New Palatine District 15 school board, same old discord
The "new" Palatine Elementary District 15 school board debuted Wednesday, but the long-running rift between two sides on the seven-member panel showed few signs of simmering down.
Incumbent Manjula Sriram and two newcomers on a challenger slate, Jessica Morrison and Zubair Khan, took their seats and began their 4-year terms Wednesday.
The first order of business provided no fireworks when the board again named Peggy Babcock its president.
Tensions flared up when Superintendent Scott Thompson recommended revising school board policy on who gets to contact the board's attorney. Currently, board members can, individually, make legal inquiries at an Arlington Heights law firm.
But Thompson said most school boards don't operate that way. With the proposed change, if members want legal advice, they would reach out first to Babcock, who would in turn consult the attorney on their behalf. Thompson can do so now and would continue to under the agreement with the firm.
Thompson said he wanted to "unify the board."
"I'd like for my leadership to help us work together as one board without factions going forward," Thompson said. "And I think by going to attorneys only if you contact the board president first, I think that's probably going to help us be unified and work together as a team."
Sriram, the lone dissenting voice on the board, said the move would curtail members' access to their attorney and announced she would look into hiring her own.
Her two allies were Gerard Iannuzzelli, who was voted out of office, and Scott Herr, who did not seek re-election.
"I have to protect from my perspective some of the confidentiality that I may want to keep," she said.
Sriram cited a "personal" instance when she asked the attorney about a possible conflict of interest when she was offered a position working for Cook County (there was none, and she didn't take the job, she said).
She also said she asked the attorney about holding a special meeting to discuss how to name the successor to former board member Richard Bokor, who died in January, when Babcock wouldn't until the full board could meet.
Babcock, however, said the changes would do more to build communication within the board.
She said in the last few years members have gone directly to the attorney "without the benefit of the rest of the board understanding or knowing what was being asked or why it was being asked."
Attorney Mike Loizzi already has to let the board president know he was contacted and what the "discussion has been about," Babcock said.
Sriram again said there "might be times where you don't want to share the information."
"The trust has to be both ways," she told Babcock. "It's going to take some time for that trust aspect to be built."
Babcock pressed Sriram on how she lost her trust.
Sriram refused to elaborate during the meeting and in an interview.
"I think you were assured by our legal resources as well that anything that has been reviewed with you either by the superintendent or by me as president has been accurate," Babcock told Sriram.
Khan, an attorney, said members are entitled to a seek a second legal opinion, but he said the lawyer represents the board as a whole, not "each one of us as individuals."
The law firm told the district in March it's raising a monthly retainer fee to $750 from $500. The fee hikes alone require an update to the school board policy, Thompson said. The board only discussed the revisions Wednesday.