Editorial: Now joining school board, Petrielli must stop teaching in District 59
We did not endorse Patricia "Patti" Petrielli for the school board in Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59, but our reservations about her candidacy had nothing to do with her dedication.
After a lifetime in education, Petrielli's devotion to students and quality schools is beyond question. We have no doubt about it.
She retired only a year ago from full-time teaching, where she also assumed a significant leadership position with the Illinois Education Association. Since then, she has worked as a substitute teacher with a near-full calendar in District 59 schools.
That substitute teaching experience, no doubt, has been formative in contributing to her strident concerns about the district's recent curriculum changes.
But now that she's been elected, we hope she doubles down on that devotion to the school system by valuing the greater good and ending her substitute teaching.
If she doesn't, the board has an obligation to do it for her. Illinois permits a limited amount of substitute teaching by board members, but only with school board approval.
If the issue reaches that point, the District 59 board should reject any substitute teaching by Petrielli as it should by any school board member.
And it should investigate its legal options for adopting a strong ethics policy that goes beyond state law to a) prohibit board members from profiting from their positions and b) block those who would direct top administrators from essentially working for them at the same time.
Difficult balancing acts are nothing new when it comes to school boards. There always have been concerns, for example, about how cozy or not some board members may be with the teachers unions that negotiate with the same board. But some of these concerns are debatable.
What is not debatable is the overt conflict that arises if the member of a board overseeing a local government accepts work and compensation from that same government.
Imagine the conflict a substitute teacher would have as a board member enacting policies that affect the work environment. Or policies that affect the amount of work made available for substitutes.
Imagine the conflict the supervisor of that substitute teacher/board member would feel.
Imagine the ramifications if that employee had to be disciplined. Imagine the potential legal complications if that employee had to become involved in disciplining a superintendent and the questions of personal animus that could arise.
If Petrielli wants to continue substitute teaching, if she loves the satisfaction of it, we get that. But if she wants that, there are nearby districts that badly need substitutes.
As a board member, her obligations to District 59 lie outside the classroom.