Call it therapist, referee or just playground monitor, but the mere thought of having me stepping in to that role one more time should terrify Genevans to the point they start to flee our fair city in droves.
But when you consider what’s going on between Geneva School District 304 and former principal , I think the term marriage counselor would be most appropriate. Let’s start at the beginning.
In July of 2008, Dr. Pennington was hired to take the helm of Heartland Elementary School. Though unable to ferret out any specific details, word on the street was she “wasn’t well received.”
So, in 2009, the district moved her to the main office, where she assumed the role of coordinator of special projects and resource procurement, a position supported by federal stimulus funds and only guaranteed for a year.
Again, I’m not privy to any particulars, but when the School Board chose not renew Pennington’s 2010 contract, our dysfunctional disaster officially commenced. Please get your scorecards ready!
The first volley came in the form of a District 304 lawsuit which appeared to be a preemptive strike. Despite multiple objections to her requests to record meetings, the district asserts Pennington did just that.
Though there are very specific exemptions, in Illinois, it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all parties involved.
The asks for an injunction to prevent Pennington from doing it again, to prohibit her from disclosing the contents of those discussions, and to force her to destroy the recordings she already made. District 304 is also seeking compensatory and punitive damages exceeding $100,000.
The reason I called this a “preemptive strike” is because I assumed the only way they could’ve known about the recordings is if Pennington had already used them as leverage in a potential lawsuit of her own.
Again, I want to be clear, this is nothing more than and educated guess on my part.
But lo and behold! Fast forward to April and Pennington, indeed, launched a legal counterstrike in the form of a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission. That document asserts school administrators engaged in a two-year pattern of age and gender discrimination and generally did their best to make her life miserable.
So my preemptive strike theory looks pretty good. And you all say I’m one banana short of a bunch.
Pennington specifically claims the district paid less-experienced male elementary school principals more, she was assigned to an ignominious office rife with ant and mouse traps, and District 304 was so intent on her failure they refused to file her grant applications. Though she mentions no specific amount, the former principal wants lost wages, damages, legal fees and the retraction of any negative evaluations.
In turn, District 304 has asked the judge to dismiss the complaint based on technical grounds.
If you managed to get all that, then you’re doing far better than I am—and I just wrote it! Fortunately for us, the specifics don’t really matter. What does matter is we have a group of adults who have chosen to act just like the second-graders who are supposed to be in their care. Actually, I think the second-graders could’ve done better.
When the only people getting anything out of these kind of self-inflicted wounds are attorneys, it drives me nuts.
Sadly, if you believe Dr. Pennington, as the situation was obviously deteriorating, an early attempt at a compromise fell through. According to her complaint, the district offered her 40 grand to go away.
Now, I generally frown on paying people off because it sets a poor precedent for future negotiations. But, as my sainted mother used to say, “Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.”
Dr. Pennington: You should’ve taken the money and run. Like so many marriages, this one just didn’t work out. Let it go! I understand you feel that you’re the aggrieved party, but you can play the blame game till you’re blue in the face and the only person you’ll ever convince is you.
This mess can’t possibly help your future employment prospects nor will it do much for your frame of mind. Come back to the district in the spirit of a settlement and then move on.
Superintendent Mutchler and the School Board: At a time when property-tax-fatigued Genevans are calling for less spending, your willing participation in these conflagrations does nothing to dispel the notion you don’t quite comprehend what the term “fiscal responsibility” really means.
Educational tax dollars going to lawyers? It doesn’t pass the laugh test. A petulant tit-for-tat lawsuit can’t possibly make anyone look good, and I don’t care how unreasonable you think she is, take a deep breath and find a way out of this. We've see the District 304 “we’re a cut above” and bunker mentalities long enough to know there's some truth to both sides of this issue.
I’ll even go one better. For my normal and nominal six-pack-of-Bass-Ale fee, I’m willing to offer my mediation skills to end this. And I’m serious. Give me 30 minutes with Dr. Mutchler, the School Board president and Dr. Pennington and I promise I’ll resolve this situation to everyone’s satisfaction.
It’s pretty sad when I’m offering to be the only adult in the room.