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School District Spending Spurs Resignation, Reimbursements

Lincolnwood School District 74 board member Richard Ruderman resigned during an "emergency" meeting in the basement of Lincoln Hall last Saturday.

Charges for limousine rides, first-class airfare upgrades and fine dining on school district credit cards have been reimbursed by several board members and administrators in Lincolnwood. One board member has resigned over the issue.

"We didn't handle the internal controls well," superintendent Mark Klaisner told Skokie Patch. "I will tell you no one has done anything malicious."

As Lincolnwood School District 74 addressses credit card purchases made by its employees, school officials reimbursed the district more than $6,000 for expenses -- some dating back to two years. The payments were made last week on Jan. 25.

The move came after Lincolnwood residents began investigating credit card transactions within the district. Freedom of Information Act documents were filed and residents soon uncovered charges that ranged from unused airfare to high-end dining.

Among the items reimbursed were several first-class airfare upgrades for both board members and their spouses, limousine rides, dining charges and unused airline tickets.

Lincolnwood residents Joel Perzov and Mark Collens drafted an open letter, detailing those expenses, and emailed it to friends and neighbors. As the issue snowballed, during a recent school board meeting.

Superintendent Klaisner said that if it weren't for the group's efforts, board members and administrators would have never made the reimbursements.

"I think the simple answer to that is 'no,'" Klaisner said. "If it wasn't brought to [our] attention, I don't think anyone would have paid them. It's unfortunate."

In the midst of the accusations, several changes have been voluntarily made on the board level. Richard Ruderman resigned during an "emergency" meeting in the basement of Lincoln Hall last Saturday. Ruderman - who wasn't accused by residents of any wrongdoing - cited ethical reasons for his resignation during the meeting.

Lincolnwood resident Perzov, who requested numerous documents from the school district through the Freedom of Information Act, was also present during the emergency meeting on Jan. 28.

"It was a special meeting called a few days before hand," Perzov said. "Trustees were there. The crowd was, I would say, disappointed and upset with the board's decision to renew [Klaisner's contract] prior to the evaluation.

"[Board member] Ruderman quit that day," he added. "He said it was 'impossible to continue' and tendered his resignation right then and there before walking out of the meeting."

(Watch Ruderman's resignation on YouTube by clicking here.)

Meanwhile, board president David Koder will be stepping down from his current position, but will still remain part of the school board, Klaisner said.  

Koder's move comes just days after the board renewed superintendent Klaisner's contract despite some community members' pleas to not bring him back for the 2012 school year. Klaisner was originally slated to be up for review in June 2012, but will remain in his position until March of 2013.

"There were some very angry people at that meeting," Klaisner said about Saturday's school board meeting. "In their mind, there are questions about my leadership - but if there are questions about that, then why would they renew my contract?"

The school board voted 4-3 in favor of renewing Klaisner's contract.

Other questionable charges included Klaisner's 2010 Cadillac. The superintendent originally told the community that his vehicle was less than his predecessor's. While true for his first car - which he received in 2007 - the same couldn't be said about his current vehicle that cost the district almost $7,000 more than his previous lease.

The district also didn't seek a non-profit tax exemption for the lease, and paid the dealership $3,922 in taxes instead of $15, according to documents obtained via FOIA.

Klaisner told Skokie Patch that he was "completely unaware" of any of the details regarding his lease agreement. He added that he never even walked in the showroom or signed any documents, adding that the entire transaction was made by school district business manager Kevin Nohelty.

Skokie Patch reached out to Nohelty for comment, but he did not return calls.

Looking forward, superintendent Klaisner said he's aware that the school district's reputation is tarnished.

"In the course of February, there will be significant changes in the board," he said. "We should have handled things differently. Some of the community has lost trust in the leadership ... We've taken steps to address those issues. Now, we just have to get the smoke out."

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kj February 03, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Klaisner said about Saturday's school board meeting. "In their mind, there are questions about my leadership - but if there are questions about that, then why would they renew my contract?" It was a 3-4 vote. Sounds like at least 3 people have some serious questions. "I think the simple answer to that is 'no,'" Klaisner said. "If it wasn't brought to [our] attention, I don't think anyone would have paid them. It's unfortunate." It's more than unfortunate, it's inept. The business manager's job is to oversee the finances of the district. Couple this with a nearly $4K oversight on taxes for an auto and what else can it be other than a lack of ability?
eleesheva February 05, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Mr. Klaisner is hiding behind the board, while milking the community. Why is the board still allowing the spenting to continue? In these economic times conserving is wise. I think we need a new board and a new superintendent to run district 74.
Don't tread on me February 08, 2012 at 05:25 AM
The "Gang of Four" (Koder, Davros, Frankel & Fourkas) have been caught with their "hands in the cookie jar," our school treasury! Fourkas even has the audacity to try & blame the tax paying citizens for wasting the districts money with FOIA requests. The filing of FOIA requests is the direct result of the Gang of Four's attempt to construct a new school building without seeking tax payers approval, which would have been illegal. The taxpayers have a right to know, and WOW, have we found out more than we were even looking for. Fourkas has lost her right to represent the Lincolnwood tax payers. Her attitude when being caught has been nothing but ugly, scornful & contemptuous towards the taxpayers. She needs to step down now! Darlene, don't let the door hit you in the backside going out! signed "Don't tread on me"
Don't tread on me February 10, 2012 at 03:54 AM
The school board's election of new officers 2/2/12 is nothing but an attempt to deflect the taxpayers & voters attention from their unethical actions that have been exposed. The "Gang of Four" is doing their version of 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Last week's meeting was a great sleight of hand, when Fourkas & Davros worked to have their previous months embarrassing attempt, to cheat the school treasury out of $10,000. apiece for their phone use, dropped from the agenda. Also, Fourkas's planned "trip of a lifetime," to send 15 board members, superintendents, teachers & even parents to California, with taxpayers picking up the tab, also was dropped from the agenda without so much as a comment. The Gang of Four would have absconded with $20,000. plus who knows how much more last week for the cost of the trip, if it had not been for the FOIA requests and the public watching and questioning their actions. We the voters can not trust this group of board members with $25 million or more of referendum building funds. We must vote against the 3/20/12 School Referendum, and get a new board before we consider voting in favor of a referendum in District #74. I hope everyone stays informed, votes 'NO' and gets their friends & neighbors to also vote 'NO,' and put pressure to get the Gang of Four and the Superintendents to resign sooner rather than later. Lincolnwood deserves better!
W F February 10, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I so agree, these people need to go.It's as if they are in bed togther.They all side with each other with out looking at the big picture. Klaissner and Nohelty need to be fired.

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