By Bob Skolnik
For two months now, Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 Superintendent Kristopher Rivera has known who he wants to hire to be the new business manager and the new human resources director.
But he has been unable to get a school board vote on his recommendations, because school board President Jorge Torres has not agreed to put the hiring decisions on a board agenda. Rivera's latest disappointed came Aug. 19.
Three days earlier, the district posted a notice for a special meeting to be held on Aug. 19. On the agenda were votes to hire Donald McKinney as business manager and Julie Grohn as human resources director.
Those are the same two people Rivera had tentatively offered the jobs to more than two months ago. With Torres on vacation and unable to attend the meeting, there was hope the board would vote to approve the hires and fill the positions that have been vacant since July 1.
But Monday afternoon the special meeting was abruptly cancelled when Rivera learned that only three board members, not enough for a quorum, would show up.
The four board members, Torres, Vito Campanile, Winfred Rodriguez, and Oliva Quintero, elected last spring with the support of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty told Rivera that they couldn't make the special meeting.
While Torres and Quintero had told Rivera last week that they would not be available, Rivera said Rodriguez only told him over the weekend that she couldn't make the meeting. He didn't get official word from Campanile until Monday.
Campanile told the Landmark he couldn't make the meeting because he had scheduled a last-minute business meeting before he knew of Monday's meeting.
Rivera told the Landmark that after he made the tentative offers to his preferred choices he interviewed three more people, one at Torres direct request. Torres sat in on at least one of the interviews.
"After the first round [of interviews], Mr. Torres asked to see who were the last 10 applicants and asked that I interview one there that we did not interview before," Rivera said. "I did and it was not a fit. After that he asked me to look at some more in there and I interviewed two more."
Board members Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek, and Shannon Johnson were available to attend Monday's special meeting. They accuse Torres of stalling the hires. Johnson said that Torres is trying to get his own choice hired as human resources director.
"It's totally politically motivated, because Jorge Torres is trying to get his people into those positions," Johnson said. "He has made Kris interview people. Kris has stated that he interviewed them, they were not qualified [and] he wants to go with his recommendations."
Torres could not be reached for comment.
Hubacek said that the actions of the Getty-backed board members show that they are more interested in playing politics than serving the district.
"They have done nothing but put roadblocks up, nothing," Hubacek said. "I don't trust any of them, and I hope the people who voted for them and [those who] didn't vote are taking notice of this."
Hubacek said that she is especially concerned about not having a business manager for nearly two months. The district must submit its final budget for the 2019-20 school year to the Illinois State Board of Education by the end of September.
Rivera, who had been a human resources director for the Hammond school district before taking over in District 103 in May, said that it has been hard working without two key central office administrators.
"In terms of HR I kind of have that background and I can help with that, but it really overworks my assistant and myself and keeps us from being able to focus on some other things," Rivera said. "But on the other end even more frustrating is the impact it has on the finance because I don't have that background. That makes it difficult for me."
Campanile said that the school board must learn to work together.
"There's some things that need to be addressed between us board members," Campanile said. "And I don't know what it's going to take to get some unity and harmony going here."
Campanile said that he has no issues with Rivera's choices for the business manager and HR jobs. Hubacek said that Campanile's actions speak louder than his words.
"What he says he says is not reflective in the way he votes, or doesn't show up for a meeting," Hubacek said.
Hubacek said the reason for the division on the school board is clear.
"There is no politics for Sharon, Shannon, and I," said Hubacek, who served as board president for two years before the Getty-backed candidates won back control of the school board this spring. "We're not beholden to any village president. We don't have a political connection. … In my mind there are two sides -- our side that's trying to do what's right for kids in our district and the other side doing things for political gain."
McKinney, Rivera's preferred choice for business manager, is a former superintendent in the south suburbs who most recently served as the superintendent of Hoover-Schrum Memorial School District 157 in Calumet City from 2017 until leaving the district this summer.
Grohn currently works as the human resources director at North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago. From 2013 to 2018 Grohn worked as the director of human resources for Rich Township High School District 227.
Rivera said that he hopes to get a vote on his recommendations at the Aug. 27 school board meeting, the evening before the first day of classes for students.
I would certainly like that," Rivera said.