District 218 Board extends contract for food service company

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Consolidated School District 218 Board of Education has extended the food service contract for a fourth year to the company currently supplying Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Shepard High School in Palos Heights, and Eisenhower in Blue Island.

When the issue was addressed at the Feb. 16 board meeting, Vice President Randy Heuser pointed out that this will be the last extension given to Chartwells School Dining Services, which has been providing food service to the district since 2012.

“They’re in the fourth year of a four-year contract. There is no sense in changing that now, is there?” he wondered.

The contract must be put up for competitive bids in 2017 because, as district Business Manager Joe Daley pointed out, this school year is the fourth and final time the current contract can be extended. Next year, the food service contract will have to be put up for competitive bid, Daley said.

Technically, federal law only allows school districts to offer one-year contracts to companies for food service. These may be extended one year at a time for up to four years.

The vote was 4-0 in favor of the extension, because board members Larry Harris, Robert Stokas and Carol Kats were not at the meeting.

Federal law also states that the food service company is entitled to an increase for the upcoming year, but that increase must be based on the Consumer Price Index as of December 2015. Daley said that means the company will receive an increase of 2.6 percent for the 2016-17 academic year.

In other business, the school board also voted unanimously to spend about $83,000 on new uniforms for the band program at Eisenhower High School.

According to district spokesman Robert McParland, this purchase is similar to those done for the band program at Shepard High School in 2014, and in 2015 for the one at Richards.

The Bandman's Company of Dallas, Texas, submitted the lower of two bids —$83,284.15 — to provide 135 band uniforms, five drum major uniforms and 25 guard uniforms. Three other companies sought information from the district, but did not submit bids.

McAuley senior is named National Merit Finalist

  • Written by By Kelly White

Maeve O’Rourke, a senior at Mother McAuley High School, has been named a finalist in the 2016 National Merit Scholarship Program.

O’Rourke, 18, was one of 16,000 students nationwide to be named a National Merit Semifinalist. Semifinalists were chosen based on PSAT scores. O’Rourke was selected as a finalist after completing an application, writing an essay and taking the SAT. These students were the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

“I am incredibly grateful to have been selected as a National Merit Finalist,” said O’Rourke, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. “It’s an exciting time as I get ready for college, and now this recognition is a great reminder that hard work pays off.”

“With the strong educational foundation built as a graduate of St. John Fisher, Maeve flourished in the challenging academic environment at Mother McAuley,” said Eileen Boyce, the Mother McAuley principal.

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. The program is a nationwide competition for recognition and awards conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. In each annual program, approximately 50,000 academically high school students are honored, but only 15,000 of them are named finalists.

O’Rourke has remained active at McAuley, participating in in cross-country, Math Macs and Student Ambassadors. She is also a leader of the National Honor Society, a member of the National English Honor Society, Catherine McAuley Honors Scholars, Junior Classical League and is involved in the St. John Fisher/Most Holy Redeemer Youth Ministry Program.

“Aside from elective courses, I have taken honors and AP classes as a way to challenge myself while taking advantage of the opportunities McAuley offers,” O’Rourke said.

She said attending McAuley has contributed to her academic success.

“I went through several pro-con lists before deciding on a high school, and I could not be happier with my decision,” O’Rourke said. “Mother McAuley has shaped me into an open-minded go-getter. Studying in an all-girls environment has given me a huge confidence boost.”

Her educational inspiration comes from Malala Yousafzai-Pakistani, the activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate who survived being shot in the head for her beliefs.

“She inspires me to use my education as a vehicle for change,” O’Rourke said. “Her bravery reminds me that I have a responsibility to make the most of my education.”

O’Rourke has not yet decided on a college, but is planning to study English.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Queen of Peace wins regional despite Shimko's banishment

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo by Jeff Vorva

Queen of Peace coach George Shimko watches his team beat King Thursday night for the Class 3A regional title from a stage area in the gym. Shimko was suspended for the postseason for not having enough players at a JV game in January.


Figuratively speaking, Queen of Peace girls basketball coach George Shimko is in the Cook County lockup for getting a parking ticket.

The Illinois High School Association bounced him out of the Class 3A postseason tournament for a rules violation that has some scratching their heads.

The Pride, a team with nine players and no seniors on the varsity roster, played a junior varsity game against Guerin at Concordia University on Jan 17. The IHSA said that you need at least 10 players suited up for a JV game or it counts on your varsity record.

So it counted on the Pride’s varsity record and the team went one game over the limit and Shimko, who is also the school’s athletic director, was suspended from coaching in the postseason.

Shimko appealed to the IHSA officials and said it was a mistake and he didn’t know the rule.

That didn’t matter.

