I’m sorry, but I feel I must report District 200 and Superintendent Attila Weninger to the Cook County state’s attorney. They’re running an education version of the shell game, or three-card monte, on the marks – citizen taxpayers of Oak Park and River Forest. These con games are often run on the el or gritty, urban street corners. You try to guess the face card or where the pea is. District 200’s version takes place in the quiet rectitude of the board room and involves guessing the truth.
This con has been going on since Sue Bridge retired in June of 2007. That board held a new superintendent search, which identified three finalists whom nobody liked all that much. So that resulted in a second diminished search that settled on Dr. Weninger, a Lyons Township High School administrator. His last-minute selection was the final act of a retiring and defeated board. It made him permanently suspect to the new board members, who understandably thought they should have had some say in his selection.
Two years later, Weninger’s contract is up for renewal, but negotiations drag on because the current board is deeply divided. He retires. He un-retires when a vote seemingly switches to extend his contract one year. That deal falls through, and the search begins anew. It’s hard to imagine a more dysfunctional situation. OK, Katrina and Iraq were worse. Maybe.
Oak Park governing bodies talk a lot about inclusiveness. See, that’s the con: talk up openness and transparency, but keep everyone in the dark. Just what is going on here? I’ve lived in Oak Park for 34 years. My three sons graduated from the high school. I was Booster Club president for 10 years. But like the mark who thinks he knows what is going on, I really must admit I don’t have a clue. Our poor reporters don’t either. All significant discussion takes place in executive session or over the phone. The one thing the board can agree on is to say nothing or put out typical press-release obfuscations like “despite good-faith efforts, the board was unable to agree.” Well, why not? Were they really in good faith? And then the search firm says there will be lots of good candidates, despite these shenanigans. Don’t insult us.
Just tell us what’s really going on. Remember, executive sessions are permissive, not mandatory. Where are the powerful teachers on this? The African-American parents? The special ed parents? Was Weninger too top-down? Too “my way or the highway?” Not committed enough to closing the gap? Too committed to closing the gap? Is all this down to just personal animus? I suspect that’s a lot of it. Does Dee Millard want her presidency back?
How about this: I won’t tell the state’s attorney about the con game District 200 is running if each board member and Dr. Weninger will just write letters to the Journal, laying out their view and position on all these crazy happenings. Think about including an “I’m sorry” in your presentation. It’s the very least they can do for us poor rubes who are paying for this con. I just want a clean game.
John Hubbuch, an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976, is a retired lawyer. Hubbuch served on the District 97 school board and coached youth sports. He is the father of three and grandfather of one.