The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Split U-46 vote triggers new board evaluation
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 will spend taxpayer dollars to be able to evaluate itself out of public view despite questions raised about the value of such sessions at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 12.
Donna Smith, the board’s president, raised the issue during board member updates of holding the board self evaluation with an Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) representative.
“I know there are those of us who feel there’s a lot of value in it and some not,” Smith said.
The board approved renewing its membership with the IASB at a cost of $41,039 in July via a 4-3 vote. Phil Costello, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward voted against the renewal while Smith, Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr and Veronica Noland voted for it.
The majority that voted for the renewal were also in favor of holding the self evaluation while Holt and Ward did not. Costello was not at the meeting.
The board self evaluation, which by state law only the IASB can offer, is done behind closed doors and comes at an additional cost to the membership dues, but not to worry according to Smith because they got coupons “so we will get a discount on this on top of it” at the recent IASB convention, which also is an additional cost to taxpayers.
Ward said: “Based on my past experience, I didn’t think that the board self evaluation was very valuable. I felt it was kind of a waste of time.”
Despite Ellis in October, making statements such as “the board is not constituted to hear public comments,” “it’s easy to discount [the public] because your facts are wrong” and “you did not elect me to do what you say,” she disagreed with Ward because being able to evaluate itself away from public view is for the public’s benefit.
“I’ve been through five of these, and I find them very valuable,” Ellis said. “It is the only opportunity that the board has to evaluate itself, to talk about issues on the board and among the board. It is a valuable time that I don’t want to lose.”
Ellis added: “We get evaluated by the public every election cycle, but I think that it is worthwhile for us to get together and evaluate ourselves against what we say to the public that we’re doing and how we’re doing and how effectively we are doing and make course corrections if necessary. I think we owe that to the public.”
After attending some self evaluations already, Holt said they aren’t helping.
“So I’ve sat through a couple of these as well since being elected,” Holt said. “I’ve reflected on them to see if I’ve actually gotten anything from them personally as a board member, and unfortunately I haven’t. You know a colleague on the board once said that we’re a ‘dysfunctional board,’ and we’ve gone through two of these evaluations already and in my eyes we haven’t become any more functional as a board team.”
Ellis and Kerr illustrated that point as they had a side conversation right next to Holt which disrupted his statement.
Ward added: “I saw a lack of discipline where we strayed into other topics that were not appropriate for closed session. That is one of the reasons I see it as not useful for our time.”
Ellis responded: “Well, I’m going to challenge that because we had the IASB rep there and she did not find that any of our topics were inappropriate. You might not of wanted to talk about them, but that doesn’t make them legally inappropriate.”
According to Ellis, the IASB representative “affirmed that we were on point, on topic” and added that “I’m the colleague who called this board dysfunctional, and I wouldn’t say that because it’s still dysfunctional you stop trying” and “to walk away from the one time that we can work on this is to say to the public ‘we’re dysfunctional and we’re proud of it.’”
According to both Holt and Ward the IASB representative did steer the board away from inappropriate discussions.
“When Ms. Ward brought up that it was not an appropriate conversation we were having in closed session, that conversation stopped,” said Holt and Ward added: “And the IASB person said ‘careful, careful.’”
Ellis admitted such an occurrence, but she claimed it was only because of her own magnanimous gesture.
“The IASB person, it doesn’t matter. She did not stop us,” Ellis said. “I’m the one that you’re, just to be fully transparent, I’m the one, like anybody couldn’t figure this out, that you were concerned about was straying into inappropriate topics. She did not stop me. I pulled back so that we could stay on, continue on the course and not get stuck on just what Traci was talking about.”
There was more illustration of the board’s dysfunction provided by Ellis who went on to question Holt’s honesty regarding how many self evaluations he’s attended.
Ellis said: “And if I’m correct, you’ve only been through one. You were sworn in on in May of 2015 and you had one in January 2016 that was a board self evaluation. So you’ve not been through a couple of them. So to say after one session that ‘we were dysfunctional before, I went to one and we’re still dysfunctional,’ particularly when you get out of it what you put into it is disingenuous and intellectually dishonest.”
The Examiner reviewed board agendas and found that Holt indeed could have attended “a couple” as three board self evaluations have been held since taking his seat on the board as they were held on May 11 and June 22, 2015 as well as Jan. 23 of this year.
The dispute on whether an IASB representative did say conversations were inappropriate and may be in violation of the Open Meetings Act, the public may never have a definitive answer as the board’s majority, including Ellis, have opposed allowing the public access to any of their closed session discussions.
Smith claimed the self evaluations are “a learning opportunity” which the majority agreed.
As has been reported, Ellis has many times personally levied attacks against her colleagues on the board from calling them racists, bigots and liars while Noland has levied similar attacks against the public including calling students with concerns of what’s going on in their schools “inflammatory.”