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Superintendent's Resignation a Sign of the Times

Superintendent Dan O'Donnell's personable manner will be missed, but surely he saw the writing on the wall months ago.

To anyone who closely follows the comings and goings of , the news Wednesday that came as no great surprise.

O’Donnell and his administrative team have been not-so-quietly butting heads with the new School Board majority since their first meeting last spring. O’Donnell’s resignation was more of a case of when, and not if.

As the old saying goes, to the victor goes the spoils, or even more so, elections have consequences. Board members Bill Walsh, Brent Lightfoot and Alison Swanson were elected in a pretty convincing fashion.

For the most part, all three gave a pretty clear vision of how they wanted the district run. Their biggest campaign promise and most immediate action was to stop the planning and construction of a third high school in Plainfield—a project administrators had spent years advocating. Stopping that was accomplished in short order and left some deep scars.

Many have commented this week that O’Donnell’s resignation is the fault of the current board majority, which also includes Board Member Laurie Pasteris. It’s understandable that people would lash out; O’Donnell is a well-liked and respected man from Missouri with the same Midwestern sensibilities that many in this community value.

I’ve worked with many school superintendents in my time as a community journalist. Most of them have been aloof, unconcerned about the well-being of individual students and would never dream of stepping out of their office and into a classroom.

The same could not be said of O’Donnell. He is a kind, polite and genuine man who has his boots on the ground.

O'Donnell's also a very intelligent man. That’s why he must have known his days would be numbered in District 308 the night the final vote was counted last April.

Parents can all feel sad that he’s leaving, but blaming the board is missing the target by half.

To the victor goes the spoils. Elections have consequences. I can hear it now, “Turnout was so low. How can anyone claim a mandate?”

Whose fault is that, exactly? Walsh, Swanson, Lightfoot? Sadly, in the end, it doesn’t matter how many people vote in an election. It matters who gets the most votes.

This board, support it or not, has a vision. That vision does not include O’Donnell or many of the other administrators that are part of his team.

Assistant Superintendent Todd Colvin knew that well and handed in his resignation in January. Don’t be surprised to see others close behind.

Not many school districts these days have top administrators that stick around for more than a few years at a time. It’s a sign of how political even school boards have become. It’s obvious our schools could benefit from stability at the very top, but those days are gone.

What’s also obvious is the resignation, the recent battles over boundaries and the third high school debate have deeply divided the school community. Walsh and the rest of the board will have a hard time in the coming months and years repairing the upheaval that’s been created. How they will do that remains to be seen.

On Monday night, parents will line up to vent their anger at the school board during the public comment portion of their meeting. That will be just the first step righting what they see as wrong. The final should come in April 2013 when four more board seats will be up for election.

Leland H. Hoffer February 28, 2012 at 04:25 AM
A lot of comments of how nice and likeable Dr. O’Donnell is but none on accomplishments. Facts: He supported the 2006 Referendum building plan which declining revenues could not support and continued pressing on even after voters voted to stop building. He did not send the required letter to the county to keep the tax rate capped at 5.06% promised to the public as a condition to pass the 2006 referendum, resulting in the 5.84% tax rate. Added non-mandated All Day Kindergarten that takes up extra elementary building space and requires busing when the state is reducing busing reimbursement which will cause increased costs Resigns in the middle of a contentious boundary situation. Steve Wolf a previous BOE Finance Committee Member wins for telling the biggest whopper when he said the additions cost is about as much as a third high school. Current additions total estimate is $44 million compared to $102 million estimate for the third high school. No wonder the district got further in debt when a board finance member doesn’t recognize a difference of $58 million. Steve doesn’t show concern for those who have financial problems because he says the majorities are okay. Steve states that Dr. O checked out Oswego but the board Steve sat on that hired Dr. O did not make an on-site visit to his last district. Who should have vetted whom?
Steve Wolf February 28, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Lee, 44 million is an estimate. We do not have the exact numbers yet. I will retract if the numbers are not closer to $70 million. If you have not noticed part of that money was used to build Murphy a building that while it sat for longer then expectedmis now a needed facility. I guess we could have waited and built it a few years later. Hind sight is 20/20 which is why you focus so much on the past and not the future. I backed it and I would again. It was the right thing to do at the time. I mentioned that not everyone was losing their jobs and their homes. Not that I didn't care about those that have. I've gone through my share of financial hardship, so I would suggest you not comment on how people feel. What to know call me and we can discuss it.
Steven Jack February 29, 2012 at 02:26 PM
A comment was removed from this article because it masked profanity. Let's keep it clean.
Leland H. Hoffer March 01, 2012 at 02:21 AM
@ Steve Wolf: Your comment Feb.25, "Cindy the sad truth is that the additions being added to the two high schools is about as much as a third high school,----." You said the the cost is about the same and there was no mention of Murphy. Murphy was already built using money from the referendum before there were plans and estimates for the third high school. Murphy costs were never a part of estimated cost for the third high school. $44 Million is the latest estimate for additions and the published estimate for the third high school was $102 Million. You brought up the past and I only ommented to correct what was a false statement. I am glad that you state you care about those losing their jobs and homes; however, your support of continuing building beyond needs as a board member, which increased taxes on everyone, didn't demonstrate concern. I am sorry to hear that you have had financial hardship but I do not think your invitation for a discussion on your personal issues would be beneficial. The current BOE is excercising oversight which recent previous boards did not do and I know it seems foreign to you. You also stated; "Worse then that we find ourselves in a situation where we could see a candidate with ties to one of our board members. Chicago politics in Oswego?" We live in a Democratic Republic where citizens have rights for jobs regardless of relationships. Your inference that simply being a candidate is Chicago Politics is over the top.
Leland H. Hoffer March 01, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Cindy: Your comment: "--let's spend less on paying BAD tenured teachers, artificial turf and empty schools and INSTEAD spend the money on books, supplies, programs and research that actually benefit the students.", is exactly on target and an example of good common sense. Good Job! I would add to your list:: reduce salaries for some high administrative positions, stop hiring consultants to do work that central administration should be able and required to perform, delete classes that are not required and do not prepare students for either college or the work force and institute Zero Based Budgeting where every department has to justify budget needs annually.

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