Embattled District 64 superintendent backed by community members at meeting

Days after embattled Superintendent Eric Olson publicly announced he plans to resign in June, about a dozen audience members at Thursday's Park Ridge-Niles District 64 board meeting rose to support Olson.

The speakers also urged the board not to hire Olson's successor until after the April 4 election.

Every person who addressed Olson's pending departure during the public comment portion of the meeting was dismayed by his decision.

Several said Olson's resignation, which he announced Monday in an email to the community, contributes to a negative perception about District 64's leadership and a reputation as an unpleasant place to work because of what one person called a "radical minority" in the community and other factors.

"Our superintendent's resignation has much more to do with us than him," Beth Rankin said.

Olson, who was hired in 2019, cited unspecified "irreconcilable differences" in his resignation email.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Olson and other district officials have been criticized by some members of the public - and supported by others - for the steps taken to prevent the virus from spreading in school buildings.

The district's plans to launch all-day kindergarten classes and spend up to $38 million - far more than initially estimated - to expand school buildings also were source of friction.

Most recently, at board meetings in November and December, parents called for Olson's firing over an aborted plan to reschedule a winter holiday concert to spring 2023 and other issues.

During Thursday's meeting at Jefferson School in Niles, audience member Monica Milligan praised Olson for leading "with incredible thoughtfulness and grace." One of eight candidates for four seats on the board, Milligan was among those who urged the panel to delay hiring his successor.

Fellow board candidate Rachel Georgakis agreed.

"You're not going to get the right leader if you rush this," Georgakis said.

Later in the meeting, the board voted 4-3 to formally accept Olson's resignation, separating it from a long list of personnel changes requiring board approval. Members Sales, Gareth Kennedy, Tom Sotos and Phyllis Lubinski voted for the motion; Nicole Woitowich, Denise Pearl and Larry Ryles voted against it.

Moments after the vote, Sotos said "Well played" without explanation.

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