Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 Board candidates have differing opinions on the district’s handling of disciplinary cases and the negotiation process for the new teachers’ contract.
Six candidates – incumbents Adam Guss and Amy Blazier, along with Tom Vaclavek, Meghan Tillson, Jacob Justen and Scott Coffey – are competing for three open seats.
The candidates responded to a questionnaire from the Northwest Herald. Full responses can be found at nwherald.com/election.
Crystal Lake Central High School teacher Matthew Fralick was arrested on Feb. 1 on charges accusing him of grooming a girl online for sex. The board unanimously voted during a special meeting Thursday to dismiss Fralick, 48, from his position.
Fralick was placed on paid administrative leave for about two weeks in August but returned to the classroom after the district’s human resources department said that it could not substantiate the allegations against him, district communications show. Fralick again was placed on leave in December, however, and hasn’t returned to teaching since.
Late last year, Rick Lima, 51, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge. The former Prairie Ridge High School teacher and coach is serving one year of court supervision and must pay restitution for stealing more than $50,000 from an elderly woman.
And last summer, former Crystal Lake Central teacher Justin Hubly was given supervision for touching teens and providing alcohol to minors.
Guss, the current board president, said he believes such matters were handled properly.
“It would be irresponsible to comment on any individual personnel issue, but I will say that I am completely confident in how our administration and legal team handle disciplinary cases. If I wasn’t, I would do everything in my power to change that. I am the parent of a District 155 student, and I know the lengths that I would go to in order to protect my child from harm, and I feel that responsibility to every student in our district,” he said.
Blazier expressed similar sentiments.
“The D-155 board and administration followed all procedures and laws regarding these cases,” she said.
Vaclavek, an attorney, said he is confident in the district’s human resources department’s ability to handle issues involving alleged wrongdoing.
“Since I am not involved in those discussions or privy to the details, I feel any further comment would be inappropriate,” he said.
However, the three other candidates disagree.
“The district should have immediately suspended employees once it received notification from law enforcement that an employee was under an active investigation. And should have remained suspended until the investigation was concluded,” Coffey said.
Justen said commenting on the specifics of the three cases “can be difficult,” but he believes the Fralick case should have been handled differently.
“Based on what is known publicly about the accusations against Mr. Fralick, it is not acceptable that after a leave in August he was allowed back in the classroom with students until being placed on leave again prior to his arrest. It appears, based on reporting, that the district was at least aware of the accusations involving the ‘grooming’ of a minor. Whether or not the minor in this case was a student in the district, Mr. Fralick should not have been able to return to work with students in the fall,” he said.
Tillson also said Fralick should not have been allowed to return to the classroom.
“While each of these cases is concerning, the circumstances involving Matt Fralick are most troubling. Due to the serious nature of the accusations against Mr. Fralick, he should not have been allowed to return to the classroom,” she said.
In January, the board approved a three-year teachers’ contract that includes an increase in pay and benefits for district employees.
The board voted, 4-2, after meeting in closed session in favor of the contract, with members Rosemary Kurtz and Ron Ludwig voting against it. Blazier was absent.
The new agreement provides an average increase in base salaries of 1.5 percent in each of the three successive years of the contract with corresponding total annual increases of 3.87 percent, 3.86 percent and 3.87 percent in each of those same three years of the contract for teachers who have achieved a step increase due to experience in the district.
The district released the full contract weeks after the vote.
Blazier said the board’s “negotiation process was handled fairly and with professionalism.”
“It was followed with well-established procedures utilized by the majority of school districts. The contract is posted on line and is open to the public for viewing,” she said.
Guss said the board acted like other area districts.
“The process itself was standard operating procedure for this and virtually every other school district in the state, and was done in conjunction with our attorneys at every step. The issue of not making the contract public before being voted on is a topic worthy of discussion going forward, but is not something unique to District 155, this is a long standing point of contention with school districts and other public bodies. The issue is more complicated than simply posting the document on a website, but is something that should be considered. The contract itself is fair to both sides and provides the district some financial certainty as we move forward,” he said.
Vaclavek said he believes the contract is “fair and reasonable” but does not feel qualified to comment on the negotiation process because he was not on the board.
“We must remember that great schools do not come without great educators, so we need to be sure that our teachers are being paid in line with what other teachers in the area are receiving so that they continue to produce results for our students,” he said.
On the other hand, Coffey said,“I’m not sure all of the board members were kept in the loop during the process and didn’t get all the details until right before the vote.”
“Given that two board members voted no on the contract, that should give pause to the community as to how the process was handled and the resultant agreement,” Coffey said.
Justen said he was “very disappointed with the way the district handled the teacher negotiation and approval process.”
“There were no details released prior to the January board meeting at which the contract was approved. The agenda item for the contract vote was on Page 5 of the agenda and not listed transparently – it was only after local media inquiries to the district that it was confirmed to be the new contract,” he said. “The community was completely left out of the process and was unable to review or give any feedback on the contract.”
Tillson expressed similar concerns.
“I feel District 155 was not transparent with the community about the teacher contract negotiation process,” she said.
The district includes four comprehensive high schools and one alternate education program that serves more than 6,000 students in McHenry County.