New Fenton superintendent contract trimmed to 4 years after public comment
Fenton High School District 100 will have a new superintendent, but the contract length was trimmed to four years after critics during a special meeting early Saturday peppered the board with concerns.
Board President Mary Ribando cast the deciding vote to hire James Ongtengco, associate superintendent for educational services and principal for two years, as the superintendent effective July 1. The board had been considering a five-year deal worth roughly $1.1 million but reduced the term after a nearly two-hour closed session.
"We took into consideration the comments of our speakers today," Ribando told the audience.
About 225 parents, teachers, students, alumni and others filled the seats and lined the walls in the high school community room and gathered in the adjoining cafeteria to hear the amplified comments of about two dozen speakers.
Board member Laura Wassinger, who with Paul Wedemann and Susan Ralph joined Ribando in the majority, said she was impressed by the number of students who attended and spoke, but it "was not one group" that resulted in the contract change.
The contract discussion a month before an election in which five of the seven board seats are expected to turn over drew criticism from the teachers union and others.
Speakers noted strained relations between the staff and senior leaders, but the main issues appeared to be timing and contract length. Critics said the lame duck action would bind the next board regarding the most important decision it makes.
Jon H. Aguilar, vice president of the Fenton Education Association, said a five-year contract sent a "contradictory message" given the board refused to consider more than a two-year pact with teachers.
"The board has suddenly performed an about face on the vital issue of fiscal responsibility," he said.
State Rep. Kathleen Willis, who served 12 years on the Addison District 12 school board, said she normally wouldn't speak out but felt this was a special case.
"What you're doing is not illegal, but it's highly unethical," said Willis, who has sponsored a bill to ensure the term of a hire would not outlast that of board members.
Board Vice President David Vogel, seeking a third term as a write-in after being removed from the ballot, said he was overwhelmed by the turnout and heard "valid concerns and great questions," but noted Ongtengco was the first choice of parents and staff members.
"What happened? What did he do?" he asked.
That prompted a response from Bensenville resident Penny Rhodes, who has a sophomore at the school.
"He did not make a connection with students, he did not make a connection with staff or with parents," she said. "It's what he didn't do."
Vogel was joined by Nancy Gonzales and Dave Shimanek in voting against the pact. Shimanek said he supported Ongtengco but not the current deal. He declined to elaborate.
Afterward, Ribando said the board is elected to make tough decisions.
"We appreciate our community's concerns, but we are confident in our decision making," she said. "We consider Mr. Ongtengco a great fit for this district."
Parent Steve Niehoff said the contract's length and timing were the sticking points. "Four (years) is a little better."
Ongtengco said the meeting was a humbling experience and he was willing to collaborate with everyone.
"I'm committed. We have a lot of work to do, but my heart is in the right place," he said.
Ongtengco was hired as principal in 2015 and had another year left on that contract. The terms of employment will be covered by the new pact, which runs through June 30, 2021. His base salary will be $162,500 increasing in successive years to $182,790.