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posted: 4/16/2010 12:01 AM

The secrecy must stop at Lake Park

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What in the world is up with all the mystery at Lake Park High School District 108?

On Wednesday, Superintendent John Butts suddenly said he was leaving with more than two years left on his contract. And neither he nor the elected school board is shedding much, if any, light on what happened here and why.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Elisabeth Mistretta reported school board President Barbara Layer would not comment on whether Butts is a finalist for another job. She would not comment on whether his resignation was a surprise. She would not comment on why he was leaving.

This kind of secrecy among our public officials must stop now. Similar stonewalling occurred last year in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 when former Superintendent Richard Drury suddenly announced his resignation.

And it happens in far too many other instances in governments in Illinois all the time.

The students, parents, teachers, other administrators and, significantly, all the taxpayers and voters who pay Butts' salary and who elected this school board have a right to answers. They have an expectation of getting answers to all those questions and more.

Butts said he is pursuing other jobs in and outside of education, but he also hinted at some kind of problem or clash when he told Mistretta, "It's just that, over time, some of the same frustrations build up and it just gets to be that it is time for a change."

So, what are those frustrations? Why is a superintendent who oversaw gains in student test scores leaving in the middle of a contract? Butts, whose 2009-2010 salary is $189,505 plus benefits, also balanced the budget for four years and oversaw the completion of union contracts and construction programs. The district faces a $1.7 million deficit, but most districts now are grappling with funding shortfalls.

This departure simply does not add up. It is incumbent on Butts, Layer and the rest of the school board to start providing some better, fuller, more detailed answers.

The resignation became public after at least one closed-door meeting between Butts and the board and a staff meeting. So there has been some time to prepare answers.

And yet, adding insult to the unacceptable secrecy, district officials say they do not have details on the cost of benefits and severance owed Butts because he is departing before his contract expires.

Please. That is hardly believable. If it is true, then the board needs to start doing the math. Board members need to provide those answers and all the others before its 8 a.m. Saturday special meeting to approve the shift at the top.

If these publicly paid and elected officials don't end the intrigue, the taxpayers should demand they be held accountable.