Information exchange backlog with OPRF elicits snarky comments

Township Trustees of Schools

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By DREW CARTER

? Both sides claim the other has been tardy in supplying financial information. Administrators pledge to work cooperatively.

In an ongoing rift between the two taxing bodies, the Cicero Township Trustees of Schools Board president berated Oak Park and River High School District 200 Monday night for its failure to supply the township office with months' worth of financial information.

OPRF's Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Witham, who attended the township board's meeting, countered that it was her office that had waited for revenue reports from the township office, and said that staff members had agreed to not exchange some types of financial data.

Trustees of Schools President Robert Burman said Dist. 200 and Witham did not return phone calls recently when an Internal Revenue Service deadline approached and passed, causing a "3,000 to $5,000" fine to be assessed to the district.

"All you needed to do was to send us a number" to avoid the penalty, Burman said. "It's a ridiculous way to run things."

The Trustees of Schools office oversees financial information and investments of tax revenues for high school and elementary school districts in Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero. It collects, invests and disburses more than $350 million annually. Officials at Dist. 200 have expressed a wish to secede from the arrangement, saying the dues it pays are wasted on duplicated accounting and payroll services it is able to provide itself.

The Cicero Township Trustees of Schools is in no way related to the Oak Park Township office.

Burman also accused Witham of not returning phone calls, which Witham rebutted.

"It's not true that I don't respond," Witham said. Township Treasurer Martin O'Connor "hasn't communicated that to me privately."

At issue for Witham was having to duplicate the district's entire accounting ledger at the township office, to which Burman responded, "It's the law."

Witham and O'Connor pledged to work cooperatively and to improve communication between the two offices.

Witham said outside of the meeting that the district is still working with state Sen. Don Harmon to prepare legislation that would allow OPRF out of the arrangement with the township body.

The board's attorney, Emanuel "Chris" Welch, attended the meeting and advised the board to put their complaints in writing.

"The code is very specific about" the trustees of schools' role in overseeing school funds," Welch said. "You do want to authorize me to write a letter."

However, the discussion between Witham, Burman and O'Connor ensued, and the board adjourned the meeting without voting to direct Welch to write the letter.

Welch said the letter "would be kept private" because it would concern litigation, although how it would concern litigation was not clear.

In September 2004, a trial court judge ruled that a Carroll County school board improperly closed a public meeting after the board speculated that litigation could be filed against the board because an elected member who had not taken office had a conflict of interest?#34;a felony that subjects offenders to be removed from office, according to a report by an attorney for the Illinois Press Association.

During its regular quarterly meeting Monday night, the Township Trustees of Schools board returned from an executive session and Trustee Tom Doherty moved to adopt "the decisions we made during executive session."

After the meeting, when a reporter questioned what exactly was voted on, Board President Robert Burman declined to answer, saying it was not public information.

The board's attorney, Emanuel "Chris" Welch of James J. Roche & Associates, who was present during the meeting and the executive session, said that nothing more needed to be said about the vote. He said that the agenda was followed, and that only agenda items were voted on.

The verbatim agenda for the executive session was:

6. Executive Session ?#34; Staffing:
 A.Carmel Kennedy resigns
 B. Carmel Kennedy replacement
 C. Carmel Kennedy vacation payment

Township Treasurer Martin O'Connor later said that Kennedy served as the head of bookkeeping, the number two position in the office behind his own, and had worked in the office 24 years. She had accrued 40 days of vacation that amounted in an $8,400 payment that trustees approved, O'Connor said, reading from hand-written figures in a book.

Welch also serves as vice president of the Proviso Township High School District 209 Board of Education.
?#34;Drew Carter

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