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The true history of PMSA

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Bill Dwyer View Drop Down
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    Posted: 16/September/2013 at 1:35pm

I'll be posting here regularly on the history of the Proviso Math and Science Academy, on  Chris Welch and the support of his political career by Anthony Calderone and Ron Serpico and others, and other topics.

The material facts are gleaned from newspaper accounts, officials documents and in a few later cases, my own reporting. 

Don't take my version on faith. Check the record and draw your own conclusions. You'll find the record paints a picture of gross interference by politicians in the public process of creating the PMSA. One that burdened taxpayers with a hugely inflated bill that's yet to be paid, and consequences that continue to be suffered.

Welch reverses D209 board decision to build PMSA in Melrose Park

Minutes after being sworn as a new member of the District 209 school board in November 2001, Welch led a new 4-3 majority that voided a prior board decision to buy a 9 acre parcel in Melrose Park for a proposed magnet school.

Eighteen months later, Welch was leading the charge for a $40 million bond issue to pay for the purchase and renovation of a vacant medical office building at Roosevelt Road and First Avenue.

That $40 million is now part of approximately $80 million in long-term debt currently saddling the school district, whose finances are under state board of education control.

In June 2001, the District 209 administration released poll results from McKeon & Associates showing 61 percent of the 600 respondents deemed a magnet school “a necessary step” for D209. And 80 percent believed it would enrich the learning experience throughout the district.

In July 2001, Welch stated that while the magnet school concept was a good idea, building a separate school building “is not a wise decision at this time.”

“Do the majority of the voters in Proviso Township support building a magnet school?” he asked in published letters to the editor. Welch noted that Melrose Park voters had rejected a third high school by a 2-1 margin in Nov. 2000, and Maywood voters said the same in April 2001, by the same margin.

“We also know that only 28 percent of the respondents in Mike Manzo’s poll say that a magnet school is very necessary,” Welch said, ignoring the additional 61 percent who stated they believed a magnet school was “necessary.”

In other words, 89 percent, almost nine out of ten people, thought a magnet school was necessary.

That’s vintage Chris Welch deceit- cherry picking facts to convey a reality not in evidence.

In a 2011 interview with me, Manzo said that Welch opposed the magnet school being located on Fifth Avenue in Melrose Park- on golf course land adjacent to the Triton College and just west of the old Kiddie Land amusement park- because Melrose Park mayor Ron Serpico, a Welch supporter, didn’t want it possibly interfering with plans for a Costco store that was eventually built there. 

Manzo said the price tag for both land and a newly constructed high school would have been “about $18 million.” He said those figures were far more certain than those for the building that was eventually purchased.

“With a new building, the costs are pretty predictable. There’s few surprises,” Manzo said. “With renovation of an old building, there are all sorts of surprises.” Expensive surprises, he added.

The first week of Nov. 2001, Manzo’s D209 board signed an agreement to purchase the nine-acre parcel for $2.8 million.

But on Monday, Nov. 12, 2001, Welch and two new allies sworn in with him immediately joined with incumbent Teresa Kelly- who was elected the new board president- to void the purchase agreement

The motion to rescind the purchase agreement was voted on despite being agendized as “new business,” which Manzo angrily pointed out could not legally be acted upon at the same meeting it was introduced.

That is, in fact, Illinois law. But Welch wasn't about to let the law stop him.

Welch brushed off the objection saying, “You cannot take away the power of the majority.”

And with that illegal D209 board action, any possible complication for Ron Serpico rgarding his cherished Costco site disappeared. 

No to $18 million Melrose Park PMSA, yes to a $50 million Forest Park PMSA

Welch had taken over as board president by October 2003, when the D209 board passed a resolution approving the $40 million bond issue.

Opponents mounted a referendum campaign and gathered more than 7,500 signatures to place the issue before the voters. But Welch, who just 18 month before had asked “Do the majority of the voters in Proviso Township support building a magnet school?” fought the public referendum, arguing that it would cause a delay in closing on the purchase of the medical building and effectively kill the purchase contract, despite the building having attracted no serious buyer interest for several years.

In Dec. 2003, the D209 electoral board, chaired by Welch, threw out 3,000 of the 7,500 signatures. Some signers, Welch said, were not registered voters, other signatures were ruled forgeries, and several hundred were rejected due to “invalid notary signatures.”

That left bond issue opponents 2,000 votes short of the number needed to place the issue on the ballot. 

Welch accused the leaders of the referendum drive of “sour grapes,” and contended Manzo and others “would like to be back in office and have their friends and cronies build this school.”

