H-F school board president says fine arts dialog continues

There is a possibility a proposal for a Fine Arts Department addition at Homewood-Flossmoor High School will be on the agenda for the next board meeting on Aug. 21.
 
Board President Steve Anderson told students, parents and staff at the June 19 school board meeting that discussions continue. He said he and fellow board member Tim Wenckus, chair of the board's finance committee, have had talks about the project the past several weeks. Wenckus was ill and could not make the meeting.
 
Anderson said Wenckus is "committed to dialoging" with the committee, the administration and staff "to create that project that we're all going to be excited about with the hope by the time we come together in August, because we don't meet in July, that we have something that we can talk about." Wenckus was absent from the meeting.

He acknowledged the board missed the window on the construction timetable because the finance committee failed three times in May to approve funding for the project. 
 
Anderson said the proposal is stuck in the finance committee because the three members couldn’t come to a consensus. He has since changed the makeup of the finance committee. He said the delay didn’t have anything to do with funding the project, noting the board has $8.5 million in its reserve fund. 
 
Board member Debbie Berman said it’s time for the whole board to consider the project.
 
“You’ve only heard from three people on a board of seven, and you haven’t heard from the rest of us. I think we should be doing this. I think the whole board should actually be voting on this, and I’m not sure it has to be approved by finance,” she said.
 
The proposal, first presented to the school board in September 2017, calls for all the arts programs to be in one wing. To accommodate this, two additions would be built onto the South Building — Phase I for performing arts and Phase II for the music programs — and Phase III relocating the visual arts program in space now occupied by music. 
 
The plan was shared with staff and community representatives and went through a second revision presented in April. After the finance committee said that revision was too expensive, a third revision was presented in May. 
 
Phase I, a black box theater, will cost approximately $3.5 million. The total cost for the project was estimated between $12.5 million to $14 million. However, in the third revision, the cost dropped to $10 to $11.4 million by leaving visual arts in G building and remodeling the space, and making other changes in Phase I and II. 
 
The initial plan called for starting construction in September, but without a finance committee recommendation to the full board for funding, no work was approved. Ed Wright of DLA Architects had suggested Phase I work start in fall 2018 so that the space could be enclosed by the winter months and crews could work inside.
 
Having missed the window for a fall project, Wright suggested a spring start. He told the finance committee in May prices may rise some over the next several months. He said building crews are busy in Chicago, which could also mean a scheduling delay.
 
“We’re continuing to talk. Absolutely. It’s ongoing dialog and there’s things that have to happen leading up to that August meeting,” Anderson told the audience. 
 
His comments seemed a reversal from the discussions at three finance committee meetings in May. Each time a vote was taken, Anderson and Wenckus voted no, and then chairwoman Jody Scariano voted yes.  After the no vote at the May 25 finance committee meeting, the consensus was the project wouldn’t be acted on until 2019. 
 
During committee meetings Wenckus and Anderson questioned the expenditure saying the district had a plan that exceeded its budget. They did not want to start the Phase I black box theater because it would not be helping all the groups of fine arts students, and the district didn’t have the money to complete all the improvement needs for band, orchestra, choral, theater and visual arts.
 
Wenckus has argued H-F may not be able to afford the project because the Illinois legislature may be imposing a tax freeze and possibly shifting teacher pensions onto local school districts. The reserve funds would cover the loss of revenue.
 
At the May 1 finance committee meeting, Anderson asked the administration to reduce the 2018-19 school budget to find $190,000 for Phase I architectural fees to get the project ready for bid. He did not want to dip into the $8.5 million in reserves to pay those costs. At the May 14 meeting, Anderson said he wouldn’t go along with the proposal because the administration found only $80,000 on its initial attempt at finding the money.
 
At this week’s school board meeting, Anderson said the project’s delay isn’t financial.
 
Since the finance committee last met, Anderson removed Scariano as its chair. He appointed Wenckus as chair, removed himself from the committee and appointed Beth Larocca to take his place. Anderson also removed Scariano from the personnel committee. 
 
Scariano addressed the changes.
 
“I have come to the conclusion that it was an action of retaliation to silence my voice and my vote (for the fine arts program),” she said. “No one else was targeted like I was. This is retaliation, not best practices.”
 
Anderson said as president he is in a position to make committee assignments.
 
“After working with my new board colleagues this past year and discussing these changes I feel this alignment will allow us to best serve the needs,” he said.  
 
Scariano said she was not part of any discussions adding “no calls were made to me and no discussion took place — not even as a courtesy — at the fine arts meeting (May 31) and the notice was sent five days later.”
 
Scariano said the next finance committee meeting is set for 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 14.

Editor's note: This story has been updated from a version posted earlier today.

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