School Board Nepotism Common in Suburban Chicago

A Chicago Tribune investigation into hiring practices for school boards across the Chicago region has found insufficient oversight and poor disclosure to be resulting in the hiring of board members’ friends and relatives in a practice costing the districts millions of dollars.

“It’s immoral. You know it’s wrong,” said new board member Anthony Arens, who campaigned against family hiring in the south Cook district. “There is so much nepotism and cronyism, my stomach is in knots.”

Although some states ban board from hiring family, Illinois has no such rules. The Tribune investigation of 32 districts found nearly 100 board relatives on school payrolls. There are nearly 300 districts and the investigation only looked at employees with the same surname as a board member.

“You can’t get a job unless you know a board member,” a Bellwood School District 88 employee complained during a public board meeting in January.

At the same meeting, the west Cook board voted to give a $16,618 retroactive pay raise to board member Marilyn Thurman’s nephew Charles McGee, a maintenance worker who wasn’t even working — he was on paid leave. He had been arrested on charges of stealing and using a district teacher’s debit card in November, court records show.

The spotlight now shining down on widespread hiring of relatives by school board members in Illinois is uncomfortable for Emmanuel Welch, president of Proviso High School District board, who is running for state representative and has 19 close friends or relatives hired for school jobs. Although claiming to have no role in the hiring process, Welch has admitted voting on the hires after being advised by lawyers that he didn’t have to abstain

West Cook’s Proviso Township High School District 209 has paid about $942,000 over nine years to four relatives of board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch, including a brother with a criminal past who earns $56,760 as a night custodian.

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