In reality, it would be Welch’s friends and associates who chose, purchased and renovated the building at First Avenue and Roosevelt Road. Along the way there were, as Manzo had predicted, numerous unexpected additional costs, which added up to millions of additional public dollars spent.

Anthony Bruno, a politically connected disbarred lawyer received a “finder’s fee” for spotting the six-story building at the busy intersection of Roosevelt Road and First Avenue that had been vacant for years.

Welch also immediately brought in Melrose Park police chief Vito Scavo’s private security firm.  

Both Bruno and Scavo were subsequently convicted on federal charges and imprisoned, Bruno on tax fraud, Scavo on extortion and other crimes.

In September 2005, the new Proviso Math and Science Academy, at least $10 million over its initial $40 million budget, opened its doors to 126 freshman students.



Edited by Bill Dwyer - 16/September/2013 at 2:01pm
Facts are a bitch and the truth most hurts the liars
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Bill Dwyer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16/September/2013 at 1:50pm
I inadvertently left this off the above article. 

2001: Supposed Manzo ally flips sides

Depositions filed under oath in a 2002 federal lawsuit shed light on the behind the scenes machinations by Melrose Park mayor Ron Serpico and Chris Welch to defeat a magnet school in Melrose Park.

Serpico publicly opposed the sale of eight acres of land near Fifth and North Avenues to D209, which was then being arranged by political rival Mike Manzo.

In an Oct. 2001 Pioneer Press news article, Serpico said, “Whatever we have to do on the village level, we’re not going to let this happen. We’re not going to let them rob the village of Melrose Park of a valuable piece of property.”

Welch and Serpico also said their opposition was also due, in part, to the school being in the flight path of planes landing at O’Hare Airport.

Court records show Serpico and Welch had already been at diligently at work behind the scenes for months, trying to swing a Manzo supporter over to their side.

That Manzo candidate, Dan Adams, was appointed to two village boards by Serpico. He publicly switched sides after being sworn in that November and voted with Welch’s board majority

In sworn depositions taken in Sept. 2003, as part of a federal lawsuit, lawsuit, Welch, Serpico and Adams were questioned under oath.

That lawsuit accused Serpico and members the D209 board of conspiring to fire Manzo’s cousin and D209 employee Gino Trombetta, for being a political opponent of Serpico and Welch.

During that trial in 2004, Manzo accused Serpico and Welch of pressuring Adams by threatening to fire his disabled father, a Melrose Park employee. Serpico, Welch and Adams deny that.

A jury found Serpico liable for $1 million in punitive damages and the D209 board liable for $140,000 in Trombetta’s firing. (Welch got the D209 board to pay Serpico’s legal liability despite Serpico being neither an employee or elected official of D209.)

In his court deposition, Adams testified that he met with Welch and/or Serpico on at least five occasions between the April, 2001 election and prior to his being seated on the D209 board in November. Adams apparently could recall little of what was discussed during those five meetings.

Serpico testified he was first introduced to Adams through Triton College official Doug Olson, Adams’ life-long friend and a long-time friend of Serpico’s.

Adams testified that Olson picked him up and drove him to the meeting at Serpico’s law offices, several days after the election. Adams was then invited to a June, 2001 dinner meeting with Serpico at a Rosemont restaurant, along with Welch, incumbent board member Teresa Kelly and another D209 board member.

Asked “Was it your hope that that meeting would further an effort to get Mr. Adams to align himself on the D209 board with Ms. Kelly and Mr. Welch,” Serpico answered “Yes, sir.” 

Adams acknowledged the meeting being about Welch and Kelly’s plans for changes related to attendance and security, addressing test scores and the proposed magnet school” and little else.

“It was just to get to know them,” Adams testified.

Adams also testified he meet with Serpico and lawyers Mike Castaldo and Burt Odelson at a Bloomingdale restaurant later that summer, but engaged in nothing but small talk for two full hours.

“Nothing relating to matters about D209 business?,” Adams was asked.

“Not that I can recall,” he answered. 

Adams was also asked about an impromptu meeting when Welch came to his home in October, which followed a meeting at Welch’s Hillside home with Kelly.

“What was discussed on this occasion sir? What did you say to him? What did he say to you?”

Adams answered, “Couldn’t tell you. I don’t know.”

Adams’ first vote as a D209 board member was to force Manzo out as D209 board president and install Kelly as president and Welch as vice president. He then voted to fire then-D209 lawyer Stanley Kusper and replace him with Burt Odelson’s firm, Odelson and Sterk.

The board then illegally voted to nullify the agreement made by the former Manzo-led D209 board  to purchase the Melrose Park property. 

Facts are a bitch and the truth most hurts the liars
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