Watchdog group: Lincoln-Way District 210 betrayed public trust
Reasoning that doing right shouldn’t require legal action, the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW) recently said Will County Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 has destroyed the public’s trust by repeatedly avoiding transparency.
The watchdog group has kept an eye on the district office, which makes its home at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox, located southwest of Chicago, ever since the Lincoln-Way Area Taxpayers Unite (LWATU) group lodged a complaint and recorded a victory in the form of a lawsuit that has been allowed to go forward against the school district.
“(Plans) go awry because you keep on forgetting the basic tenets of trust,” ECW said. “No one trusts you. Just stop hiding things. Come clean, communicate and tell the truth. Your constituents should not have to SUE you to get you to talk with them.”
According to its mission statement, the citizens' group formed to “demand responsibility and accountability within District 210 by holding the District 210 Board of Education to its financial, educational and moral obligations to the taxpayers and students of the Lincoln-Way area.”
The stage was set for LWATU when concerned constituents organized in an effort to help the board “make sound decisions … in the best interest of the entire community,” according to LWATU’s website.
However, the consortium — including a wide array of regional residents, from community leaders, parents and alumni to concerned senior citizens, business owners, retirees and empty-nesters — discovered that the district was suffering financially because of long-term mismanagement and overspending.
“The truth is, our district depleted its cash reserves at an alarming rate over the last 15 years,” LWATU said. "(Were) you aware? The members of LWATU were not. Had we known of the gravity of the situation, we would have become more involved in crafting a solution sooner.”
Angered by the lack of transparency in the district’s handling of its budget, LWATU initiated legal action with a 532-page lawsuit in 2015, arguing that the administration and board of education should have come clean to the public well before financial problems spiraled out of control.
The district -- serving the communities of New Lenox, Frankfort, Mokena, Manhattan, and small portions of Tinley Park and Orland Park -- consolidated from four high schools down to three for the 2016-17 school year following financial difficulties. It now encompasses Lincoln-Way East in Frankfort and Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way West, both in New Lenox, having eliminated the former Frankfort-based Lincoln-Way North high school.
The lawsuit focused on that closure, maintaining that the board should close the oldest of the four schools, and that Lincoln-Way North was a poor choice due to many high-tech upgrades that benefited students.
After dismissal of the school district’s motion to dismiss, the court granted the plaintiffs' request to file an amended complaint this year.
Lamenting that “it would have taken only a bit of simple math to realize that we were running out of cash,” members expressed frustration at being shut out of procedures despite what they alleged were their best efforts to help.
“Only the voting taxpayers of any community can truly make a difference with their local government, and it is clear by the filing (that) these people have done more than complain, they have acted,” ECW said, commending the group’s initiative and the actions of dozens of individual plaintiffs.
“We feel strongly that the undisciplined and unnecessary spending by the administration needs to be stopped,” LWATU said. “Sound fiscal decisions and the development of a long-term financial plan are the only way out of our current situation.”
Liz Sands, president, and Robert Ripp, vice president, act as official spokespersons for LWATU. In a video, concerned constituents presented their case to the public, citing mismanagement of taxpayer funds.
“Our high school district has been overspending since 2001 … resulting in a depletion of over $30 million in cash reserves in just the last five years alone,” the narrator said. “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. A brighter tomorrow (is) up to all of us,” the message said.
Organizations in this Story
1801 E Lincoln Hwy
New Lenox, IL 60451