Wednesday Journal would like to clarify procedures described in a May 9 Wednesday Journal article titled, “Parents, OPRF board in spat over seating new members.” According to state law, election results must be certified within 21 days of an election. Language in OPRF’s school code-also based on state law-states that District 200 Board of Education’s organizational meeting and seating of new board members must take place after the election results are certified but within 28 days of the election.
A group of Oak Park parents are accusing the District 200 Board of Education of trying to change school policy in order to extend its current session and push through its choice for a superintendent before the new board is seated.
At a special Oak Park and River Forest High School policy committee meeting on Tuesday, parents and board members squabbled over language and the law regarding board polices and procedures regarding seating new members.
Parents said the board was trying to change Policy 20, which deals with when new members are seated and sworn in.
Board members countered that they weren’t attempting to change anything in the policy relating to when new members are sworn-in. Members said the policy was up for a reading to change minor language specifying the separation of the superintendent and principal position.
Parents argued that the board’s real intention was to delay new board members from taking office until next Tuesday at a special regular board meeting, when new members will take office and when the contract for Superintendent-designate Attila Weninger is expected to be approved.
New board members Ralph Lee, John Allen and Sharon Patchak-Layman, along with current members, will be sworn in at the May 15 meeting.
Parents, though, argued that new members should be sworn in this week as is the case with the village and Dist. 97 boards.
According to state election law, newly elected officials must take office within 21 days of the election once results are certified. Tuesday was the last day to certify results from the April 17 election.
Parents said the board’s policy states that new board members take office immediately after results are certified, but that Dist. 200 members won’t be take office until next week.
“You are in violation of the law,” Wyanetta Johnson, president of APPLE, told the board. APPLE stands for African-American Parents for Purposeful Leadership in Education.
Board President Barry Greenwald said new members are typically sworn in at the board’s regular meeting, which normally takes place every third Thursday of the month, but that this month’s meeting was moved up to May 15 to have new members seated within the certification period. That also meant moving up the board committee meetings, which take place a week before the regular board meeting.
But Patchak-Layman, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, questioned policy language stating that new members will take office once they’re sworn in, which won’t happen until next week. Another sticking point for opponents is the fact that the organizational meeting when new members are sworn in also takes place next week, and only after the old board adjourns. Weninger’s contract is expected to be approved before the organizational meeting.
A change in state law last year now requires school board members to be sworn in before taking office, which is also stated in Policy 20. Parents, though, said the change was reflected in the policy up for Tuesday’s committee reading, but there’s no mention of that in the current board policy book online. This, they argued, added to the confusion of how members are sworn in, but doesn’t suggest delaying when they’re sworn in.
“The policy says they take their office immediately. The policy says nothing about extending the swearing in for another seven days,” said parent Meg Reynolds.
Board member John Rigas, however, said that this has been the practice of the board for years and that nothing was illegal or improper about it.
That and other explanations from members didn’t appease opponents.
Greenwald and Yasmin Ranney, the board’s vice president, lost their re-elections in April.
Greenwald said the accusations were being raised by parents upset at Weninger’s selection. He called it “a tactical move to undermine what the board has done.”
Greenwald added that the next board will work with Weninger on hiring a building principal for the school.