Four new Grayslake Elementary District 46 board members have received advice from the elected officials who held their seats, such as avoiding political battles that could cost thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Keith Surroz, Michael Carbone and Ray Millington -- none of whom sought re-election last month -- officially ended their 4-year terms in the middle of Wednesday night's District 46 board session. Jill Alfrejd, Steven Strack, James Weidman and Robert Roop were sworn in as new board members at the same meeting.
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Surroz and Millington offered advice to the new board members as part of final remarks before they departed. They addressed the conflict and investigations that involved district officials in 2011 and 2012.
In one instance, about $14,300 was billed to District 46 by retired Lake County Circuit Judge Henry "Skip" Tonigan III for his investigation of ethics complaints lodged by a local activist against Superintendent Ellen Correll, board member Susan Facklam and others. Lawyer Richard Mittelman billed $5,000 to the district to investigate ethics complaints associated with the school board election from two years ago.
Surroz said the politically charged accusations came at a real cost for District 46, which has been grappling with a projected $2.2 million deficit in the 2013-14 academic year. He said the new board members must avoid political disputes for the good of the budget.
"We, as a district, had to pay an additional $57,000 in legal fees. OK?" he said. "Legal and investigation fees. There was found no actual criminal behavior, which was (alleged), or actual corruption. But we spent $57,000."
Millington sounded a similar note after saying he was proud of how well the board worked together to settle a three-day teachers strike in January.
"On the bad side, the thing I want you to avoid is political backstabbing," Millington told the new board members. "We wasted enormous amounts of money, emotional energy and time on things that would have been better spent on things that would benefit the district."
Millington added he wished he had been able to stop the costly probes.
Carbone, who periodically sparred with Surroz and Millington at board meetings, did not question the spending on the investigations in his closing remarks. He said the board accomplished much in his four years, including a transparency policy, energy conservation and a strategic plan for operations and maintenance.
"I learned a heck of a lot of stuff," Carbone said.
Surroz offered other advice, saying the new board should agree on a specific definition of deficit spending and limit closed-door discussions.