The coach pleaded that they were not cheating or trying to gain any competitive edge for seeding because they didn’t count the game in their record.

That didn’t matter either.

When Shimko did find an IHSA rule that would allow the waving of a punishment due to an error?

“They told me they were being lenient with me,” Shimko said. “They said the whole team could have been removed from the postseason.’’

Geez. That would have been really harsh.

This suspension is harsh, too.

If a coach is going to get a postseason ban, make it for something good, like illegally bringing in a 7-footer from another country or bringing in some 30-point-a-game stud and doctoring up her grades. Something a little more juicy than playing a JV game with nine athletes.

And think of this—if the seeds hold true, the Pride will play four postseason games. Putting it in a bigger picture, that’s two more games that NFL player Ray Rice was originally sentenced to for assaulting his girlfriend.

To me, a one-game suspension or even a warning would have been fair for Shimko. But the IHSA saw it differently and Shimko was banned from coaching last week’s regional victories over Perspectives-Calumet and King. He was allowed to be in the gym and, to the IHSA’s credit, he was allowed to take photos with his team after winning the regional title Thursday night and help cut down the nets. So there was some joy to be had for the third-year coach.

Losing a coach can be a jolt for some teams but the Pride was able to prosper. The keys have been handed over to assistant coach Mike Landstrom, a 25-year-old with a unique basketball background.

The 6-foot-8 Oak Lawn native said he played just one season – his senior year – at Marist High School and tried to walk on at St. Xavier University. He earned some scholarship money for hoops his sophomore and junior seasons. He started coaching youth teams when he was in high school and now has been thrust into the pressure cooker of postseason basketball with a team that earned the No. 2 team in the De La Salle Sectional.

“Honestly, I’m looking at this like it’s a great opportunity,” Landstrom said. “Our whole (assistant) coaching staff is rather young. It’s an opportunity for us to step up our game.

“We had the foundation set from the beginning. Now it’s just a matter of keeping it going. It’s been a little more challenging, but I like it. It’s a good time.’’

Landstrom admits that being the man all the players’ eyes are on during a game was something he had to get used to.

“The first game, I was not used to it and when we were coming into the timeouts, I kept looking at (fellow assistant coach Alex Shimko) and he looked at me and we were like ‘who is supposed to bring in the huddle?’ ’’ Landstrom said.

So the Pride moved on to the sectional semifinals with their coach watching near the stage area of his gym instead of his customary spot on the bench. This week is going to be a little tougher with a potential battle with Bogan looming Thursday in the sectional final.

Shimko will be somewhere in the De La Salle gym cheering his team on.

And while he does not relish the idea of being away from his team during games, he probably wouldn’t mind being stuck in the stands and watching Landstrom coach March 4 and 5 at the state tournament in Normal.



Oak Lawn dismisses firefighter for alleged phone sex calls

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

Following an investigation into allegations of misused funds and phone sex while on duty, Oak Lawn Fire Chief George Sheets decided Monday to terminate Robert Lanz for “violations of multiple departmental rules and regulations” according to a press release issued by the village.

Village Manager Larry Deetjen said last month that Sheets undertook the investigation after a financial review by an outside firm called in by the Oak Lawn Firefighters Union “substantiated reports that there was a misuse of large sums of money” by an individual over the past year.

The fact that Lanz, a former head of Oak Lawn Professional Firefighters Local 3405, was being investigated for possibly calling phone-sex hotlines while on duty came to light at a Dec. 17 hearing in Bridgeview Courthouse on a petition for an emergency restraining order that Lanz filed.

Lanz had sought the restraining order, which a judge denied, after Sheets asked him to produce his credit card and cellphone records in order to get to the bottom of the discrepancies. Sheets then made his decision after interviewing Lanz on Jan. 7.

“The Oak Lawn firehouses are not places for reckless animal house behavior,” said Sheets.

“While we are on duty, firefighters are expected to devote their full attention to the needs of the community. Mr. Lanz’s conduct fell far short of that expectation and he is no longer an Oak Lawn employee,” said Sheets in the statement issued Monday.

Sheets had originally planned to interrogate Lanz on Dec. 18 but Lanz’s attorney, Patrick Walsh, argued at the hearing that Lanz was given less than two weeks to schedule the interview date, and his union representation would not have been available.

The fire chief also said Monday that there was evidence that Lanz repeatedly lied during the investigation.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury expressed support for Sheets’ decision to fire Lanz.

“Consideration for resident safety made this difficult decision a simple one,” she said. “When our loved ones are most vulnerable, we must have confidence that those attending to their emergency needs are focused on the task at hand.”

“Residents must respect and trust their first responders, and the conduct exhibited by Mr. Lanz greatly diminishes that trust. It also diminishes the reputation of those who do maintain high standards of integrity and ethical conduct,” said the mayor.

