East Aurora paying for School Board member’s home Internet – Chicago Tribune
East Aurora School District 131 has been paying for one board member’s home Internet service for the past four years.
The district has spent more than $2,800 for Richard Leonard’s home Internet service since he joined the board in fall 2011, and has budgeted another $1,200 for the coming school year, according to district documents.
District officials said the Internet service allows Leonard to access board packets, which include documents and records relevant to upcoming School Board meetings. Before the packets were moved online, the district delivered hundreds of printed pages to members before each meeting.
Leonard said he doesn’t “really” use his home Internet for anything other than work related to the School Board and for checking School Board emails on his district-provided account.
But at least one board member questioned the practice, and the deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform said it sounded “odd” and “irregular.”
“If those public funds are being used solely for the public benefit, that’s fine,” Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Deputy Director Sarah Brune said. “But this sounds like it would be really hard to prove that.”
East Aurora spokesman Matt Hanley said the district considers on a case-by-case basis providing Internet or other services to allow board members to access the packets.
He said the board packets provide crucial and sometimes confidential information that board members can access through the online BoardBook service before meetings. Public versions of the packet are also available online through the same service.
Board members got paper packets of 350 to sometimes 500 pages before they were placed online in 2009, he said.
“It’s important for our board members, who are not paid for their work, to have access to board packets so they’re well informed at every meeting,” Hanley said.
Leonard said he had spotty, dial-up Internet service before joining the School Board. The only more reliable service available in his subdivision was Comcast, which was expensive considering he rarely used his computer, he said.
“I don’t want anyone to say that you have to be wealthy to sit on that School Board,” he said.
Among other documents, board members review hundreds of pages of bills every two weeks before approving them, and the process is easier online, he said.
“If they’re going to put everything on the Internet, they have to pay for it,” he said.
Board member Ken Darby said he has been concerned about the Internet payments since before he was elected to the board in April. He said he didn’t see why a board member should have the service provided to them for a voluntary position.
“Every item that we don’t need to pay something for, we shouldn’t be,” he said.
Anthony Ficarelli, a Chicago area attorney who represents school districts and other local governments, said he has heard of the practice of providing Internet service before, and it is acceptable as long as it doesn’t violate district policies and the Internet is used for district business.
But Brune, with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for government transparency and accountability, said the payments sounded odd. If the district is paying for a board member’s home Internet access, she said, she would advocate for transparency so people are aware of the practice and can dig into it.
“That sounds irregular,” she said. “And when it comes to public spending, it has to be for public use.”
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