There’s a trend developing in a community that preens itself on its open government and transparency. The selection of school superintendents has moved behind closed doors.

This is bad governance, plain and simple. We get that’s it simpler, smoother for board members to make this most critical hire in secret. We understand that all executive search firms argue to make search processes private. Of course, they do. It makes their job easier. And we recognize that possible job candidates prefer to operate in stealth because they don’t have to declare themselves to their home districts as being on the market.

So secrecy is cozy, painless and it reinforces every troubling insider impulse in public education.

We were frustrated, though not surprised, when Oak Park and River Forest High School held its search for a new superintendent behind closed doors earlier this year. It has been a dismal year for its board. And the district’s last search, three years ago, had been a botch, though certainly not because it was public.

When District 97 shut the doors to public involvement on its current search, though, we were surprised and disappointed. The early indication was that this board had the self-confidence to invite their constituents actively into the process. And, then, quietly the choice was made to go dark.

Sure, in both cases there were the usual cosmetic efforts to suggest the boards wanted input: focus groups asking “What are you looking for in a superintendent?” which always result in schizophrenic descriptions of candidates so perfect they don’t exist in reality, and the committees of loyalists whose members sign secrecy oaths before they get a glimpse at finalists.

What are we doing here, folks, hiring a hothouse orchid to run our schools? What are we afraid of in opening the process to some air? These are fabulous, actively difficult jobs in communities with high expectations. A candidate for superintendent not willing to put themselves into the public eye during a public review is walking in the door with a demerit in our eyes. And both school boards fall a notch in our estimation.

President Millard, again

Meanwhile, back at OPRF, there was the annual election last week of school board officers. Dr. Dietra Millard was returned as president after having stepped aside several months back in the midst of great contention over contract talks with Superintendent Attila Weninger.

The nub of her frustration was her perception that the various machinations to keep or oust the superintendent had become too political. The dispute was real enough. There was a split on the board. It was the inability of board members to work effectively through that split, come to a conclusion and move effectively forward that’s the issue. That there was a split over legitimate differences of opinion was not, in and of itself, the problem.

Eliminating differences is not the goal. Improving the process of moving through the differences is the goal.

Back away

With a straight face, we asked the question: Just what is so evil and wrong about backing your car into a public parking space that the practice resulted in more than 1,800 tickets being issued last year?

The answers from the village are limp: 1) People might back into a parking meter. 2) State license renewal stickers are on the rear plate (Park right so we can more easily give you a ticket, or else we’ll give you a ticket!) 3) People just park all crazy and bash into other cars when they back up! Really? Let’s ban parallel parking.

Honestly, we think Oak Park just likes to give tickets.

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