Lanz and Union Local 3405 have filed a grievance challenging the termination, which village officials have said they will fight if it goes to arbitration.

“We hope that the Union says in a loud, clear voice, ‘we will not accept this type of behavior in the firehouse.’ But if the union does proceed to arbitration, the village is prepared to fully defend Chief Sheets’ decision,” said Village Manager Larry Deetjen in a statement.

Citing “a long pattern of reckless animal house behavior,” village officials pointed out that in 2010, the village paid $1.8 million to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a female member of the fire department after semen was found on her bedding.

Deetjen said that a security firm was hired at that time, and found three computers installed in firehouses without the authorization of the village IT department, and inappropriate material was found on them.

“The current administration is committed to eradicating this type of behavior from the workplace,” said Deetjen.



Evergreen Park, Chicago files lawsuit against CSX

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The village of Evergreen Park and the city of Chicago have taken legal action against CSX Transportation, Inc., seeking sanctions against the railroad company for repeatedly blocking grade crossings – the intersections of railway lines and roads -- along the Elsdon railroad line in violation of federally imposed requirements.

“The little guys need a voice. I guess it is time for us to speak up,” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton on Monday, during a meeting with Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), and state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), as well as a couple of 19th Ward residents who live between the heavily used railroad crossings on the Elsdon Line at 103rd and 111th Streets on Sacramento Avenue in the city.

Five railroad crossing pass through Evergreen Park too, including two close by, at 94th and Kedzie and 95th and Sacramento, where trains can tie up traffic on two major roads at the same time.

The group met to discuss the issue with attorneys from Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell in Washington, D.C., who have been enlisted to file a formal petition with the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that reviews proposed railroad mergers and resolves railroad rate and service disputes, in order to remedy the serious harmful effects created by CSX’s operations along the Elsdon Line.

The petition filed Monday seeks a number of potential remedies, including the imposition of sanctions, including fines; continued monitoring; and additional auditing.

All the politicians and the residents agreed that CSX is not living up to the commitments it made when it was allowed to take over the Elsdon Line in 2013.

Burke pointed out that CSX promised in 2013 that trains would pass through the area without stopping and blocking intersections, but that has not been the case.

The attorneys involved, Allison Fultz and Chuck Spitulnik, thanked the Evergreen Park police for documenting the number of blockages, sometimes100 a year, that have caused problems in the village.

“Typically, there are a lot of anecdotal evidence and vague complaints. For a community to be very specific, and detailed, is a rare opportunity for us,” said Fultz.

The residents, John Jacob and Colette Wagner, have also filmed instances where trains block intersections for so long that children on their way to school have climbed over and under the stopped trains, risking serious injury if they started moving.

Another major concern raised is the possibility of lives being put in danger if ambulances are stopped by trains on 95th Street, heading to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park or Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

Jacob also pointed to asthma and other health issues caused by residents breathing diesel fumes for extended periods of time as well.

For their part, CSX officials have stated that they have improved the infrastructure on the line since taking over.

Burke and Cunningham said they tried to address the issue at the state level, but courts found that municipalities could not fine railroads so the decision was made to take it to the federal level. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), who wasn’t at the meeting, was also credited with trying to find a solution in Springfield.

“Ever since CSX secured the right to operate on this track, residents have told us that trains along the Elsdon Line routinely cause lengthy delays that not only inconvenience residents but threaten public safety by blocking access to area hospitals,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement.

“For the past three years, we have tried to work cooperatively with CSX to address the many public safety and quality of life issues their takeover of the Elsdon line created for our community,” said O’Shea. “Unfortunately, we have very little to show for that effort and are now forced to take more serious action.”

"For too long, CSX has ignored their own promises to operate a safe and efficient rail line in our community," said Cunningham, describing their statements as “demonstrably false.”

A legal review of CSX’s quarterly reports indicates that the railroad has admitted that it has not fully complied with the 2013 requirements as a condition of its receiving approval to operate on this line. In fact, the railroad has cut only one train over the past three years.

Precedent exists for the Board to impose significant penalties on CSX. For instance, in a 2007 case against Canadian National Railroad in connection with its operations in the Chicago area, STB fined the railroad $250,000 for violating obligations similar to those binding CSX.

“We have fired the opening salvo,” said Fultz, regarding the complaint filed with the Surface Transportation Board on Monday.

CSX now has 21 days to respond.

But Fultz said that it will likely be months before there is any resolution.

“If CSX would just comply with what they agreed to in 2013, we would be in great shape,” she said.

But the officials said that if there is no accommodation made, fines amounting to millions of dollars could be assessed.