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New Grayslake Dist. 46 finance chief has been on leave from current job
By Bob Susnjara | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/22/2010 12:02 AM

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Grayslake Elementary District 46 officials have learned the man hired for their top finance job has been on paid administrative leave for an unknown reason for 14 months in the Wisconsin school system where he's employed.

That fact was not disclosed by Edward Towle during the hiring process or by officials at Brown Deer School District, who provided a glowing recommendation of him for the job, District 46 officials told the Daily Herald this week.

With District 46 leaders now aware of Towle's status, he'll be a topic of discussion at a school board meeting Wednesday. Board President Mary Garcia said a soon-to-be-posted meeting agenda should indicate what action will be pursued.

Towle, 53, is scheduled to start as the new chief school business official July 1, with a $98,000 annual base salary. He did not return messages for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.

District 46 Superintendent Ellen Correll said neither Towle nor his Brown Deer boss mentioned his murky employment situation during the hiring process. Brown Deer Superintendent Deb Kerr even wrote a letter of recommendation for Towle.

Correll said she learned about Towle being off from his duties as Brown Deer's director of business and financial services after his hiring at a District 46 school board meeting he attended April 7.

"My biggest concern is not hearing it from him," Correll said.

Towle has been paid a $107,449 base salary at Brown Deer, a suburban Milwaukee school district. He has been on leave at full salary since February 2009. He joined Brown Deer in July 2007, meaning he's been on paid leave for 14 of the 33 months he's been there.

Kerr confirmed Towle has been off the job with pay, but cited confidentiality for personnel matters in declining to state the reasons. Kerr said she did not hire Towle.

Correll said Kerr provided "an extremely positive" letter of recommendation on behalf of Towle to District 46. Towle, whose resignation was accepted at Brown Deer on April 12, listed Kerr as a reference on his resume.

Kerr said no one in Grayslake asked if Towle was on paid leave in a telephone reference check, so the topic wasn't discussed. She declined to say why she backed Towle in the letter to District 46, again citing employee confidentiality.

In a letter Towle sent to District 46, he said the Grayslake job would allow him to be near his children who are pursuing graduate degrees in the Chicago area.

"As one looks into my background, a common theme of both my most current evaluations and letters of recommendation are my integrity, ethics and honesty," Towle wrote in the Feb. 15 cover letter to District 46 obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Correll said she's talked to Towle since she became aware of the lengthy paid leave, but didn't receive a meaningful explanation from him. She said Kerr hasn't given her any information since then, either.

"There's probably a lot of things we'll never know," Correll said. "Is there an agreement?"

The details of the case are similar to one Grayslake High School District 127 experienced in December when a Daily Herald investigation uncovered the questionable background of one of its new hires.

Eric Vance resigned as Grayslake North High School's principal after it was revealed he was the focus of an internal sexual harassment probe at his previous job in 2009. He was shifted into an administration office job toward the end of school year and didn't finish as Plainfield North High School's principal.

Vance was praised in a letter of recommendation a top Plainfield Unit District 202 administrator sent on his behalf to District 127 before he was hired as Grayslake North's principal for 2009-10.

District 127 Superintendent Catherine Finger said neither Plainfield officials nor Vance informed her about the sexual harassment investigation or its results. She said the information would have mattered during a hiring process that began with 50 candidates.

Too many job-seekers in the United States are puffing resumes or omitting information about their work history, said David Callahan, author of "The Cheating Culture" and a senior fellow at the Demos think tank in New York.

In the case of Towle, Callahan said, he should have been upfront with District 46 about his 14-month paid leave and taken his chances. He also said it was unethical for the Brown Deer superintendent to praise Towle in the letter of recommendation.

As for District 46, Correll said some lessons have been learned from the Towle hiring. She said officials will do more to run job candidates' names through online search engines and pose additional standard interview questions.

"One of the questions I'm always going to ask is, 'Are you physically working and have you ever been on paid leave?'" she said.

Towle's experience made him the best choice from an initial pool of 40 applicants for the District 46 job, Correll said. Towle, whose Brown Deer contract runs through June 30, claimed on his resume his school finance job history dates to 1993.

Brad Goldstein is leaving as District 46's business office chief for a similar job at Hawthorn Elementary District 73 in Vernon Hills that starts July 1.