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June 18, 2024

Regional Office of Education Acting As Independent Contractor For Private Corporation –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On October 20, 2023

Will and Grundy-Kendall Counties, Ill. (ECWd) –

This is the first of a series of articles where we will discuss the Will and Grundy-Kendall County Regional Offices of Education, contracts, employees, IMRF, and alleged conflicts of interest.

BACKGROUND

It came to our attention at least as early as January of 2023, that the Will County Regional Office of Education (“ROE”) and Grundy-Kendall County ROE had entered into an Intergovernmental Agreement (“IGA”) in 1996 to establish a joint agency of the ROEs entitled the “Professional Development Alliance” or “PDA.” The 2024 proposed budget for this PDA was more than $2.345 million.

In July of 1996, the PDA passed a resolution to permit all PDA employees to participate in IMRF (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund) with a 1,000-hour annual work requirement.

Intergovernmental Agreements are common, typically serve a legitimate purpose, and are permitted under the constitution and state law.

In 2017, the PDA entered into a contract with Vista Learning. Vista Learning is a private not-for-profit corporation that owns “EvaluWise” software. EvaluWise software is sold or leased to school districts and ROEs.

What we know about the people at this point in our investigations:

  • Shawn Walsh was the elected Will County Regional Superintendent, who has since been voted out of office (in 2023) and now is employed by the Illinois State Board of Education as the Director, Department of District and School Leadership.
  • Shawn Walsh was the President of Vista Learning and may still be one of its board members.
  • Chris Mehochko is the elected Grundy-Kendall County Regional Superintendent.
  • Chris Mehochko is the President/Treasurer of Vista Learning.
  • Jay Linksman is the Executive Director of the Professional Development Alliance.
  • Jay Linksman is the Director of Vista Learning.
  • Lisa Caparelli-Ruff is the current elected Will County Regional Superintendent who took office in 2023.

Under the 2017 contract, the PDA (a government entity) became an independent contractor for Vista Learning (a private entity).

Shawn Walsh and Chris Mehochko voted to enter into the contract, or to continue it with amendments, while both of them were Regional Superintendents and Officers of Vista Learning, and Shawn Walsh and Jay Linksman, while Linksman was an employee of the PDA and an officer of Vista Learning, signed the contract.

In other words, the two Regional Superintendents contracted out their government offices to a private corporation under a “Service Agreement.”

Things that stood out to us from within the 2017 contract:

  • the PDA (government entity) is an independent contractor for Vista Learning (a private corporation),
  • a 60-day automatically renewing (“evergreen”) provision,
  • the PDA agreeing to provide government workers to work for Vista Learning under the agreement,
  • the PDA agreeing to provide technical and administrative services to Vista Learning,
  • the PDA agrees to provide administrative and payroll services to Vista Learning.
  • the PDA agreeing to provide supplies, licenses, and consulting services to Vista Learning,
  • the PDA agreeing to provide office space, along with utilities, maintenance, and insurance for the office space for Vista Learning,
  • the PDA was graciously granted permission from Vista Learning to perform other work as long as it does not interfere with the work performed for Vista Learning,
  • Nondisclosure agreements,
  • Destruction of records on demand of Vista Learning,
  • Grants intellectual property rights of all work to Vista Learning,
  • Assigns all work product rights of the government workers to Vista Learning,
  • Vista Learning will “reimburse” the PDA for the government worker’s time worked,
  • Only Vista Learning can immediately terminate the contract without the opportunity to cure, the PDA can terminate if there is no cure for any such notice of termination,

We believe this contract was terminated in September 2023, as its termination and employee resignations were listed on the PDA’s public meeting agenda for the September 2023 meeting.

After the termination of the 2017 contract between the PDA and Vista Learning, the Grundy-Kendall County Regional Superintendent entered into a new contract on October 1, 2023, to become an independent contractor for Vista Learning, and hired six employees to work for Vista Learning.

The Grundy-Kendall County Regional Superintendent and the Kendall County State’s Attorney were asked to provide comments but have not responded as of the date of this article.

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2 Comments
  • John Manspeaker
    Posted at 07:32h, 21 October Reply

    Well, if one is going to gorge oneself at the public trough, one may as well do it right. NDA? Record destruction on demand? IL politics at its finest.

  • Cynthia
    Posted at 07:52h, 21 October Reply

    Thank you so much for your excellent work. This Regional office of education is a black hole of taxpayer waste, overstepping of power, and otherwise vulnerable to corruption. They should be abolished. The McHenry County Board is in bed with the ROE, so they will not provide an outlet for honest taxpayer feedback to eliminate the role.

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