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Suburban School Board Under Fire for Lavish Expenses

By Chris Bentley in News on Mar 2, 2012 7:20PM


When Lincolnwood residents Joel Perzov and Mark Collens drafted an open letter in January to their suburban village’s school board, they tapped a wellspring of discontent among the taxpayers of School District 74. One board member, Richard Ruderman, has since resigned, aligning himself with the irate crowds who accuse the board’s leadership of malfeasance and fiscal ineptitude.

Hundreds have packed into Village Hall week after week since Freedom of Information Act requests by Perzov, Collens and other residents revealed questionable expenses billed to the district by board members. The charges include thousands spent on hotel rooms in downtown Chicago, $600 restaurant checks, and personal auto repairs for superintendent Mark Klaisner.

School officials have reimbursed the district more than $6,000 to date for expenses dating back two years. Board members said the district would continue to review the expenses in question. But community members are unsatisfied.

Last night Lincolnwood mayor Jerry Turry was among those who spoke during the board meeting’s audience to visitors. He said “reckless behavior” by one board member had compelled him to enter the fracas.

“The travel expenses are real things,” Turry said, “that you have to own up to.” Later in the meeting, the board moved to cancel a staff development conference in Boston, drawing more than a few smirks from the audience. But Turry stopped short of calling for members of the board to resign — a restraint that differentiated the mayor from others who took to the podium Thursday.

A March 20 referendum has become the focus of community agitation. If passed, the measure would replace Lincoln Hall middle school with a new, $25-million school. Many in the audience last night questioned the need for a new school, and doubted the board’s ability to be responsible with such an expense.

“You don’t know the meaning of transparency in government,” Lincolnwood resident Paul Eisterhold told the board before displaying a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, which he donned as a cape to conclude his public statement.

Skokie Patch’s George Slefo has been all over this story, which shows no sign of cooling off until after the March 20 referendum. Meanwhile, community members are still calling for members of the board to resign. “Where I grew up, this Gang of Four,” Eisterhold said of the board’s leadership, “would be tarred, feathered and run out of town.”