School Board Member: ‘We Betrayed the Public Trust’

Published March 1, 2007

Elgin, Illinois School District U46 board member Daniel Rich resigned January 22, citing what he considered outrageous salary demands from U46 Superintendent Connie Neale and a generous response by the U46 board.

Rich cited “professional” reasons at the district’s board meeting in announcing his resignation, but was more expansive in an exclusive interview earlier in the day.

Rich told The Courier News that the board held a closed meeting with Neale concerning her evaluation. That meeting typically is held in early January to trade observations about her performance and set the stage for salary negotiations with the superintendent.

Rich said that after receiving a “reasonable evaluation,” Neale demanded a hefty raise and bonus, saying she had networked with colleagues across the state and nation and believed she could easily be hired at another district for more money because of what she accomplished in U46.

Making Demands

Rich said Neale handed the board a letter seeking a “10 to 20 percent tax-free bonus and a $30,000 to $50,000 raise on top of her current $242,000 salary.” Rich said she cited the elimination of the district’s huge deficit and the fact that “40 elementary schools made their Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals (under the No Child Left Behind Act).”

Rich said the board on Saturday “reluctantly agreed” to give Neale “a $20,000 salary realignment and a 10 percent tax-free bonus.” This means Neale will be making “around $400,000 next year,” Rich said. The final vote on her contract has not been taken, so that action is not official.

Rich said he felt Neale’s request constituted bargaining “with a gun to our heads.” He also said, “$242,000 is just her (Neale’s) salary. But the whole package, including benefits and other items, is over $350,000.”

Neale receives items such as a cell phone, a car, disability insurance, medical benefits, a contribution to the teachers retirement fund, and other benefits.

Looking Elsewhere

Rich said the superintendent told the board “she had done a terrific job and commonly superintendents are rewarded by their performance, and that because of her networking in the state and across the nation, it occurred to her that she’s worth a considerable amount more of money. And if the board didn’t meet her ‘considerations,’ she would leave (U46) and look for employment elsewhere.”

By a tax-free bonus, Neale means that she would receive a 10 to 20 percent bonus of her base salary and the district would pay all her taxes associated with that amount. A $24,200 bonus would cost the district about $35,000.

Rich said putting the board in such a difficult position prompted him to act.

“It completely lacks professionalism to hold a governing board and community hostage by threatening to leave if the demands were not met,” said Rich. “The demands were less than reasonable, and I think’s it’s irresponsible on behalf of her (Neale).”

‘Money We Don’t Have’

After the closed meeting, Rich said he told his former fellow board members, “Through this decision we have kicked the barn doors open and they’re never going to close. What if both the middle schools and elementary schools make AYP? We’ll be right back in the same boat.”

But more importantly Rich said he and the school district failed to represent the community and its constituents.

“I’m mad at myself. I should have been a better steward. I should not have let any of this happen. I have to take one-seventh of the blame,” said Rich. “It’s not [the] right thing for constituents and it’s not right for the community. I feel bad about it.

“After I accepted it (Neale’s contract), I was no longer a part of the answer, I was a part of the institution, which makes me a part of the problem, and I can’t be a part of that,” Rich continued. “We betrayed the public trust and we’re ready to spend money we don’t have in areas that don’t do a lot to enhance the quality of the child’s education.”

Erin Calandriello ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Courier News in Elgin, Illinois, which ran an earlier version of this article on January 23. Reprinted with permission.