Two D233 board members say flawed process delayed start of fine arts project

Members of the District 233 school board will be asked to cast a vote at the Oct. 16 meeting that will allocate funds for a build out and remodeling project for the fine arts program at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.

The proposal is to create a fine arts wing on the north end of the South Building for students in performing arts, choral, band, orchestra and fine arts by building two additions and remodeling other spaces.
 
Steve Anderson, board president, and member Beth Larocca say the process to get to this point is flawed and caused a nearly nine month delay of the board’s decision to move forward. They made their comments at the Sept. 17 board meeting.
 
Anderson said for him, it never was a question of not approving some project for fine arts, and he’s excited that it will come to fruition “in a fiscally responsible manner.”
 
He went on to say: “To the board, I have to say I’m disappointed in how we got here” and how some members conducted themselves. “I’m disappointed that the critical information about the state of our finances wasn’t accurate and it took nine months before it was corrected; alternate views were dismissed and there wasn’t a truthful and honest and open environment so everyone could be heard and there would be a thorough vetting.”
 
The need for a fine arts wing had been discussed for several years. Plans from DLA Architects were brought before the board in October 2017. The proposal went to the Finance Committee for review. At that time, the committee was chaired by Jody Scariano, with members Tim Wenckus who had served on finance for about four years, and new member Anderson.
 
Community hearings and work with faculty and administration led to changes from the initial DLA plan. The $12 million price tag climbed to $14 million. 
 
In May, the Finance Committee was asked to give its approval to get the project started in fall 2018. Twice the committee voted 2-1 not to move forward. Wenckus and Anderson said they didn’t believe the black box theater project, the first segment of the plan, would serve enough students and they didn’t believe the board had the resources. Former business manager Ken Parchem reported $8.5 million in the school’s reserve fund labeled for construction projects.
 
The board’s business office is now run by Mark Sheehan, who reported $62 million in reserves. But in reality, the board has to retain $46 million to cover a 10-month period, in the event of a financial emergency, and hold an additional $1.5 million to cover Social Security and other expenses.
 
Superintendent Von Mansfield said the district had $62 million in reserves in 2017, just as it does in 2018.
 
“The correct numbers were given, but the correct understanding of those numbers took a little more time for all of us, because the $62 million was always $62 million. In terms of how it was allocated it took some understanding from everyone. The correct information was provided. It’s how it was interpreted,” he said.  
 
“Mr. Parchem gave the numbers he felt were correct and Mr. Sheehan verified those. But I think for all of us the time it took to make sure all those funds were in the proper locations to provide the support that was necessary for this project” is what caused the delay, Mansfield said.
 
The Finance Committee, now with Anderson as chair, and new member Larocca joining Scariano, reconsidered the project in September and set a cap of $10 million.
 
Anderson said what transpired “most hurt the very people it’s meant to help – the students. Had the finance committee received accurate information in November, February, May or August, it’s very likely the project would have been approved months ago and we would be well underway” and could have avoided many of the repercussions the past several months, including threats made against his family should he fail to approve the project, he said.
 
Larocca said, “I think all our decisions should be based on data and we should be provided with that data up front” adding her vote in August not to move forward was because “I was asked to vote on a $10 million project and I wanted more data.”
 
She argued the process was “out of order” because the community was asked to give input on the plans before the staff.
 
The board needs a better process, Larocca said, adding: “I still feel there were questions of needs versus wants” and she is looking for clarification.
 
The board is still trying to determine what the project will look like. DLA Architects is meeting again with staff to set priorities from the initial $12 million to $14 million plan. 
 
Architect Ed Wright of DLA told board members at the Sept. 17 meeting that staff and administration are setting high and low priorities “going through every single space that they need and prioritize. That way we’ll assemble the project with a series of alternatives so we can start to collect what we want to move forward, once bids come in a la carte.”
 

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