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updated: 11/15/2017 6:20 AM

Editorial: If school chief leaves early, public deserves to know why

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  • Superintendent Floyd Williams may be on his way out of Des Plaines Elementary School District 62.

      Superintendent Floyd Williams may be on his way out of Des Plaines Elementary School District 62.
    Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It appears likely that by Wednesday night, a separation agreement will have been reached between Des Plaines Elementary District 62 and its superintendent of 15 months, Floyd Williams.

If they do, we hope that agreement comes without a nondisclosure clause. And in fact, let us be clear that we go beyond hope. We call on the board to refuse to agree to anything that includes a nondisclosure clause.

To allow one would be a disservice to the public, to the educational community and to other potential employers. All have a right to know why Williams' short tenure with the district is ending.

Unfortunately, if it goes the way most separation agreements go, both sides will agree to keep their mouths shut. The school district will start the process of finding another leader, and Williams will presumably start looking for another job. And everyone will say it's time to move forward.

That approach is unsavory, at least. At worst, it is downright underhanded.

Nondisclosure agreements conveniently sweep potential problems out the door and into someone else's unsuspecting lap. The Catholic Church famously shuffled pedophile priests to different parishes, where the same offenses were often revisited on a new group of faithful.

Less egregious, and less well known, is how often school districts and other public governing bodies quietly move unsatisfactory leaders out the door. "Let's get rid of the problem, or buy ourselves out of the problem, with no lawsuits and as little negative publicity to ourselves as possible," seems to be the most important consideration in decisions like this.

We don't yet know the specifics in Williams' case, and that is a problem, both for citizens of the district and for other potential school districts that, as District 62 did, may consider him for a top leadership post.

Would Williams have been hired by District 62 in the first place if the school board knew the full extent of the sexual harassment allegations against him in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he resigned before he could be fired? The District 62 board has not said what it knew and what it didn't know at the time Williams was hired. Maybe District 62 had all the pertinent information and gave Williams a chance anyway. After all, going head to head he bested 44 other superintendent candidates.

People can redeem themselves and should be allowed to whenever possible. Whether Williams should have a future in education leadership should be up to him and however he manages his professional and personal life from this point on.

But current residents of District 62 deserve to know why the school board lost faith in him, and, if the complaints against him are serious -- as they appear to be -- future potential employers need to be prepared so that whether they hire him or not, they know his history.

When the public trust is at stake, when we're talking about someone in a position of high leadership and especially when children are potentially involved, there's a clear standard of transparency that frequently is not met by government agencies.

District 62 should change the pattern Wednesday night and not only refuse to approve a nondisclosure agreement but explain to taxpayers why this superintendent they rated so highly and should have been watching closely is leaving before the end of his expensive contract.

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