The Chicago Tribune reported this weekend on the questionable spending practices implemented by the Lake Forest's District 67 and District 115 school boards.
While overseeing the two districts, which share administrators, former superintendent Harry Griffith was among the highest paid public school administrators in the state, with a salary of $362,000 in the 2011-12 school year alone, the Tribune reports. Besides his salary, he also reaped numerous other benefits – the school boards forgave him a $75,000 loan to buy a house, he traveled twice yearly to an educators conference at a resort in California, the district provided a car – as well as gas and maintenance – which they let him keep upon retirement.
The Chicago Tribune also reported that during the 2010-11 school year, the districts paid more than 60 restaurant bills under his name, with “little or no documentation showing who was with him or whether the meals were business-related.” In his final school year alone, Griffith spent nearly $15,000 on “entertainment, travel, professional development, car repairs and membership dues.”
Both Lake Forest High School and Deer Path Middle School were ranked among the best in the Chicagoland area recently, with LFHS ranking 13th among high schools and DPMS ranking 39th amongst elementary and middle schools.
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LFHS also ranked 1st among average administrator's salary, with an average of $175,375 per administrator. (For comparison, Homewood Flossmoor District 233 ranked second, with an average of $167, 237 per administrator.)
This wasn’t the first time that the Lake Forest school boards have given hefty perks above traditional payment for administrators. The Tribune reported in a Nov. 25 article that in 2006 Jennifer Hermes, a District 67 business administrator, put her Naperville house up for sale in order to buy a house closer to her job in Long Grove. When the Naperville house hadn’t sold after two years, Hermes borrowed $28,000 from the district to cover her mortgage. As of last month, Hermes still owed the district $16,400, the Tribune says.
But housing assistance is common in the private sector, Michael Jacoby, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials told the Tribune. “Most people don’t move unless there is some support in housing,” he said. “In the public sector it’s a little bit less the status quo, but it’s all part of if you want a quality leader and if those are the issues in stopping them … It’s up to the board of educators to make that decision.
Griffith retired from his position as superintendent at the end of the 2011-12 school year, which many residents felt was necessary after it was found that former Deer Path Middle School Principal John Steinert had been convicted in 2009 for misdemeanor harrassment by electronic communication for sexually explicit text messages, voice mails and a lewd photo from his school district-issued cell phone to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student.
A petition posted by Lake Forest resident Michael Beacham on Change.org called for District 67 school board members to vote for Griffith's termination, citing that Griffith "demonstrated gross incompetence and derelication of duty to the students in his care." The petition was signed by 113 people before it was closed.
A Lake Forest city caucus will decide in a closed door meeting on Tuesday whether or not to renominate incumbents of the two school boards to run for re-election in the spring.
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