Split forces exit of board president

Ben Clark

The Daily Northwestern

When the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 school board meetsnext Monday, it will be under the guidance of a new president –Hecky Powell.

Powell, who previously served as the board’s vice president,assumed the position after Mary Rita Luecke unexpectedly resignedat the end of the board’s meeting on Sept. 13. Her resignationfollowed a split school board decision to extend SuperintendentHardy Ray Murphy’s contract by three years.

Luecke said that she resigned because of a philosophical dividethat she believes splits the board. This divide, she said, wasapparent in the board’s 4-3 decision to extend Murphy’s contract bythree years, effectively providing him with a five-year-longcontract. She said she had no objections to a one-yearextension.

This is the second year in a row that Luecke has found herselfin the minority. Last year the board extended Murphy’s contract byone year also by a 4-3 vote.

“The primary responsibility of the board is to hire asuperintendent who runs and manages the district,” Luecke said.”Because I was in the minority on these issues, someone else shouldbe president.”

Luecke said she plans to remain on the board and will seekre-election in April.

She said her decision was both personal and political — shehopes that voters remember the division in April.

Powell, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue, 1902 Green Bay Rd., said hisstint as board president will be short because he is not runningfor re-election.

“I don’t see anything changing,” Powell said. “Like any board,we have people with different opinions. We’re different ondifferent issues.”

Powell occasionally has been a controversial figure on theboard, especially in May 2003 when he once referred to biracialchildren as “mutts.” Powell, whose own children are biracial, evenadded a “mutt special” to his restaurant’s menu as a joke.

Powell said the board members, who may disagree on certainissues, do respect each other and work together well.

“I don’t think there was a problem,” he said. “If you take alook at anything, a majority of the time we work together. You have5-2 votes, 6-1 votes.”

But Luecke said she believed that the board was divided over themost important decision.

“As a board, I don’t think we’ve articulated a clear vision forthose next five years (that Murphy will serve as Superintendent),”Luecke said.

She said the contract extension removes the superintendent fromthe scrutiny of a shorter contract and that she wasn’t comfortablegranting such a long extension to somebody that she described as”controversial.”

Board member Julie Chernoff voted in the minority with Lueckeand agreed with her reasoning.

“I think there’s a philosophical division on the board,”Chernoff said. “We have a difference in opinion and it’s one of ourfundamental duties.”

Chernoff said she was uncomfortable with granting such a longextension to the Superintendent because she did not want to tie thehands of future school boards.

“We only elect the president of the United States for fouryears,” she said.

Aside from this difference, Chernoff said that the board tendsto agree.

“There are some issues that we have unanimity on,” she said. “Wemost often reach unanimity.”

Reach Ben Clark at [email protected]