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Board can’t agree about U-46 agreement purpose
By Seth Hancock
Are the board agreements coming up for a vote by the Board of Education in School District U-46 designed as an attempt to silence dissenting voices, and does the board’s majority hold the objectivity to hold themselves to the standards put forth in the document?
The board discussed the agreements at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 26 with a vote to take place on March 5.
The agreements were derived from a board self-evaluation held in closed session on Saturday, Feb. 3 which board member Jeanette Ward did not attend because of the inappropriate nature of discussions that have occurred at past self-evaluations. She previously said she would not attend the Feb. 3 meeting unless it was held publicly after the same kind of meeting was held last year in public.
Ward has since heard the recording from the Feb. 3 meeting and Donna Smith, the board’s president, said at the Feb. 26 meeting that Ward has filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s (AG) office alleging Open Meetings Act violations “by discussing how to prevent her from posting on social media.”
Ward confirmed with The Examiner after the meeting she did file that complaint and that the AG’s office found enough cause to investigate the claims.
Concerning the agreements, it includes a portion stating board members should not make “volatile” social media posts, and one of Ward’s supporters, Audrey Ossewaarde, said that is aimed directly at Ward as she spoke during public comments.
“The fact that that’s even been drafted to me just shows that you guys are honestly scraping the bottom of the barrel for ways to silence Ms. Ward because I think we can all be honest that that’s who that’s directed toward,” Ossewaarde said.
Ossewaarde said Ward has a Constitutional right and an obligation to the public to make them aware of what the district is doing.
“You’re attempting to bully her into submission and thankfully she’s not going to stand for that, your intolerance of her views and her opinions and moral conviction,” Ossewaarde said. “You are haters of anyone who dares to shed light on controversial topics, and you are discriminating against someone the community has thanked for her service time and time again.”
Ossewaarde said the district’s motto of “all means all” needs an adjustment to state that it only applies to those who “think and believe like we tell you to without question.”
The board’s majority all but confirmed that certain parts of the agreement were targeted at Ward as it spent most of the over 42-minute discussion claiming Ward has violated the agreements already and stating that she shouldn’t even have a say because she didn’t attend the Feb. 3 meeting.
The discussion was off track enough for Casey Pearce, the board’s student advisor, to notice as she asked at one point “if we could shift our attention back to the actual document” instead of “the bantering over what happened on Feb. 3” which the majority did not oblige.
Board member Traci Ellis said: “I think it’s all part and parcel of the conversation and it’s hard to dissect that.”
Board member Veronica Noland said “this is a document about respect” and Ward “chose to boycott the process, then you chose to listen to all the recordings to find out what’s in this and now we’re addressing it publicly the way that you wanted to.”
Noland accused Ward of wasting the board’s time and that it’s “extremely disrespectful to the rest of this board.”
Ward replied: “I consider everything that is put before me very seriously and I spend a lot of time reviewing it, and respect is the reason I didn’t attend that board meeting because I have not been shown respect during those board self evaluations. If you’re going to talk about respect, that has everything to do with it. If you showed me respect, I would have attended.”
At previous closed self-evaluations, Ward has said “community members and I were spoken of in derogatory terms, such as, ‘…the 21st century brand of the KKK.’”
“As far as Traci O’Neal Ellis is concerned, I don’t really care what you think about these agreements,” Ellis said and added “I don’t owe you any explanation” as to why these agreements were drafted.
Board member Phil Costello, who wanted the Feb. 3 meeting held in open, said “what I hear is the word respect a lot” and the board’s continuance of holding these meetings in closed [session] is disrespectful to the public.
“I respect the public, and that’s why I wanted this all done in the public’s view so that we could have a discussion about the respect of each other but also the respect that we have for the public, the people who put us here,” Costello said.
Ellis said Ward wanting her “opinion about it to be heard, that is one of, among a laundry list of things, one of the most disingenuous things.”
Ward replied: “I explained fully why I wasn’t going to attend beforehand, and as a duly elected board member maybe you don’t care what I think but my constituents do care and I have a right to challenge this board agreement because I’m going to be charged with voting on it. I also have a right to bring to the attention to the public what is in this agreement.”
Another portion discussed was a section stating board members shouldn’t evaluate staff publicly as Ellis and Noland accused Ward of holding U-46 CEO Tony Sanders accountable publicly, Ellis calling them attacks. Ward asked for examples which neither Ellis or Noland were able to produce.
“I’ve said this before, but it’s never about an attack,” Ward said. “It’s about the idea. If a person presents an idea in public then their idea is subject to scrutiny by the public particularly if they’re paid for by public tax dollars.”
Ward added: “My employer is the people who elected me, and I am going to continue to do what I have been doing.”
Board member Melissa Owens, who said she couldn’t “imagine” critiquing an employee in public, said: “We’re not employed. We’re not making money.”
Ward replied “I know” as Owens was apparently did not grasp the analogy she was making.
“When [Sanders] makes statements to the public, the public expects me to respond as a board member,” Ward said. “They’ve contacted me asking to do just that.”
Costello agreed: “When we are surprised by something that comes to the public’s attention, I think we may need in that case to comment on that.”
Ellis said the public should be told that the board can’t critique the staff publicly, and Noland agreed. However, during the charter school discussion last summer Noland publicly evaluated the administration calling them “disingenuous” and “manipulative” during that process.
Noland, attempting to accuse Ward of breaking her oath of office, said the oath taken by board members includes avoiding “any conflict of interest” and not using the board “for personal gain” as well as “respecting the privacy” of staff.
Ward said “an employee gives up their privacy when they choose to make something very public” and “the situation is different with an elected board and a superintendent.” Noland said “that is very incorrect.”