Thornton D.205’s partisan politics starting to impact high schools financially

2014-02-09T00:00:00Z Thornton D.205’s partisan politics starting to impact high schools financiallyGregory Tejeda Times Correspondent
February 09, 2014 12:00 am  • 

SOUTH HOLLAND | Bernadette Lawrence, a longtime member of the School Board for Thornton Township High School District 205, made an appeal this week to the various attorneys involved in the legal battle now pending to fill a vacancy on the board.

She insists the School Board’s current stalemate makes it impossible for bills to be paid. The board has not been able to approve bill payment in recent months, and she says some unpaid bills are for services performed last summer.

“We need to move forward,” Lawrence said to the attorneys during a recess in a court hearing held Tuesday at the Daley Center in Chicago. “We cannot afford a long delay” in finding a new School Board member.

What has Lawrence and other District 205 officials concerned is the fact that since the removal of Kenneth Williams as School Board president by a Cook County judge in October, the board has been trapped in a 3-3 partisan split.

Williams’ allies on the School Board have said they are trying to change the way District 205 does business, while his critics question the logic of some of the moves their opposition has attempted.

School Board meetings held in November and December resulted in the board being unable to approve payment of the expenses incurred by the daily operations of Thornton High School in Harvey, Thornridge High School in Dolton and Thornwood High School in South Holland.

Board Vice President Darren Robinson and board members Toni Williams and Judith Gibbs refused to go along with the desires of board members Edward Crayton, Lauren Green and Lawrence, who were critics of Kenneth Williams’ School Board management.

In January, the regular board meeting did not even get that far. A lack of a quorum caused the meeting to be cancelled because the Kenneth Williams supporters didn't show up.

Anthony Bass, an attorney representing Crayton, Lawrence and Green, said the situation will become worse in coming weeks because the oldest of unpaid school district bills are now more than 90 days old.

The Illinois School Code does not specifically address the issue. But Illinois Municipal League Executive Director Larry Frang said the state’s Local Government Prompt Payment Act, which also applies to school districts, requires that bills be paid in a timely manner.

Frang said penalties for late payment are open to interpretation by attorneys, but Bass said those owed money by District 205 will have to be paid an extra 1 percent. He also said that figure will rise — particularly as more bills become in excess of 90 days due.

“This is now a serious problem,” Crayton said. “This is why we need to have a new School Board member to break the tie so we can conduct the school district’s business.”

Downplaying such concerns was George Jackson III, the attorney for School Board members Robinson, Gibbs and Toni Williams, who is Kenneth Williams’ spouse.

“They’re being obstructionists. We wouldn’t have a problem if they would work with the rest of the School Board,” Jackson said of the Williams opponents.

The issue centers around the fact that the Chicago Heights-based South Cook Intermediate Service Center chose a person to fill the Kenneth Williams vacancy who says he will align himself with Crayton, Lawrence and Green, which will transfer control of the board.

The Kenneth Williams’ allies have filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, and also obtained a restraining order that prevents the service center’s choice — Restoration Ministries Executive Director Ray C. Banks — from serving on the board until the lawsuit is resolved.

So for at least the school district’s February meeting, scheduled for Wednesday at Thornton High School, the 3-3 split will remain in effect.

Cook County Judge Moshe Jacobius, who is presiding over the legal fight for School Board control, thus far has agreed the service center may not have authority to pick a replacement.

He also noted there have been a few times when the board was able to put aside its partisan split to approve some business, including a December action when the board approved a tax levy that determines how much it can expect to receive from local property tax revenues.

While saying he wants the vacancy filled eventually, Jacobius said, “Is the world really going to come to an end? What would really happen?” if the position is open for a while longer.

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