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On paper, part-time teacher makes big bucks

Closed session minutes reveal secrets

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 12:54 p.m. CST

The other day, I was looking through the Round Lake school district’s 2013 administrator and teacher salary and benefits report, which each Illinois district is required to do.

The top-paid employee is not a big surprise – Superintendent Constance Collins pulled in $223,770.

Is the second highest paid employee an assistant superintendent or principal?

Not according to the report.

It was special education teacher Nicole Bryan, who, according to the report, made $210,222. And that was for working only part time, making way more money than that of the special education director.

I thought, “Why does this person make so much? And why haven’t others created a ruckus?”

In my Internet research, I found nothing about her. Was this salary listing a mistake?

When I called the school district office, the woman who answered transferred me to the person who puts together the report. That employee admitted that the $210,222 was a typo. It had already been submitted to the state, she said, so it couldn’t be changed.

As it turned out, Bryan made $20,722, the employee told me.

For the record, the real No. 2 was Veronica Cohill-Lake, an assistant superintendent, who made $149,066.

Secrets are revealed

In Illinois, governing bodies are supposed to review their closed meeting minutes at least every six months and determine whether the need for confidentiality still exists.

Looking through government websites in recent days, I have noticed two area governing bodies that have approved the release of minutes from their closed sessions – the Grant Community High School board and the Round Lake Beach village board.

Grant’s minutes didn’t reveal much. In some cases, the minutes would say that the board discussed union negotiations or the superintendent’s contract or conducted interviews with prospective board candidates, but no details were given. The minutes for open meetings, by contrast, provide more information.

The only thing of note was the closed session in October: “Discussion was held regarding the circumstances that led to the resignation of Amber Kraus.” A month later, she was charged with sexually assaulting a student.

In April, the Round Lake Beach village board approved opening some of its closed session minutes.

At one meeting, the doors were closed using the personnel exemption under the state Open Meetings Act. Ironically, it was mostly about a dog. And his handler. The board got a report on the retirement of the village’s police dog, Gunnar, and the role of his longtime handler, a police officer. (A story about the dog is elsewhere in this edition.)

The other interesting issue was Round Lake Beach’s public works director, Keith Neitzke, who was put on a performance improvement plan (essentially probation) in July 2011. The village board got an update a month later. The next month, Neitzke no longer worked for the village.

According to his LinkedIn page, he had no job for a year and a half, then became administrator of parks in Lawton, Okla., where he is in charge of 45 employees. In Round Lake Beach, he supervised 22, his page says.

Knocking on people’s doors

For last week’s edition, I wrote a story about Adeline Helwig. In May, the Lake County Sheriff’s Department discovered the 87-year-old’s body in her pumphouse in Lake Villa.

The department issued a news release, and we could have just run that information. And often that’s exactly what we do. In this case, I wanted to find out more about the woman.

So I went knocking on doors in her neighborhood. For me, that’s hard to do, showing up at people’s doors unexpectedly. But there’s really no other way to reach neighbors, whom I don’t know.

I’m glad I visited. For starters, no one really knew her first name was Adeline. They all called her Dolly. They pointed to her well-kept yard. And they remembered that she was too proud to ask for help, even though she was 87.

When I searched her name on Google, nothing came up. So burning a little shoe leather was the only way to know more about her.

A little old-fashioned, sure. But it’s part of the job.

David Giuliani is news editor of Lake County Suburban Life. He may be reached at 847-231-7524 or dgiuliani@shawmedia.com.

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