After failing to set the stage to oust the sitting school board president, four board members stood up and walked out of the Proviso Township High School District 209 meeting April 12 at Proviso West High School.
Board business was left on the table unfinished, including the approval of a $10 million bond to fund repair projects at the districts three high schools.
There’s bad blood between former allies Kevin McDermott and President Theresa Kelly, who spent years together as the minority voices on the board controlled by supporters of then-president Emanuel “Chris” Welch. Welch is now 7th Dist. state rep.
Kelly, the longest serving board member, has been here before. She lost her grip on the presidency in 2003 when Welch seized the presidency and held it for 10 years.
At the meeting, McDermott formed an alliance with former Welch supporters Brian Cross, Dan Adams and Theresa McKelvey in a new majority hoping to vote through a parliamentary maneuver that would truncate Kelly’s presidential term from two years to one.
When asked after the meeting, McDermott denied he was taking orders from Welch, as Kelly supporters have alleged on social media.
“I rarely ever see Chris, except sometimes at political events,” McDermott said. “I don’t think he’s that interested in the school board anymore.”
Maywood Trustee Isaiah Brandon begged the board to consider the students and stop the conflict.
“I believe you guys are bigger and better than that” he said, “You’ve got to be future-focused, do the right thing for the community,” Brandon said. He threatened to run for school board himself.
“There’s another election in 2017. I believe you have the opportunity to change the dynamics before the next elections,” he said.
The term-limit change to the board policy was buried in the April 12 consent agenda. The board would not have actually voted on the policy change until the May meeting.
But Kelly’s Proviso Together running mates kept a filibuster-of-sorts alive and delayed the vote by touting Kelly’s achievements and asking other board members to reconsider.
“What you’re really trying to do is stage a coup,” said board member Ned Wagner. “The lack of transparency on what’s going on here is really disturbing. We have accomplished so much in Theresa Kelly’s term by being transparent and inclusive — way more than we ever thought we could have accomplished.”
For his part, McDermott said he wanted to streamline the policy so every officer’s term was the same: one year.
“I think this [proposed] policy change is absurd,” said Claudia Medina. “This creates an issue of credibility for the board,” she said. ”What ‘s really happening is you’re trying to stop the progress of an incredible woman who has dedicated 17 years of her life to the students of this district.”
In front of a crowd of parents, teachers and supporters, Kelly complained that McDermott had wanted the presidency from the day after the election, but she had been the top vote-getter.
“That’s not true, not true” McDermott shot back.
Kelly complained that McDermott had yelled at her at a meeting and said, “He called a female member of this board an effin’, well, I’ll spell it, B-I-T..”
“Point of order!” Cross repeated.
Kelly turned to Cross. “I donated to your daughter’s college fund and this is how you treat me?” she demanded.
In a statement emailed after the meeting, McDermott said it was Kelly who threatened him at the Finance Committee meeting:
“She is the one who made the threat, telling me ‘I’m gonna beat your ass!’ and implying that her adult sons would carry this out. I took this threat of physical violence seriously enough to file a police report with the Forest Park Police Dept.”
Kelly did not respond to phone calls, texts or emails for comment.
The Proviso Together candidates Kelly, Medina and Wagner won an upset race in April 2015 despite being outspent by a team led by Welch’s wife ShawnTe Raines Welch. With McDermott, the board formed a new majority that quickly instituted changes, including replacing outdated textbooks and obtaining conflict resolution training for security guards. The board hired a new principal for Proviso East, rehired Proviso East boys basketball coach Donnie Boyce and made plans to replace the district law firm, Del Galdo Law Group.
Wagner acknowledged McDermott’s support for his campaign.
“Without Kevin McDermott I don’t think I’d be sitting on this board,” he said.
The first cracks in the new District 209 board coalition appeared when McDermott switched sides and aligned with the board minority to reject the first-choice law firm, which allegedly had Proviso political ties.
“Ms. Kelly tried twice to bring in politically connected cronies to serve as board attorney, after campaigning to dismiss the former board attorney because he was a politically connected crony,” McDermott wrote in an email.
Since then, McDermott and Kelly have had a cool relationship. In his email, McDermott called Kelly a divisive bully who interferes in district hiring decisions, and threatens school staff.
“It is worth remembering that she was elected to the board presidency by a unanimous 7-0 vote. Now, however, her destructive behavior has lost her the confidence of a majority of board members.”
Wagner begged the board to postpone the term-limit vote until after they had a chance to work together in a board retreat.
“Something has happened on a personality level and a relationship level,” Wagner said. “We need to retreat. We can fix this; we are already working together. We need to get beyond whatever is driving this policy and not embarrass ourselves in front of the community and our kids.”
But Wagner’s words fell on deaf ears, as four members rose and exited the room.
It’s likely a special board meeting will be convened at a future date to pass the bond item, McDermott said later.