Friday, January 19, 2007

School Board to residents: Tax dollars, yes. Questions, not so much

At the last Winnetka School Board meeting [December 19, 2006], an unannounced attorney, G. Robb Cooper, whose firm was retained by the Winnetka Board of Education, sat in on the School Board meeting and two weeks later sent a letter to a resident discussing the questions the resident asked at the meeting and stated, “I shall advise any offended Board member to seek personal legal counsel should you choose to continue to repeat false information and insinuations regarding this matter or any other matter.”

Talk about actions that may chill dissent. Next time you want to ask questions of your Winnetka School Board, you may want to bring along your lawyer. Of course, if you live in Winnetka you will be paying for your lawyer and the lawyer retained by the Winnetka School Board. The Winnetka School Board's lawyer advised the Winnetka resident attending the meeting: "We [the 22 attorney Wheaton based law firm of Ottosen, Britz, et al] represent the Board of Education for Winnetka School District 36 in a variety of matters including responses to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests."

How much time did the attorney from the Wheaton based law firm spend at the Winnetka School Board meeting? Was he billing for the time? If so, what was the purpose of the lawyer from the Wheaton based law firm attending the meeting? How much did his law firm earn in legal fees from District 36 last year?

Did the Board make the decision to send the above referenced letter
to the Winnetka resident? Or, was that a commnand decision by Supt. van der Bogert? Do the Board Members and/or Superintendent van der Bogert have a conflict of interest in any of the matters the Wheaton law firm is handling for the District? If so, has the Board's Wheaton law firm advised the Winnetka Board members or Winnetka Schools' Superintendent to retain their own lawyers?

You might want to attend the next Winnetka School Board meeting [Jan. 30] and ask those and other questions of the Board. But, generally, the Winnetka School Board Members do not respond to questions from residents at their meetings [See here]. If you do attend and ask questions of your school board, do you need a lawyer at your side? And, will you get a letter from Mr. Cooper with his assessment of whether or not you are repeating "false information."

And, if you are in Naperville, Lake Forest, Arlington Heights, Flossmoor, Darien, Bartlett, Schaumburg, or a village or city in another part of the state or the country etc., does your local public school board have lawyers sitting in on board meetings to assess the accuracy of what you are saying, and does the lawyer then fire off letters to you similar to the letter received by the Winnetka resident? Will I get a letter from the Winnetka Board's lawyer for writing this? What next, will your School Board re-write the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

Welcome to new wave thinking in K-12 public education--"We welcome your tax dollars, but not so much your questions. Moreover, the responses you get to your questions may not come from us, but from our lawyers, in writing and after the meeting. That having been said, feel free to ask away, if you don't mind waiting four hours to ask your questions at the end of the school board meeting."
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at