More on transparency and oversight

For those interested in a deep dive into transparency/oversight, please read on!

School boards are required to vote in public on all financial decisions exceeding a $25,000 threshold.  In other respects, there is considerable latitude about their decision-making; however, community members who follow other school districts have reported much more public discussion about their decisions.

The degree to which D214 board members make decisions behind closed doors or simply delegate to the superintendent decisions which other districts make via votes in board meetings is, of course, unknown, and, on top of this is the added element that the board’s degree of oversight is even harder to assess when they do not respond to community members expressing concerns.  Nonetheless, here is a list of examples which (being only those I personally am aware of) is surely only a small set of the total.

  • The decision to adopt the superintendent’s web service, Transeo, was done without any discussion in any board meeting or indeed any trace in a FOIA search, yet it is improbable that the superintendent would have gone ahead without any approval.  In fact, I called on the board, during a public comment period, to disclose this arrangement and they did not.
  • The decision, in November of 2020, to move to an “adaptive pause” was made by the superintendent, the board president, and the board vice-president, not much more than a week after the superintentent reassured the community, at a board meeting, that no such pause would occur.
  • The choice to remove certain honors classes at Elk Grove and Rolling Meadows was made without any public discussion by the board.  On June 16, 2021, I published a guest commentary in the Daily Herald explaining what I knew and listing the other school districts which had made this change, either on a pilot or a permanent basis; in each case, the board discussed the matter before the implementation of a pilot program.  I had also sought and had denied any information beyond the basic facts of the class offering change, via the FOIA process.  Then, on June 24, Board President Bill Dussling and Superintendent Schuler published a rebuttal, making it clear that the board was well-informed on the change despite the lack of public discussion.
  • The sudden departure of Cathy Johnson in September 15 was the subject of a Daily Herald article on December 22, revealing that she was paid more than $180,000 in severance, approved in a closed session, with the details of the arrangement kept from the community.  That’s a concern in itself.  But at the same time, even the available reporting does not reveal what the cause was for Ms. Johnson’s termination, whether it was deserved or not.  
  • The district’s purchase of a building and lot at 2121 and 2123 S. Arlington Heights Road was likewise only uncovered after-the-fact due to a closed session board meeting, as reported by the Journal & Topics on December 23rd.  This is a significant purchase with little information provided to the community on its intended use after the short-term objective of providing temporary office space during the Forest View renovation.  What’s more, the village of Arlington Heights had designated this part of town as the South Arlington Heights Corridor Plan, with the aim of retail/commercial development.  It is not at all clear that, for whatever its intended uses, this is the right property for those uses, but no public comment period was available on the issue.
  • In January 2021, the district announced that, due to low student uptake of the ability to attend school in-person, they would offer full-time in-person instruction to all students who requested it.  Through a Facebook group, I learned that students at several high schools were being placed on waitlists.  Despite multiple e-mails to the board and the superintendent, I received no response, and when I spoke on the issue during a board meeting Public Comment period, a board member expressed surprise at the issue despite being included in an e-mail and despite her assertion that she reads all e-mails sent to her.

In my conversations with others on these issues of good governance, I have regrettably heard far too often a statement of cynical resignation:  “we have a good school district, and no evidence of illegal activity.  Isn’t that good enough?”  I hope to persuade the community that, in fact, it is not “good enough” and we all deserve better.