Karen Johnston Conflict of Interest

Former Kankakee school board member Karen Johnston resigned from her post last year. Shortly thereafter, she was hired as the district's transportation director.

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee school board is considering tightening its policy on conflicts of interest involving board members.

This is in response to its decision last year to hire longtime member Karen Johnston for the newly created position of transportation director. She resigned a few days before she was hired.

The board unanimously voted for Johnston, but some members at the time expressed concern it might appear as if her appointment might create a perception that board members have a leg up in the hiring process.

On Monday, the board looked at a proposed policy in which members would be barred from taking district jobs within a year after leaving the board.

“We employed a former board member to be the transportation director. There seemed to be a consensus among the board that had there been a policy such as this, (Johnston’s hiring) would not have happened,” member Chris Bohlen said.

Board member Darrell Williams questioned the proposed policy change.

“If you are off the board, you are off the board,” he said. “If you apply while you are on the board, that is a problem.”

Bohlen said the proposed policy would prevent a board member from resigning and then getting a school district job soon afterward.

“I understand your argument,” Bohlen told Williams, “but there needs to be a reasonable amount of time before a board member becomes employed by the district.”

He added such a policy would be a cost to being a board member, which is an unpaid position.

Williams then suggested the timeline be adjusted to possibly three or six months, which he could support.

The board voted 4-3 against the policy change. In the majority were Williams, Barbara Wells, Mary Archie and Jess Gathing. Bohlen, Angela Shea and Deb Johnston backed the proposal.

Officials said the proposal would go back to the drawing board at a school board committee meeting next month.

According to the school district, the transportation director’s position was advertised Sept. 14, emailed to all district employees. Five people, including Karen Johnston, applied. They were given the opportunity for interviews; one declined.

Karen Johnston served about a dozen years on the board, and spent time as its vice president. Her current job pays $55,000 per year.

Officials said the job was created so the district could have a point person for transportation concerns and as a liaison with the bus company.

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