Without revealing confidential information, Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 board members Thursday did their best to reassure community members that their actions dismissing the principal were essential for the sound management of the high school.
Residents were given an opportunity to give the board feedback to its 5-2 decision of June 21 relieving H-F Principal Ryan Pitcock of his position and buying out the last year of his contract.
Darcy Kriha, the board’s attorney, said the principal’s dismissal didn’t need to be for cause. His remaining in the position was at the discretion of the board.
Board President Richard Lites said Pitcock’s contract called for paying him through June 2017 whether he’s working at H-F or not.
At the special board meeting June 30, several board members were asked specifically why they voted as they did.
Tim Wenckus, who voted against the dismissal, received a resounding round of applause and a standing ovation. He told the audience: “I recognized that (Pitcock) was on the last year of his contract. I was concerned about the unbudgeted expense in the buy-out plan. I also was concerned about the timing of the decision where we didn’t have time to find a suitable replacement.”
Member Gerald Pauling said: “From my perspective, the decision on what we needed to do was very clear. It was not easy; it was not pleasant, but it was clear. (I) acted to protect the students and district, including Dr. Pitcock.
“The decision that was made, though difficult, was warranted by the facts and circumstances, and it served to protect the interests of the school, the interests of the students and staff and Dr. Pitcock,” Pauling said.
Member Debbie Berman offered her position in a prepared statement. Berman said the board considered the issues in Pitcock’s case “for many, many months and over many, many, many meetings.”
The decision weighs heavily on her and fellow board members, she said, noting “it was a decision we felt was necessary and in the best interests of the school.”
She and Pauling said board members are elected to make these tough calls and asked that the community trust that they’ve made the right decision.
Board members repeatedly declined to answer any questions, citing personnel law that Berman said is meant to protect the employee.
Lites said the board did address the issues of dismissal with Pitcock. He said the board felt it had documentation, although the board can’t discuss the process.
Dave Mayer, who resigned from the school board June 22, the day after the vote. Mayer said he “strongly disagreed with this decision” to dismiss Pitcock, in part because of the financial ramifications.
During his 11 years on the board, Mayer was used to making tough decisions but said “this wasn’t one I could go along with. Dr. Pitcock has been the face of H-F and the best thing that’s happened to our high school.”
Mayer said “there was not an investigation done with Dr. Pitcock. Dr. Pitcock brought an investigation forward to us.” He did not elaborate.
Berman countered that the dismissal was not based on a single incident. “The board was very thoughtful and very thorough. Nobody lied to you,” about the circumstances of the investigation, she told community members.
School board member Jodie Scariano said she, too, has made tough decisions as a board member. In this instance Scariano said, “I had enough information to say yes” to the action against Pitcock.
Wenckus noted that the school board’s interaction was done in a very professional manner.
“In the end, we worked together. In the end we agreed to disagree, and looking forward we have to work together to come up with the best hire.
“If you take some (message) home today: know that on this board we don’t always agree but we will work together,” Wenckus added.