This was one of the first meetings for the new reform board of directors elected in 2015 and 2017 under the Proviso Together banner. Some audience members observed that they seemed happier to be there than did previous board members and that they asked more questions of presenters. To me, having attended a few board meetings over the years, what I see now is very much an active and engaged board looking to make their mark.

Several sticky issues came up relating both to quality of service for students and to finances of the district and ability to pay for the level of service we will now expect from these schools. In a few instances, board members did not vote on minutes of past meetings or past invoices because they occurred before they were on the board.

Extended School Year
Staff presented on this program which provides summer schooling for IEP students in order to ensure persistent skill building and prevent regression during off time. She brought a chart used in the program to help kids identify their emotional state using color chart. They also talk to students about transition to job and about life skills.

CFO Todd Drafall described the perilous position IL schools find themselves in as the result of questions about whether Senate Bill 1 (Evidence Based School Funding). Mr. Drafall was clear that District 209 is sufficiently funded to open, but with the continued strife related to budgeting in IL and how schools are funded, it is important that we remain aware of the pressures our district will face as we try to enhance services and improve outcomes for students across Proviso Township public high schools. They are approaching the close of the fiscal year and Mr. Drayfall did not yet have a detailed finance report. He did report that the district is expected to end the year with projected revenue over expenses.

Asbestos remediation and other repair work
From the audience, the presentation and the hierarchy of who’s in charge of this project was somewhat murkily presented. There was apparently a prior request for detailed information on what has been done and when that the board has not yet received. Several board members pushed back on the engineer and firm presenting, and asked to be invited to future bid discussions (Patterson), asked for assurance that firms are paying prevailing wage (Valtierrez) and asked that they confirm the work will be done before the start of the school year (Grant).

This was the most heated discussion of the evening. Board member Rodney Alexander initiated the dissent by asking why their board book did not reflect the account given by Ned Wagner and others about poor quality of food prepared and served by Aramark. A discussion ensued in which Valtierrez confirmed the experience his own kids have had not wanting to eat the food, and coming home hungry, and Grant inviting Aramark to join her and others for lunch at the schools to see for themselves the quality of the food. Dr. Hardy (Principal at Proviso East) testified to the “spoiled milk, burnt pizza and undercooked food” that he has seen served to kids at Proviso East. He posited that there is but one difference between the kids at East and others Aramark serves that receive higher quality product, and challenged Aramark to find a way to serve children of all races and socio economic classes. This received a great deal of support from the audience, who was incensed by what was said about Aramark.

President Kelly requested weekly updates from the principals from each school on the quality of the food served, and options were discussed such as mid-year contract interruptions if quality doesn’t improve. There are apparently forces bearing on this decision as the schools are part of the Illinois Free and Reduced Breakfast and Lunch Program, and bids must be vetted by State of IL as well. The question I think many in the audience were left with is how can we work within this system to improve conditions for the kids immediately? If Aramark doesn’t respond proactively to what they heard clearly last night, what are responsible next steps for the community, staff and BOE of Proviso Township to take?

Overall, this BOE seemed to have a healthy relationship with one another and staff in that there was debate and discussion (and even dissent) among members on different issues. At multiple points Dr. Rodriguez referenced his “One Proviso” plan, and his vision for a comprehensive pipeline of K-12. Dr. Hardy’s love and defense of his charges at Proviso East was clear. There are great pieces that have been put in place in Proviso Township public high schools, and our challenge now as a community is finding out how to support them in their mission.