to like them or agrree with them but we need to learn how to work along side of them. This has been a very stressful transition for them as well, they have family responsibilities as well that are probably on hold. I want to say thank you to them for their sacrifices they are making for our school district,
taxpayer March 07, 2012 at 11:36 PM
If you owned an apartment building that was only 1/2 occupied, would you let it sit or would you try and rent the other half of the apartment complex to try an make a buck?? Would you enjoy paying utilities for a half occupied building? The school shouldn't have been made a 1-4 in the first place. Mary Kenny stated back then she didn't want it. I am not understanding why anyone is ok with 1/2 occupied buildings. We will not be filling the open seats anytime in the next decade.
Rose C March 08, 2012 at 02:25 AM
FYI Community Member, after a community advisory meeting, I complained to Stacy about no longer receiving her e-mails about board meetings. She told me that she is no longer allowed to legally send her 'summaries' of the meetings. I wish there was someone who would pick up where she left off. However, she did say that since getting on the board she has encouraged Mrs. Rains to include more information in the board minutes. Also I personally think it's great to have our Superintendent sending us updates on what is going on in the district. Stacy was very approachable at the meeting, I'm sure if you had questions to be asked she would welcome them, as she did mine. Plus, I thought everyone in the community had her e-mail address after she started 'sharing' her point of view.
Community member March 08, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I don't think my comments were attacking anyone. The rules of the open meeting act were not followed and that's a fact. I'm not sure why you felt you needed to go on about Stacy, but you did. I was just asking to see if the e-mails were still on going. But I guess you assumed the worst in my question. Going forward I will have my eyes wide open and ask many questions and try to be part of the process that is about the children.
Rose C March 08, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Seriously Come On? Do your own math. I wasn't ready to see a building closed but every minute that board members sit on their hands & do NOTHING when the community starts screaching (even though they haven't been paying attention to anything in the district because everything seemed great on the surface) the further we get from solving our financial problems. Mr. Gerdes, Mrs. Raines & Mr. Martin all spoke as to why it had to be Mary Drew. So sad, but they backed up the decision with evidence. Of course teachers' jobs are on the line Come On! There are only 3400 students in the district, there will be less next year and less the year after that. It would be great to have classrooms with 20 kids or less, but that would cost even more money. I would rather may taxes go to a reading specialist (that thankfully my kid doesn't need but someone else's kid does) than towards utilites on a building at less than 50% capacity.
Rose C March 08, 2012 at 02:48 AM
I have to ask you Come On - what is YOUR personal agenda. You have no ideas to solve any problems, but you seem to enjoy stirring the pot. As for the comment that a board member may or may not have said they 'don't want to be there' - I get it. No matter what they do or say, they will be wrong from someone's perspective. I think the idea that they are 'breaking laws' is a stretch. However, slander and defimation of character come to mind after reading many comments that have been posted on the patch in recent months or shouted at board meetings. Not to mention the verbal threats made to board members as they were trying to leave the building after last week's meeting. I guess we know where the kids get the idea that it's ok to 'bully' people.
Stella Nyder March 08, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Community member yes I overreacted and jumped to conclusions when you simply asked a question. Your understanding is appreciated and I especially loved your reply about going foreward. Your reply I would say made my day because you sounded honest and sincere.

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