Board has questions on the next steps of equity work

Whether Hinsdale High School District 86 ultimately will hire a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant and how much it might spend to do so are unclear following the Jan. 13 school board meeting.

The firm recommended by the Culture and Equity in Leadership Team, Valbrun Consulting, withdrew from consideration (see accompanying story).

After reading a statement Valda Valbrun sent to the district, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss said the CELT committee will meet in February to discuss the next steps.

Several audience members expressed their objections to hiring any diversity consultant.

Ann Huber said she was speaking on behalf of the 40 percent of Oak Brook residents who are older than 65.

“These people are shocked, shocked that this board is considering spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that has nothing to do with academics or sports or college prep or technical skills or special ed kids,” she said. “It has nothing to do with that. They are outraged that you are going to waste their previous funds on social engineering. I would urge you on their behalf to not consider another consultant.”

Molly Gibson pointed to the hiring of Patrice Payne, the district’s full-time director of instructional equity, at $115,000 a year as one reason she opposed hiring any equity consulting firm. Another is that the ideology is divisive and pits students against one another.

“We can do more together,” she added.

Board members also had questions about the next steps and the scope and cost of the work.

Debbie Levinthal asked whether the five board members who do not sit on CELT are able to observe the meetings. Only the two board members on the committee can attend or the meetings would have to be noticed as public meetings, Prentiss said.

Board member Peggy James said she hoped any initiative brought forward would focus on inclusivity for students in all areas, including race, economic standing, religious beliefs and physical abilities.

“I believe any D86 equity work should unite our students and our community and not create division,” she said. “My hope is the CELT committee, as they look to their next step, supports all our students and is fiscally responsible along the way.”

Board member Cynthia Hanson, who sits on CELT, said the process to find a consultant was solid and transparent and emphasized the importance of the work. She also questioned whether there is a general understanding of what is involved in CRT — culturally responsive teaching — and the equity work the district wants to do.

“We don’t! No!” several audience members shouted in response.

Although some speakers had said Valbrun would be paid $174,000 for six months’ worth of work, the scope and fee of the firm’s work had yet to be decided, Prentiss said.

“It was not ever about six months and a certain dollar amount,” she said.

The meeting agenda did offer a list of three responsibilities the consultant would have:

• conducting an equity analysis of the district based on the district’s equity statement and strategic plan

• providing in-person training for staff and members of CELT and Building Equity Action Teams

• facilitating CELT meetings

Board member Jeff Waters asked about the anticipated timeline for the diversity/equity/inclusion work and said Payne indicated there is a five-year plan.

“There is no plan. The scope of work had not been created,” Prentiss said.

Questions were eventually cut off by board President Terri Walker. “Thank you,” she said. “Your comments have been noted.”

The Hinsdalean requested a copy of the request for proposal (RFP) to which Valbrun had responded, and was told the district does not release documents associated with open RFPs. They are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act until a contract is awarded or final selection made.