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Ex-official in line to get district job

October 3, 2018

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee school board’s vice president resigned from her position a few days ago in the hopes she would get a newly created, $55,000-per-year position with the school district.

Karen Johnston, who served on the board for about a dozen years, said Tuesday she turned in her letter of resignation to the board secretary. The board will vote in a special session today on whether to hire Johnston as the school district’s transportation director.

About six or seven people applied for the position, with a hiring committee interviewing some of them, Superintendent Genevra Walters said.

For the last eight years, Johnston has swapped the board presidency every two years with member Barbara Wells, the current president.

Walters said she initially was concerned with a board member applying for a district position. But she said the district was advised that it could hire a board member as long as the member resigns before being hired.

“Did (Johnston) want to be on the board or did she want to be in the particular position? That was a decision she had to make,” Walters said.

Walters described the transportation director’s position as mid level, so the superintendent isn’t directly involved in the hiring.

“There is not a 100 percent guarantee that the board will approve this,” Walters said.

Johnston is a personal banker at Manteno’s Municipal Bank. In an interview, she said she had not applied for a position with the district before.

She described the transportation director as serving as a liaison.

“It’s kind of what I do now. I’m in customer service. I problem-solve all day. I make decisions that make our customers happy,” Johnston said.

Maryam Judar, executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center, said the hiring of a just-resigned board member raises questions about the fairness of the hiring process.

“She has a position of power on the board given her longevity and alternating presidency,” Judar said. “If she is the one being hired and there are six or seven other candidates, it would put the onus on public body to justify their decision making.”

According to district documents, a portion of the transportation director’s salary and benefits will be reimbursed through the district’s annual transportation claim.

School board members are not paid in Illinois.

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