Peotone, IL. (ECWd) –
LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
The open spigot of tax dollars that pours into local school districts has made school superintendents and the consultants – who are hired to guide district spending, borrowing, and referendums – far too comfortable. The salaries and benefits of superintendents are significant and financial consultants, in addition to being paid fees for services, also earn large commissions on bond deals. Because of their access to tax dollars, they have little incentive to change the status quo.
When the findings of the federal grand jury investigation of Lincoln-Way are released, we will learn how, with the aid of a compliant board, district superintendents and their consultants are able to continually fleece school districts. In fact, many school districts make a determined effort to keep taxpayers from learning the following: How taxpayer money is spent and the cozy relationship between school boards, superintendents, and their consultants.
For the past two years, Peotone School District and Superintendent Stein have circumvented taxpayers seeking information by:
- Excessive redaction (blacking out) of responses to FOIA requests. I submitted a FOIA request to Superintendent Stein for all invoices for legal services between July 1, 2013, and June 20, 2014. District 207-U provided the requested invoices, but excessively redacted them, claiming the redacted information was subject to attorney/client privilege. I did not agree, and requested the Attorney General’s Office review District 207-U’s claim of attorney/client privilege as reason for the redactions.
Upon review, the Attorney General concluded District 207-U improperly redacted the legal invoices. The District was directed to remove all redactions from the invoices and provide me with copies. The improperly redacted legal invoices were a failed attempt to prevent me from learning the nature and extent of services provided by the law firm to the district’s administration. This is information that gives an indication of how dependent the district is on the law firm for guidance. In this failed attempt to suppress information, Superintendent Stein spent $1,258.20 of taxpayer money on questionable legal services.
- School Board approval of meeting minutes where the minutes were either untrue or information had been deleted. On October 20, 2014, a Wilton Center resident told the District 207-U School Board the minutes of school board meetings do not accurately convey what happened during meetings. Five different issues were raised, including the fuel oil cleanup at Wilton Center School. I also attended and spoke at the October 20th meeting regarding inaccuracies in the minutes of the school board meetings. I documented that the minutes of six different meetings were either untrue or had been deleted.
One obvious example: After signing the speakers log of the July 21, 2014, meeting, I was called to speak, but the minutes of the meeting do not record my log signing or the fact I spoke at all. When I spoke, I questioned Superintendent Stein’s decision not to issue news releases to inform and update all residents of the district about the Wilton Center fuel leak and the closing of the school for five weeks. Stein told me a news release was not necessary, and he would not comment further.
Residents have repeatedly requested that school board meetings be recorded and the recordings preserved. Superintendent Stein refuses to do so.
- Scheduling meetings at times during the day to ensure few, if any, taxpayers would be present. On November 13, 2015, a special meeting, which began at 9:30 a.m. and lasted until 3 p.m., was held to discuss closing the deficit. During the meeting, the board decided the only options to closing the deficit were to continue borrowing or try to pass a tax referendum. Superintendent Stein assured the board the consulting firm PMA Financial, hired by the board, would help them close the deficit. Next, the board turned its attention to unnecessary spending, the development of athletic fields and a football stadium at Peotone High School. Stein was authorized to have Healy Bender Architects prepare drawings and a budget for the athletic facilities. Healy Bender was paid $4,497.50 for its work.
On April 22, 2016, at a special meeting, which began at 1 p.m., PMA Financial presented five tax referendum scenarios. Two of them included the funding of the athletic fields and football stadium.
The above three methods of deception and blatant censure are used to control the flow of information and keep taxpayers from learning how their money is spent and the relationship between Peotone’s School Board, superintendent, and their consultants.
The school board’s and Superintendent Stein’s deceptions clearly benefit their self-interest, but how does it benefit the education and welfare of students?