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U-46 Board deals with security, meals, p-cards

By Seth Hancock
  School District U-46 has hired security for Board of Education meetings stemming from an incident that occurred at its meeting on Oct. 19 when the founders of the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW) called the police for alleged Open Meetings Act Violations (OMA) by the board.
  U-46 spokesperson Mary Fergus said the cost of the security is “about $68 an hour” and John Heiderscheidt, director of School Safety and Culture, said after the board meeting on Monday, Nov. 16, the second meeting where the security was present, that he made the decision. The officer providing security is off-duty from the Elgin Police Department and Heiderscheidt said they will continue to use the service “for the time being.”
  Kirk Allen and John Kraft, the ECW founders, attended the meeting on Oct. 19 and claimed OMA violations after being denied a chance to speak during the closed session meeting which occurred before the business meeting. Those allegations resulted in a change in meeting agendas to represent the executive and business meetings as one meeting.
  A story on the ECW website, edgarcountywatchdogs.com, claims Allen and Kraft were told by Heiderscheidt at the Nov. 2 meeting that some board members feared physical harm because of their presence which is why the security was hired. Heiderscheidt clarified after the Nov. 16 meeting that he made the decision and no board member requested the security, and he didn’t hire the security for any threats of physical harm but rather that the actions of Allen and Kraft made board members uncomfortable.
  Heiderscheidt said that Allen and Kraft went into the room when the executive session was taking place on Oct. 19 and made “statements of having board members arrested” for the OMA violations. Fergus said the decision was made “to ensure that an officer was on-hand to ensure a smooth and calm environment. Safety for our students and staff is a priority.”
  The state’s Attorney General’s office is currently looking into the alleged OMA violations from Oct. 19 and requested a board response to the allegations “within seven working days after receipt” of a letter dated Nov. 2. A public response to that letter has not yet been given.
  U-46 has been under scrutiny from the ECW since at least last spring when they uncovered violations in procurement card (p-card) uses by district staff through a Freedom of Information Act request. As previously reported by The Examiner, those inappropriate uses of p-cards appear to rise to a Class 3 felony under the Illinois Criminal Code.
  Tony Sanders, U-46’s CEO, has said that a new process has been implemented for p-card usage and the district has been reimbursed for the inappropriate uses.
  Asked if those using the p-cards inappropriately have been reprimanded in any way, other than reimbursing the district, Fergus said “as this is a personnel matter” no details would be shared publicly.
  “We have shared repeatedly at board meetings, with the media, in the CEO’s weekly message that we have tightened our policies and procedures around the use of p-cards,” Fergus said.
  Fergus added: “We have taken the appropriate disciplinary action where necessary.”
  Dan Alexander, an Elgin resident, has seen the results of the FOIA request and asked that an independent, third-party auditor be brought in to review the p-card issue as he spoke during public comments on Nov. 16.
  “The taxpayers of this district entrust the school administrators to be good stewards of our tax dollars,” Alexander said. “I find it intriguing that the administration has the stones to tell the hard working taxpayers of the district that they need more money yet at the same time using their procurement cards for apparent personal gains.”
  Alexander added that he and his wife scrutinize every dollar they give their daughter who is now in college, and he asked the district do the same.
  Allen, at the Nov. 2 meeting, questioned what good new p-card policies would do considering many of the same administrators in charge of implementing the procedures took part in inappropriate usage of p-cards.
  The ECW has also criticized the board for receiving a catered dinner during closed session meetings, something Allen and Kraft learned by attending the Oct. 19 meeting. Fergus said those dinners cost “about $15 per person, per meeting.”
  Board member Cody Holt said he has not eaten one of the meals offered since taking his seat back in May, and Jeanette Ward said she personally reimbursed the district $196.30 for 12 meals that she had received and she understands “why some people would have concerns with dinner being provided to board members.”
  “Going forward I will not be eating the dinners and will instead bring my own food,” Ward said.
  The fact dinners were provided was only publicly disclosed after the Oct. 19 meeting and Ward said: “I believe the public should be aware. I am attempting to be transparent here myself.”
  Board member Phil Costello said he “was not aware that meals were served to board and staff at these meetings” before taking his seat in May and “had no problem with the basic meal offered and saw no reason to hide or disclose the costs as legitimate business expenses in the same context that we conduct those meetings at district facilities instead of off-premises at someone’s home.”
  Costello pointed out that the meals come during “back-to-back sessions… with no breaks until later in the evening.”
  “Having experience in corporate, nonprofit, and municipal settings, I believe these meals do fall within the boundary of prudent and reasonable guidance,” Costello said. “That being said, I also believe that these meals will be discontinued so that we can focus on the district’s highest priorities.”
  All seven members of the board were given a chance to respond to the concerns raised about the meals but Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith did not respond to an inquiry from The Examiner.



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