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Split vote of U-46 Board supports tape destruction

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 voted to continue to keep tapes of closed meeting sessions from the public at its meeting on Monday, July 24.
  By a 5-2 vote, Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voting no, the board approved the destruction of three closed session meeting recordings.
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, said “the need for confidentiality still exists” without any discussion on why confidentiality is needed. Traci Ellis, Sue Kerr, Veronica Noland and Melissa Owens all joined Smith in voting for the destruction of tapes but offered no justification.
  Ward said: “As I’ve stated before, I believe we should be having conversations about what parts of these audio recordings and written minutes can be released to the public, and I don’t think we’re having that. I particularly would like to see discussions about contracts that we’ve already approved as a board released to the public, like for example the DUTU (District U-46 Transportation Union) discussions.”
  In June, the board approved a new contract with DUTU by a 4-2 vote, Costello and Ward voting no. Smith was not in attendance at the meeting.
  However, that contract may have cost taxpayers millions of dollars as opposed to a previous plan that would have outsourced part of the district’s transportation, but the public has not been given access to the board’s discussions which were all done in closed session. The board also made a decision to kill the outsourcing plan in closed session through a “straw poll” according to former board member Cody Holt despite the Illinois Open Meetings Act stating its purpose is to “ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”
  The board’s majority did not respond to questions from The Examiner at the time inquiring if they would support releasing those closed session recordings, but Costello and Ward did.
  Costello said: “I have always supported making almost all tapes of closed sessions available to the public except in the case of civil or criminal matters regarding students and will continue to do so. In my estimation, not only would releasing tapes make our deliberations more transparent to the public but I believe it would guide the tenure of professional debate to focus on issues, facts, objectives and outcomes.”
  Ward said: “Discussions regarding First Student took place in closed session in the context of contract negotiations with our Transportation Union. Yes, I would support making these conversations public.”
  The closed session recordings concerning the most recent DUTU contract and the outsourcing proposal were not among those recordings destroyed with the July 24 vote.
  Along with the vote on destroying tapes, the board also approved six expenditure items totaling $1.4 million all by 7-0 votes. Among those proposals was one costing $580,910, which will come out of the education fund, with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to replace the “Moving into English” resource for English Language Learners with the “On Our Way to English” resource.
  Ward said of the new resource: “I looked at this pretty carefully, as I always do, and I was impressed with this curriculum, particularly the fifth grade section. It included lots of good coverage on our nation’s founding and history and documents, and I was impressed with it.
  Owens liked the resource for its use of grammar saying: “I looked through it quite extensively and I wanted to comment on how much I really liked how they were presenting the grammar and structures like plural and pronouns and gender.”
  “I just love all of the poems and all of the celebration of all of the different places our students are coming from,” Owens added.
  Also approved by unanimous vote was $23.8 million in itemized bills. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said that “because we have only one board meeting in July… the bills are higher” than normal.
  Within the list of itemized bills was the purchase of an Elgin property off Bowes Road which was listed as $2.8 million. Noting that the board previously approved the purchase of the property at a cost of $2.9 million, Costello asked about the difference in prices.
  Dale Burnidge, director of financial operations, said: “The $2.806 (million) is the closing amount, the final payment. We made a $100,000 deposit in May.”



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