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Hinsdale District 86 Board spars over drafting letter to the community

Residents of Hinsdale High School District 86 received a letter signed by the School Board this week, but the process is preparing that letter does not reflect the unity the letter suggests.

The letter listed the guiding principles the board will use as it works on next year’s budget and negotiates a new teachers’ contract: fairness, responsibility and partnership.

But board member Kay Gallo said the letter was made public without the input of the entire board.

“We as a board, the seven of us, did not even talk about doing such a letter. That is what I find offensive,” Gallo said. “I am one of seven, but it seems one or two people are running this board and doing things without consulting the seven of us in an open meeting.”

Gallo said on April 4 she saw “letter to the community” listed on the agenda for the April 7 meeting. She called the superintendent and asked to see a copy of the letter. Gallo said the superintendent told her he could not show it to her. School Board President Claudia Manley said the reason was because it was still in draft form and not ready.

Gallo said she then expected the board would discuss the letter at the meeting. Instead, Manley read the letter aloud to the audience.

Gallo questioned Manley on who wrote and edited the letter. She got no answer.

Board member Richard Skoda asked Gallo if she disagreed with the contents of the letter. Gallo said she did not object to the substance of it, but to the way it was created.

“There are many things that are being discussed not by the seven of us,” Gallo said. “When did we approve this letter?”

Skoda said when Dennis Brennan was president of the School Board, Gallo believed the board should speak with one voice. Now, she is objecting to the board president speaking for the board. Brennan was defeated in a bid for re-election last year and the board majority shifted.

Board member Ed Corcoran criticized Gallo for accepting a campaign donation from the teachers’ union during last year’s election, when she knew the School Board would be negotiating a new contract with the teachers this year.

Skoda also pointed out Gallo was arguing for full participation and input from the board on the letter, when in the past she voted not to allow him to listen to the recording of a closed session he missed while a member of the School Board.

“For two years, you sat on the Brennan board and had no problem denying board members routinely any kind of information,” Skoda said.

In April 2012, the School Board voted 3-2 to allow Skoda to listen to the audiotapes from a closed session meeting he did not attend on April 9, 2012. Gallo and Jennifer Planson voted against the request.

School Board policy gave him the right to listen to the tapes, Skoda said. The policy stated individual board members may listen to verbatim recordings when that action is germane to their responsibilities.

Gallo explained she voted no, because she thought board members who missed an executive session could learn what had been discussed by talking to the School Board president and district superintendent. Also, she said, the absent member would hear the opinions and comments of the other board members without sharing his or her own.

Ultimately, the letter to the community was sent out this week with the board’s approval. Board member Victor Casini, who said he had not seen the letter previously, suggested they review and revise the letter together at the board meeting.

“Perhaps the process was ill-advised,” Casini said. “But let’s learn from that error and go forward.”

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