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Letter released on D-425 official’s contract extension

SHABBONA – Indian Creek School District 425 leaders circulated a letter from their lawyer about a special meeting to extend the superintendent’s contract but remained tight-lipped about it Tuesday night.

The two-page letter defends the board’s decision Dec. 26 to extend Superintendent Pamela Rockwell’s contract two years from 2015 to 2017, with 6 percent annual raises and a $15,000 retirement bonus.

The attorney’s letter, which was mailed to district residents and posted on the district’s website, also stated that school board members exceeded open meeting rules for notifying the public about a special board meeting held the day after Christmas in Rockwell’s office.

“The compensation and benefits provisions acted upon are not unusual for administrator retirement contracts,” wrote attorney Justino Petrarca. “We also note that the 6 percent salary increases are absolutely consistent with the benefit provided to teachers under the board’s collective bargaining agreement with the Indian Creek Education Association.”

Voting for the contract Dec. 26 were board members Vaughn Boehne, Cheryl Palombo, Pam Ottengheime, Jim Hicks and Daniel Sanderson. Board member Jeff Martenson was opposed; board member Jill Konen was absent from the meeting.

The board also voted 4-2 to give Rockwood a one-time post-retirement bonus of $15,000 for “exemplary performance and achievement.” Voting no were Martenson and Hicks.

The meeting raised eyebrows and questions from some district residents, including Jeff Jefko of Shabbona. Jefko spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s board meeting.

Jefko questioned whether the meeting time was designed to prevent residents from objecting to the contract extension. He asked school board members to rescind the decision so leaders could circulate materials justifying Rockwell’s increased compensation and surveying the community about it.

“Knowing the history of this board, I don’t think you’re going to do this, but there’s an election coming up,” Jefko said.

Petrarca’s letter, written on letterhead from the Chicago-based law firm of Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, did not discuss the timing of the meeting. Rockwell indicated the district had received legal advice in favor of finalizing the contract before Dec. 31, but declined to elaborate.

School board President Vaughn Boehne explained that board members simply discussed which times would be convenient for them, and 8 a.m. Dec. 26 fit into six of seven members’ calendar, he said.

“That was what worked for the board,” Boehne said.

Boehne is among the six school board candidates running for four seats in the April election. Incumbents Boehne, James Hicks and Cheryl Palombo, the vice president, will appear on the ballot, along with Peter Senkowski, Kelsy Hart and Paul Delisio. Board member Jeff Martenson’s term is expiring, but he is not seeking re-election.

The school board has seven members.

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