PEORIA, IL -- The loss of two elections apparently has had little impact on the Peoria School District 150 Board of Education.
The sales tax referedum which was to funnel money for school construction failed on March 18, and incumbent board member Laura Petelle was ousted from her position, losing to someone who has promised not to serve.
At the board meeting of March 24, board members attacked their critics and called for civility, while dodging issues that critics addressed during the public comment session.
Some of their remarks were truly amazing, as the recording shows.
At the beginning of the meeting, Petelle said her child, and those of other board members and administrators, had been harassed and bullied because of the heated election. That's a shame, of course.
Meanwhile, at a news conference earlier, allies of Supt. Grenita Lathan played the race card, claiming she was being attacked because she is black, even though the NAACP has sided with her critics, the Change150 group. But that issue was not mentioned during the public comments.
Those comments from 13 people were mostly critical of the board and administration.
A few Charter Oak parents addresssed the board, angry because after the most recent board meeting, where the actions of school officials at Charter Oak were criticized, they are now being discouraged from coming to the school. That's retaliation, they said.
Monica Wilson, a school resource officer and head of her union, asked the board to seek legislation which would enable the officers to carry guns, and form their own police force as other schools elsewhere are doing. No board member responded to that.
Jeff Atkins-Dutro, head of the Peoria Federation of Teachers, said no board members had responded to the union's suggestion of a meeting to discuss the disconnect between the board and the community. He was ignored.
Sharon Crews said when Lathan calls for communication, she means for people to listen and follow orders. Her remarks are posted below.
Mimi McDonald asked why 24 of 27 school leaders have been changed and how this benefits children. She got no response.
Dan Dugale of Change150 asked the board to commission an independent review of the organizational culture. He got no response.
Terry Knapp spoke about the receptionist at the administration offices who was forced out recently for failing to call Lathan "Dr." Someone should do an exit interview with her, he said.
I spoke, telling the board that actions speak louder than words, so to win back the support of the public, the board should standardize meeting times and move the public comments to the beginning of the meeting; stop harassing those who file Freedom of Information Act requests; and eliminate the credit cards which promote the appearance of financial impropriety, and as well set limits on travel expenses, as state universities do.
Those comments did elicit responses. Board member Martha Ross said the two meetings are different, since one is a board meeting and one is a committee of the whole. I defy her to show what is different about these meetings. The agendas are basically identical except people can only speak for two minutes at the committee of the whole, at the end of the meeting.
Board member Chris Crawford commented that people should have to suffer through the meetings (like he does, apparently).
Petelle gave the most amazing reponse, saying that the travel expenses are funded by federal grants, so it OK to spend to the hilt on the theory of spend it or lose it."They're giving it to use to train our teachers and pumping (money) into hotels," she said. Really?
Board member Butler was incensed that Knapp criticized her for calling H. Wayne Wilson "H" on a television program, and said he asked to be called that. "For too long people have come to the podium and lied. This has to stop," she said.
Ouch, what a thin skin she has. And no response that a long time employee was forced out for failing to call Lathan "Dr."
Lathan responded by saying the critics are only hearing one side of the stories.
Though the board is not listening to its critics, it does seem a bit rattled.
-- Elaine Hopkins
Here are the comments from Sharon Crews:
The superintendent’s recent calls for increased communication need clarification as to the meaning of communication. Lathan’s actions and words convey the message that communication occurs mostly when she is the speaker while the listeners absorb information and/or follow orders.
The reality seems to be that punishment awaits those who would question any of her orders. I believe one of the very first principals to express a difference of opinions was banned from principals’ meeting. He was soon demoted; consequently, he sought and received a better offer elsewhere. There are many such stories to tell. Shutting people up and out does not create a healthy educational environment.
Lathan also stated that she has tried to explain her strategic plan to the public--the implication being that we are not listening. On the recent “At Issue” program Butler said the public needs to listen. Recently, 3700 voters were listening and watching and voted accordingly. Now is the time for two-way communication.
Successful schools are built with a chain of relationships, not with a chain of command. Lathan first tried to destroy the relationships between principals and teachers by playing fruit basket upset. So far most of the relationships between teachers and teachers and teachers and their students have been salvaged and all that is good in this district is coming from those relationships.
Lathan brought all her relationships and loyalty with her, and she and they have built few Peoria-based relationships. There is no longer a chain of anything—too many missing links.
All we have is a talking head issuing orders that are followed only out of fear and intimidation. Now board members, the ball of communication is in your court. Please stop listening to only one side—District 150’s future is in your hands.