Proviso High School board president secures jobs for friends, family
BY NICK MORONI AND BILL DWYER Sun-Times Media March 7, 2012 5:46PM
Emanuel "Chris" Welch speaks during a candidate forum hosted by the Proviso Township and River Forest Democratic Committies on Jan. 5 in Hillside. He's running in the Democratic primary for 7th District state rep. | ROB HART~SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Updated: April 10, 2012 11:27AM
With statements such as “Make it happen. I need her to be hired,” Emanuel “Chris” Welch has kept at least 19 close friends and relatives in jobs in Proviso High School District 209 where he is school board president.
Most noteworthy is Welch’s brother, Billy Welch, who makes $56,760 annually as a janitor at Proviso West.
And Welch’s best friend, Ron “R.C.” Anderson, who was best man at Welch’s wedding, makes $90,290 per year as a night foreman at Proviso Math & Science Academy.
The average District 209 teacher salary is $61,972, according to the 2011 Illinois State Board of Education’s yearly report cards.
Welch used his influence to help secure employment for at least 13 friends/political supporters and six relatives, according an investigation based on documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, lawsuits filed against Welch and District 209, text messages and interviews with six independent sources familiar with District 209 hiring practices.
Welch, who is running for state representative in the 7th District, refused to be interviewed. Instead, he emailed a response that said, “One thing I love about Proviso and the 7th District is that it is a very close and tight-knit community.
“I consider the majority of school district employees my friends. I consider them friends not only because I am school board president, but because they are on the front-lines everyday working to improve education in my community.”
None of employees in question would comment.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a conflict of interest,” said Dick Simpson, head of the department of politics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of a recent study on corruption in Chicago politics. “A good public servant would have rules to prevent” hiring friends and family members.
The District 209 school board did adopt an anti-nepotism policy in October 2010. But the 19 employees connected to Welch predated that policy.
Of the 19, 13 have made financial contributions to Welch’s campaign fund or engaged in political activity for him.
Welch has been romantically involved with two employees. After they broke up, their employment was terminated.
Nikita Johnson was Welch’s former fiancé and worked as assistant superintendent of finance and operations at District 209 until 2011. She was removed from her office after a controversial district-wide shakeup.
“The list of people you have, who are currently friends of (Welch), who have jobs, do provide some work for him politically and personally,” said Nikita Johnson.
Beyonca Johnson, who is not related, worked as assistant to the superintendent until she was fired in 2008. She said she broke up with Welch shortly before that. She is now running against him for state representative.
The district said she was terminated because she didn’t show up for work, but she denies that. In 2010, Beyonca Johnson sued the district for wrongful termination and took out an order of protection against Welch. Later, the suit was dropped and the order of protection was vacated.
The investigation also found that at least 10 current and former employees are connected to Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico.
When Danyell Hill, a friend of Serpico’s, was seeking a job, Welch told former Proviso West Principal Alexis Wallace, “Make it happen. I need her to be hired,” Wallace said. Welch needed Wallace’s signature on a document to move Hill along in the hiring process.
He got it. Hill is now a secretary at Proviso West and earns $36,842 per year.
Two other high-paid administrators — Angelo Calcagno and Fred Gianneschi — are friendly with Serpico and have contributed to Welch’s campaign. While they were hired before Welch arrived on the school board, both have seen promotions and upticks in pay in recent years.
Calcagno makes $106,290 as a building manager at Proviso West. He has campaigned for Welch and donated a combined $550 to Welch’s personal campaign committee and The New Students First Party (which Welch chairs) from 2009-2011, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Gianneschi works as building manager at Proviso East and earns $106,290 a year. He gave New Students First a $200 contribution last year. Gianneschi was hired before Serpico was elected mayor.
Serpico, whose campaign committee has contributed $11,150 in cash and donations to Welch’s political campaigns since 2005, and who has endorsed Welch for state representative, denies having any role in the school district’s hiring process.
In a statement issued through his spokesman, Serpico said: “I … know many of the fine men and women who teach our children and work in the school district, just as I am well acquainted with a number of residents in our village. As for employment matters, I have always left those decisions in the capable hands of the (District 209) administration.”