Jennifer Neubauer of Lake Forest shares a letter that she sent to Lake Forest High School District 115 on June 7, 2015 regarding the Board of Education’s search for a new principal.
Open Letter to the LFHS Board of Education: Reese Marcusson ([email protected]), John Powers ([email protected]), Ted Moorman ([email protected]), Dave Schreiber ([email protected]), Lise Eliot ([email protected]), Diana Kreiling ([email protected]) and David Lane ([email protected])
Dear Lake Forest High School Board of Directors:
This is my third and hopefully last letter to you regarding the proposed hiring of an LFHS principal. It raises legal issues that point to Board liability.
A review of relevant Illinois statutes as well as the LFHS Board of Education Policy Manual based on those statutes (hereinafter “Manual”) prompts me to offer the following for your consideration.
As the legal governing public body tasked with furthering the District’s mission, all Board members swore to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office” in accord with the laws of the State of Illinois (in addition to the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions). (Manual, 2:80). The Board owes a fiduciary duty to the District which requires it act in utmost good faith for the benefit of the District, not for other interests or individual people. The District’s mission is clear:
“…our mission is to prepare graduates to be among the best in their chosen fields of endeavor and to be productive contributors to society by inspiring a passion for life-long learning and challenging all students to discover and maximize their abilities through a partnership that engages the entire community.” (Manual 1:30)”
According to Illinois law and to further this mission, the District is governed by a Board. The Board’s specifically enumerated duties include the “authority to adopt, enforce, and monitor all policies” for the management and governance of LFHS. (Manual, 2:10). The non-inclusive list of the Board’s “major powers and duties” include not simply “[a]pproving the curriculum” and “[a]pproving the annual budget,” but specifically include the primary power to hire and fire personnel: the Manual clearly enumerates this Board’s specific duty: “[e]mploying a Superintendent and other personnel, making employment decisions, [and] dismissing personnel […]”. (Manual, 2:20, emphasis supplied).
Regarding a principal hiring, the law states: “The Superintendent is responsible for recruiting personnel and making hiring recommendations to the Board. If the Superintendent’s recommendation is rejected, the Superintendent must submit another.” (Manual, 5:30, emphasis supplied) That same paragraph tasks the Board with hiring “the most qualified personnel consistent with budget and staffing requirements” (Manual, 5:30, emphasis supplied). Thus, while the Board is free to collaborate with the Superintendent to achieve the District’s mission, the ultimate authority to hire the “most qualified” personnel does not lie with the Superintendent. As a matter of law, it lies with this Board. (Manual, 2:130).
It may appear that the Superintendent makes a myriad of hiring/firing decisions on his own authority, but he can do so only with the authority vested in him by the Board. As a practical matter, many of those decisions are “rubber-stamped” by the Board simply because the Board is not a micro-manager and must trust (to a lesser and lesser degree, one hopes) the Superintendent. There is no statutory authority that allows the Board to avoid its primary duty nor delegate this statutory duty away to a third party, like the Superintendent. The Board cannot make itself, and thus cannot regard itself as completely impotent in the hiring or non-hiring of a recommended principal, regardless of past practice, anecdote, rumor, habit, or on the advice of the Superintendent or counsel. Quite the contrary. The “buck stops” with the Board and the Board is liable for the decision, not the Superintendent.
Second, and because the “buck stops” with the Board, it is given the authority and responsibility to “represent [ ] the needs and desires of the community in educational matters.” (Manual, at 2:20, #19). This is part and parcel of the Board’s fiduciary duty to the District. Thus, persons who express fundamental, core values that contravene the desire of the community in educational matters should not be employed and it would be a breach of your fiduciary duty to the District to do so.
Note the express directive that the Board “represent the needs and desires of the community”–not the needs and desires of the Superintendent and not the needs and desires of persons outside the community, not the needs and desires of social theorists or educational “innovators.” No, by law the Board is specifically tasked with representing LFHS parents, students, District taxpayers and their needs and desires, alone. Period. The Board cannot abdicate its role, shut its eyes to the needs and desires of the community and hope for the best. The Board is the only advocate this community has.
Third, the Manual also governs the conduct of District employees and their electronic communications. It states: “All District employees are expected to maintain high standards in their school relationships, to demonstrate integrity and honesty, to be considerate and cooperative…” (Manual, 5:120). Employees using “any form of social media or electronic communication…shall not:
Create, post or transfer any discriminatory, threatening, libelous, obscene, or slanderous comments about the District, its employees, students, or parents; [or] publicize, disclose, distribute, or post any material or communications which causes, or can be reasonably expected to cause, substantial disruption of the school environment, including communications which…[a]re harassing, threatening, or discriminatory….Employees must adhere to the high standards for appropriate conduct, communication, and relationships detailed by District policies at all times, regardless of the platform of social media….” (Manual, 5:125, emphasis added).
It would be grossly and recklessly negligent to hire a person to lead the LFHS community who has publicly demonstrated a lack of “integrity and honesty” by hiding social media postings that express slanderous and discriminatory views of the LFHS community, which views have already caused a “substantial disruption of the school environment”.
In conclusion: the Board has primary authority to hire a principal and may accept or reject the Superintendent’s suggestion. The Board has a fiduciary duty to represent the needs and desires of the community in educational matters and clearly this includes the hiring of school leadership aligned with those needs and desires. Finally, the Board would negligently and recklessly violate its duty to the District to hire someone whose social internet postings were so vile and offensive to the community that she had to hide them from the Board and the community to get the job. Ladies and Gentlemen, when constituted as a Board you are the champions of the mission and guardians of the LFHS community. I am confident you will do your duty.
Very truly yours,
Jennifer C. Neubauer
LFHS graduate and parent
Footnotes: All references are to the Board of Education Policy Manual at the Board of Ed tab
1. All references are to the Board of Education Policy Manual at the Board of Ed tab: www.lakeforestschools.org/board-of-education/district-115-boe/index.aspx
2. 105 ILCS 5/10-16a. Fiduciary, from the Latin fiducia, meaning “trust,” a person who has the power and obligation to act for another under circumstances which require total trust, good faith and honesty. A fiduciary is held to a standard of conduct and trust above that of a stranger or of a casual business person. See: http://www.legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fiduciary+duty
3. See also Manual at 2:130 and 3.60. Nowhere does the law mandate that the Board adopt any of the Superintendent’s recommendations on hiring proposals.
4. For this reason, also, allowing people who live outside the District to comment at a Board meeting on the hiring of an LFHS principal is not simply a waste of time, but also greatly impairs the Board’s duty to communicate with LFHS stakeholders and learn their desires and needs during the public comments section of the Board meeting. Outsider speeches should not be allowed.
This Letter to the Editor is from Jennifer Neubauer of Lake Forest. Letters to the Editor represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of Daily North Shore.