District 25 approves expansions for two schools
The Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 school board has voted to move forward with a $12 million expansion plan for two of its schools, but only after board member Rich Olejniczak criticized his colleagues for how they handled the decision-making process.
Before casting the only vote against the planned additions at Olive-Mary Stitt and Ivy Hill elementary schools, Olejniczak said the board process leading up to the decision lacked transparency and failed to consider all options.
The 5-1 vote allows Superintendent Lori Bein to seek competitive bids for the project that will add four to six classrooms at Olive-Mary Stitt and 10 classrooms at Ivy Hill, along with improvements to both schools' common areas and gymnasiums.
Officials have said the improvements will be paid for through bond issues and will not require a vote by district residents.
"In my opinion we have not done our fiduciary responsibility on this matter and run the risk of simply rubber stamping a recommendation that dramatically changes our district," said Olejniczak, who is in his first term on the board. "We were elected to represent the community and to do what is best for the students of the district. We were elected to make tough decisions, to vet, to challenge, to question, to discuss and debate matters brought to us to ensure that we do what is best for the students of the district. In my opinion, we have not been presented with sufficient information nor discussed this in an open forum to make an informed decision."
Olejniczak said he expected a broader discussion on all possible solutions to the district's space needs, and was not happy to see that the expansion was the only suggestion moving forward. He also expressed concern that a representative from William Blair, an investment company, attended Thursday's board meeting to brief officials on bonding options before the board had even discussed or voted on the expansion.
"I cannot look at a student, nor taxpayer, in the eye and state that I have seen and reviewed all the facts and in good conscience say that this is the best decision for the district on top of all other options," Olejniczak said.
Olejniczak said there had been only 40 minutes spent on the subject in the last six months of board meetings, partly because of time limits placed on agenda items.
But school board President David Page said that calculation doesn't account for all the meetings with administrators that have gone on behind the scenes.
"You still seem to be under the assumption that a board member's job is to be in the drawing room coming up with the idea," Page said to Olejniczak. "That is not the way a board member is supposed to conduct themselves. We approve or deny and go from there. We aren't in the business of coming up with the right answer."
Those behind-the-scenes conversations should be had in public, Olejniczak responded.
His comments and Page's response led to a heated conversation among the board members before the vote.
"I'm not sure what the speech was about other than shaking a finger at your fellow board members and lecturing us," board member Diana Chrissis said.
Olejniczak asked the board to delay the expansion decision and hold a special board meeting on the issue, but a vote was never taken on his request.
"It's not our job to micromanage," said board member Chuck Williams. "Our job is to provide direction to the superintendent and the people on the administrative team."
Page said other options to address the district's space needs -- such as building a new school or redistricting -- would not be fiscally responsible or popular with parents. Redistricting would not solve the problem since all of District 25's buildings are at capacity, he added.
"We have two options here. Do we add on more space, or do we let classrooms get cramped like they are now and let class sizes creep up?" Page said.
The school board will vote to issue bonds later this spring and construction on Ivy Hill and Olive-Mary Stitt is expected to begin later this summer.