On a 4-3 vote, the District 233 school board agreed to buy back five vacation days for 11 administrators at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in recognition of their extraordinary efforts since March.
Board members Steven Anderson, Gerald Pauling, Nathan Legardy and Debbie Berman agreed to spend $30,175 to underwrite the vacation days. Members Annette Bannon, Pam Jackson and Beth Larocca voted against the buy-back. The vote was taken during a remote special board meeting on Monday, June 29.
For about 30 minutes, the board weighed the pros and cons of covering the costs of the five vacation days for Jerry Anderson, principal; Jodi Bryant, human resources and PR director; Lawrence Cook, business manager; Craig Fantin, associate principal, South Building; Chris Grays, assistant principal, North Building; Gary Posing, technology director; Jen Rudan, multi-tiered system of support coordinator; Gail Smith, athletic director; Nancy Spaniak, director of curriculum; Angela Taylor, special education director; and Tom Wagner, head of maintenance.
Administrators work under 12-month contracts that include as many as 20 vacation days. Superintendent Von Mansfield said he did not recommend merit raises this year, but proposed the buy-back because administrators who would normally have taken vacation over spring break didn’t do that in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered Illinois schools closed starting March 17. That thrust teachers into designing classwork for remote learning. Spring break was the week of March 23 and administrators worked with teachers through that week to help with a transition to keep schools in session until the end of the year. Administrators now are designing plans for what school will look like when students return Aug. 12.
Mansfield said the administrative team has been working six and sometimes seven days a week, spending up to 12 hours a day to keep H-F on an even keel while meeting all the requirements of not only the regular work on their desks but the added work due to the pandemic.
“I don’t believe we skipped a beat,” he said, adding that even if he mandated his administrative team to take vacation days they wouldn’t because they are serious about their work and getting H-F prepared for what comes next.
Member Beth Larocca argued against the buy back, but stressed her vote “doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate (the workload). I just don’t know why we always have to show appreciation with money.”
“I think this is a bad precedent because I think teachers are home doing the same thing. I’m not in favor,” Larocca said. The superintendent acknowledged that teachers are working hard, but countered that they can walk away from their teaching duties at some point. Administrators cannot leave the work for another day.
Member Annette Bannon said she wanted it noted that her "no" vote “is in light of upcoming financial challenges that we face.” She said it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to vote on the buy-back.
“It is not because I don’t appreciate the administrators,” Bannon said, adding that the district has great people working at H-F. She also noted that the pandemic is unprecedented “but I need to pause and say ‘no’ at this point because we do expect people to do whatever it takes. At the risk of being perceived that I don’t appreciate their efforts, that’s not the deal.”
But board member Nathan Legardy countered that voting no would send the wrong message to the administrative team.
“We ask administrators to bend over backwards and really give up their lives trying to recreate the academic process for this school with three different scenarios (for the 2020-21 year) and this is a small appreciation and recognition for the task,” Legardy said.
“If you can’t get behind something like that then you aren’t recognizing that work. It’s pretty cut and dry,” he stressed.
Member Jackson countered: “I absolutely am not saying I don’t appreciate the administrators.” She cautioned that the board was bypassing its own procedures by acting on the vacation buy-back. She surveyed several school districts and no other district was considering vacation buy-backs.
Mansfield did bring the proposal to the Personnel Committee June 26 where it was accepted on a 2-1 vote before it was brought to the full board at the Monday meeting. Larocca said the board’s policy states vacation buy-back must be presented between June 1 and 10.
Mansfield said he checked with the board’s attorneys who agreed the buy-back was a legitimate board action because the board policy Jackson referenced and Larocca quoted referred to individual administrators requesting buy-back approval. In this case, the action was proposed as a recommendation for the board to consider.
Board member Gerald Pauling said because of all the work done by administrators “H-F has really been a shining light on a hill these past months.” He said he considered the vacation buy-back “basic fairness” for the work required and achieved.
He added it would be “unfortunate and unwise, some would say penny wise and pound foolish, not to accept the recommendation.”