Lawsuit still pending against District 74
Updated: July 2, 2012 9:39AM
A lawsuit lodged against Lincolnwood School District 74 by a group of residents opposed to a $25-million construction project for a new school is still pending despite a community-wide vote that defeated such plans.
Joanne Angarola, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, said recent administrative and board changes at the district level had caused the group to put further action on the back burner but that a resolution could be reached within the next few months.
She was one of eight residents who filed suit last November alleging the district broke the law by approving an issuance of bonds without granting taxpayers the right to vote on the issue.
The School Board ultimately placed a referendum proposal on the March 20 ballot that, after months of public protest and accusations of financial mismanagement on behalf of district leadership, was resoundingly defeated by a 10-1 margin.
Though the group had for a moment achieved one of its objectives -- getting the district to comply with laws that require authority from voters before borrowing -- their work is yet to be done, Angarola said.
Residents want assurances that the district in the future does not move forward on large tax-funded projects without first going through the appropriate channels.
“We have no authority to stop them,” she said. “But we want no new bonds issued for either a new school or any other purpose that were pursuant to the (previously approved board) resolutions.”
School Board President Scott Anderson said the parties are expected to appear in court next week to advise a judge on their progress.
The most pressing matter of the lawsuit left for district, he said, is determining how to accommodate $7 million in debt certificates from 2009 that were budgeted under the Lincoln Hall project.
School officials have the option to ask the community to vote again on the matter in November, but players on both sides of the table are skeptical that would actually happen.
Anderson said the board is considering its options for paying off the outstanding bonds and, since March, has not had any extensive discussion about renovating or replacing Lincoln Hall. He said officials might talk at the June board meeting about how to maintain the nearly 70-year-old building and whether repair work should occur this summer. A referendum proposal in the fall, however, is highly unlikely, he said.
“The landscape has changed significantly since March,” he said. “It hasn’t been on our agenda so I do not expect it.”
Angarola agreed, saying: “Realistically, the makeup of the board has changed enough that it won’t happen.”
Public confrontations this year led directly to the resignation of two board members, including past president Amy Frankel, as well two of the district’s three administrators, former Superintendent Mark Klaisner and former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Susan Brandt. Kevin Nohelty, the assistant superintendent for business, was placed on administrative leave for an undisclosed amount of time since mid-March.
The board of education approved Anderson as its new chairman earlier this month, and in a special May 8 meeting, selected John Vranas as its newest member.
Vranas over the past few months had been openly critical of board member actions and expressed particular concern about district spending and a lack of record-keeping.
Angarola said adding Vranas to the board is another step in the right direction for the controversy-stricken district.