The District 233 school board election is past, but tensions continue between supporters and opponents of the current board and administration. Two petitions circulated this past week to register support for positions held by both sides.
The District 233 school board will be taking action on 2017-18 salaries for district administrators at its 7:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, April 18.
Supporters of newly elected board members believed the outgoing board would be voting on an extension of Superintendent Von Mansfield’s contract that expires June 30, 2018.
That decision is not part of the board’s agenda, and it never has been up for consideration, Gerald Pauling, an outgoing board member, told the Chronicle. He, Richard Lites and Andy Lindstrom lost their re-election bid April 4.
“Neither me nor Mr. Lites have participated in any clandestine meetings with or about Dr. Mansfield,” he wrote the Chronicle on April 13. “And I am not working – and have not been asked to work – with anyone to get a contract extension for Dr. Mansfield on the agenda.”
More than 300 people in the District 233 community have signed petitions through social media voicing concerns about actions within Homewood-Flossmoor High School, and on April 12 local attorney Dean Armstrong threatened to sue the board if it votes on Mansfield’s contract.
Armstrong said “people with close ties to a current member of the board” shared information about a move to extend Mansfield’s contract now.
Nicole Bigham of Homewood started a petition urging the school board not to take action that would extend employment contracts.
Eric Grant, who ran unsuccessfully for the District 233 board in the April 4 election, also started a petition on social media to give support to Mansfield and H-F’s teaching staff.
Bigham said she is especially concerned about extending Mansfield’s contract. Bigham told the Chronicle she realizes she is not privy to the same information the school board has, and doesn’t know what criteria the board uses to assess Mansfield’s work.
Her concern is that the outgoing board will take action that she believes belongs to the board after newly elected members Annette Bannon, Beth Larocca and Steve Anderson take their seats May 1.
“The best practice is not to make any major decisions while it’s a lame duck board,” she said. Voting for administrative employment “will anger a large segment” of the community “after a very contentious election.”
Grant said he started a petition because “I thought they (superintendent and teachers) could use some support.”
Grant believes many criticisms of Mansfield and the district expressed on social media in recent months are false. He argues there is “an unprecedented effort to malign the superintendent” and that charges of poor test scores “have been mischaracterized.”
He said, “It seems people want to drive down the superintendent’s salary. They’re coming at him with pitchforks and torches. It’s not right, and it makes the district less attractive” to prospective employees. Reducing Mansfield’s salary will have no effect on property values or taxes, he stressed.
Mansfield’s current contract pays him $278,978 annually.
In an email Armstrong sent April 12 to Richard Lites, president of the District 233 board, he wrote: “Please inform the other members of the board that any such precipitous action on their part would be a violation of the duties that they owe to the members of the H-F community, and will be met by a lawsuit seeking actual and punitive damages (not covered by applicable insurance policies) against any and all members of the board who so violate the trust that has been placed in them by the members of the H-F community.”
Armstrong told the Chronicle April 14 he didn't see a need to rush to approve Mansfield's contract extension. He went on, “The grounds for the lawsuit would be that the current members of the board should not enter into long-term contracts with significant financial repercussions for the high school and the H-F taxpayers long into the future without giving the newly elected members of the board an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.”
Armstrong shared an email dated April 14 that he received from Lites as board president. Lites said, “Dr. Mansfield’s contract is not an agenda item at this time.”
Lites also reiterated that, “The current board of education has full authority to act on matters within its purview until a new board is seated, your threats notwithstanding. You needn't admonish the board to do the right thing. We have always acted in the best interests of the district and we will continue to do so until such time as a new board is seated.”
Armstrong replied: "Dear Mr. Lites ― thank you for doing the right thing and for restoring my faith in you as an honorable person and as a devoted and dedicated member of our community."
Pauling told the Chronicle, “My actions as a board member are not based on who circulates a petition or who threatens to sue.” School board members have fulfilled their responsibilities “consistent with the law and good board practice,” he said.