The fight for control of the Thornton Township High School District 205 School Board has gone from the high school boardrooms to the courtrooms of the Daley Center and now has worked its way to the Illinois appellate courts.
Yet a new front in that fight has also developed: the Statehouse in Springfield. Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill June 13 that had it been in effect in the spring, could have ended a 3-3 split on the D.205 board.
That bill in question, sponsored by state Reps. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, and Will Davis, D-Homewood, alters the authority held by the executive directors of the intermediate service centers that operate in Cook County. The service centers are in place of regional school superintendents the rest of the state has.
A judge earlier this year ruled the South Cook Intermediate Service Center's attempt to appoint Ray C. Banks, of Harvey, as a seventh board member was invalid because it was made by the executive director, Vanessa Kinder, rather than by the service center's board. The ruling kept the School Board split between three board members allied with former Board President Kenneth Williams and three people opposing him. Williams was removed from his post last year because of a 29-year-old felony conviction in Indiana. It was expunged from his record earlier this year.
Banks' appointment would have shifted control of the board to Williams' opponents. Instead, the board remains deadlocked 3-3 and has been unable to approve payment of bills or new hires since last autumn. School officials say there are emergency measures that permit certain expenses to get paid to keep the schools open.
Jones saw the situation occurring with the high school district and decided to get involved. He worked with Davis to pass the bill that says executive directors do have certain authorities designated to them by their service center boards. That bill passed the Illinois House 94-14 in April, then went to the Illinois Senate, where state Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, sponsored it. It passed 56-0 in May.
Quinn signed the bill into law June 13 with little fanfare.
Yet Williams said he was monitoring activity on the bill all spring, along with another bill by Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, with Davis as a co-sponsor, that still needs Illinois Senate approval before it can go to Quinn for consideration.
That bill would create circumstances by which school board members, and entire school boards in some cases, could be removed even though those are elected posts. The next election for board members for District 205 is scheduled for April.
"That latter bill is deliberately aimed at Ken Williams," said Andrew Finko, who is handling the Illinois appellate court case to try to get Williams back on the D.205 board.
Jones said none of this is meant to be personal against Williams, who in 2010 ran against Jones as a Green Party nominee and tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to challenge Jones for the Democratic nomination for the legislative seat.
Jones said he is bothered by the inactivity of District 205, which oversees Thornton High School in Harvey, Thornridge High School in Dolton and Thornwood High School in South Holland. Jones thinks it is wrong that a vacancy on the board was unable to be filled.
Jones said he thought the law as originally written gave Kinder the ability to make an appointment.
"We're just clarifying what was meant by the original law," Jones said.
Neither Kinder nor her attorney, Bill Gleason, were available this week for comment.
Williams said he thinks the solution to the problem is to revert to an elected school superintendent for Cook County rather than an appointed official making decisions that affect public schools across the suburbs. He and Finko said they think Cook County voters are "disenfranchised" by not being able to elect a person to oversee the school districts of Cook County.
The post was abolished in 2009 by the state Legislature because of structural problems within the office and replaced by the service centers that now split Cook County into five geographic portions.
Neither Jones nor Davis had comment on the lack of a schools superintendent, but Williams said he thinks it ought to be considered to restore those posts, or perhaps merge the portions of Cook County into the regional superintendent's offices for surrounding counties.
"Maybe we (the south suburbs) could be part of the Kankakee County superintendent's office," Williams said. "What I know is that it seems like there are people who want to turn our schools into something more like Chicago schools where there are appointed people in charge instead of elected people.
"I think that's wrong," Williams said.