Wednesday, November 11, 2015 || Originally Published: Chronicle Media || By Bill Dwyer
In a rancorous and exceptionally personal meeting Tuesday night, the Proviso High School District 209 board voted both to not rehire a hugely popular and successful basketball coach and to rescind its eight-days-old contract with its new law firm.
In the process, the first shots of the 2017 campaign were clearly fired, despite that election being 17 months off.
Both board votes were 4-3 and hewed along highly partisan lines, with a veteran board member acting as the swing vote.
Kevin McDermott, the board vice president, joined with three members of the board’s previous majority in blocking the rehire of former head coach Donnie Boyce, pictured above. McDermott also cast the deciding vote to rescind the district’s just-signed joint contract with the Robbins Schwartz and Grasso Bass law firms.
While the vote to cancel the legal services contract deeply upset three members of the board, it was the rejection of Boyce that triggered the greatest outrage from the crowd of nearly 100 community members.
Boyce played in the NBA for two seasons and another eight in the CBA and Europe after helping the Proviso East Pirates win the 1991 state basketball championship as part of the legendary “Three Amigos.” In 3 1/2 seasons as Proviso East head coach starting in 2011, Boyce complied a 92-13 record as the team placed second and fourth place in the state tournament.
McDermott was a member of the previous board that voted last spring to fire Boyce after a highly publicized incident, caught on a cell phone camera, involving Boyce physically restraining a female student.
At the time of Boyce’s firing in February, then-board president Dan Adams told the Chicago Tribune “there were a lot of other issues for the firing.” As he did in February, Adams said Tuesday night that there were “other issues involved,” but said he couldn’t discuss them.
Board member Ned Wagner noted that investigations by both the State Police investigation and DCFS had absolved Boyce of any wrongdoing in the December 2014 incident.
Board president Teresa Kelly took a shot at both McDermott and Brian Cross prior to the votes, alluding to their allegedly conflicted loyalties. Cross also has ties to Yarbrough as an employee of the Recorder’s office and McDermott has done contract work for Yarbrough.
“Those with nothing to hide, hide nothing,” Kelly said, challenging the board’s old guard to, “drop the cloak and be transparent.”
“Donnie Boyce has brought pride to a community that needs pride,” board secretary Claudia Medina said, echoing the comments of nearly 20 people who spoke out in support of Boyce, who they said had made a mistake, had paid the price, and deserved a second chance.
McDermott bemoaned the fact that he has been heavily criticized on social media for his positions on Boyce and the law firm. Allegations have been made that that his vote is based on having done contractual work for the politically influential Cook County Recorder of Deeds Yarbrough.
“This kind of hate is uncalled for,” McDermott said, saying people were “accus(ing) me of motivations I simply don’t possess.” He angrily stated he would resign if anyone could prove his vote had been bought or forced.
But there appeared to be far more frustration than hate in the air Tuesday night.
The audience grew increasingly restive as it became clear that Boyce’s hiring was not going to be approved, and the proceedings were increasingly roiled with loud comments, taunts and outright heckling from the audience.
Laced throughout those comments was anger over the fact that, despite many impassioned pleas, three white men were voting against the hiring of two black men that many said were role models for the youth of a community desperately in need of strong role models.
Resident Della Patterson, who has previously been a candidate for the D209 board, pointedly noted that a white school administrator at Proviso West, who had been involved in a similar incident in which a female student was injured and required medical care, and that that administrator was not disciplined.
“I’m gonna call it what it is,” Patterson told the board. “Race … race … race!”
McDermott and Cross both stressed that the board’s old attorney the Del Galdo Law Firm, is not in the running to be D209’s lawyer, and that they looked forward to interviewing the remaining finalists.
Tuesday night Kelly directed Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart to inform Del Galdo that they are terminated as of Monday, Nov. 16.
Wednesday morning a tired and somber Medina said the school board will convene a special meeting Monday to chose a new law firm.
“We’ll have the top law firms come in for 40 minutes each this week,” she said.
Medina said she was utterly disappointed in the votes, saying, “I feel like a massive injustice has been done. Massive.”
“I’m bummed, because I think that (Grasso Bass principal) Anthony Bass could have done something really remarkable for our district,” Medina said, saying Bass offers Proviso’s children “A different vision for their life. He shows the kids that high school doesn’t have to be a pipeline to prison, but a pipeline to success.”
Medina also accused her board opposition with cynically conducting a rear guard action against what she called inevitable changes in the works.
“It’s all about showing we can’t effect change,” she said of Tuesday’s votes. “But we can. We have, and we will.” VFP
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