Resignation highlights continued disorder in D86

Before the April election, we hoped the addition of some new faces on the Hinsdale High School District 86 Board would create a more cohesive governing body with less dysfunction.

How naive.

The recent resignation of board member Debbie Levinthal highlights continuing problems on the school board.

The argument could be made that Levinthal hasn’t been happy since Cat Greenspon became board president immediately after being newly elected. Levinthal clearly had hoped to be president herself and believed someone with experience should be elected to the office. We agree. The majority of the board didn’t. But we don’t believe Levinthal resigned out of hurt feelings.

We were encouraged that the board finally agreed to form the academic committee Levinthal had pushed for the past two years, of which she was serving as chair. Based on the report at the last meeting, significant work already has taken place to create a framework for curriculum decisions with which the board and parents should be more comfortable.

Levinthal cites that work and her work as chair of the finance committee as highlights of her board service.

Levinthal doesn’t identify a specific reason in her resignation letter. But she does include one troubling statement.

“My personal guiding principles, though, have led me to conclude that my moral and ethical compasses are too divergent from, and are clearly irreconcilable with, those of the board majority,” she wrote. “I am no longer willing to tolerate what, in my opinion, has become the resultant toxic exercise in futility and frustration.”

This sounds like more than a disagreement over whether meeting minutes should be amended or new courses should be added to the social studies department. And we are concerned to hear of “irreconcilable differences” among board members. They are responsible, as entrusted representatives of district residents, to find a way to work together. We are disappointed Levinthal gave up.

We’re also disappointed in the individual who, as board president, should be doing her best to make sure board members can work together. Instead Greenspon approaches the job as a CEO rather than as facilitator.

The timing of Levinthal’s resignation is particularly unfortunate as it comes in the midst of the search for a new superintendent. The board already has a thorny reputation, as acknowledged by the superintendent search firm during its interview. And while School Exec Connect has tried to pitch this as an enticing challenge for the next leader, we can’t imagine a board member’s resignation looks very good on the district’s resume.

From what we can see, Yonke and fellow Interim Superintendent Ray Lechner are doing a great job so far. They have said their role is to lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship between the board and the administration moving forward. We hope board members cooperate — and that they hire a new superintendent who is strong enough to stand up to them when the situation warrants.

Unfortunately, with Levinthal gone and her replacement likely to line up philosophically with the board majority, we fear that will not be the case. We hope to be wrong again.