West Carroll school superintendent under fire

Julie Katzenberger on leave through Wednesday, when union will discuss its discontent with school board

Julie Katzenberger, superintendent for West Carroll Community Unit District 314, had to fill teaching vacancies of more than 10% of her staff over the summer, most due to retirements. She said there was a shortage of available candidates.

SAVANNA – West Carroll Superintendent Julie Katzenberger is on administrative leave through Wednesday, the day the teachers union and the school board are set to discuss staff complaints that led to a vote of no confidence in her.

West Carroll School District 314, which is dealing with declining enrollment and the high cost of building repairs, for more than four years has been discussing the ramifications of closing the high school in Savanna and sending those students to the more modern middle school campus in Mount Carroll.

A series of town halls on the subject have been held so far this year, the most recent one happening Thursday night.

Although it’s a contentious subject for some district residents, it is not the crux of staff discontent with Katzenberger, union officials said in a statement Thursday.

On that day, Jessica Love, the second high school principal this school year, resigned, and about half of the high school teachers failed to show up for work, prompting some school board members to monitor classrooms.

That action also led to a closed session at the board’s special informational meeting Thursday, in which members agreed to put Katzenberger on leave until they talk with union reps Wednesday, the board said in a statement to West Carroll staff Friday.

The teachers were back on the job Friday.

According to the statement from West Carroll Education Association Co-Presidents Kris Yingling and Jeff Holley:

“The West Carroll school board has been aware of the issues with Community Unit School District 314 Superintendent Julie Katzenberger for weeks. The West Carroll Education Association took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Katzenberger nearly two weeks ago. That vote passed with an overwhelming majority.”

The statement included a bulleted list of staff complaints. According to the statement, Katzenberger is not keeping parents in the loop about student issues and regularly rejects input from staff when it comes to addressing students and school issues.

The West Carroll Education Association took a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Katzenberger nearly two weeks ago. That vote passed with an overwhelming majority.”

—  Statement from WCEA Presidents Kris Yingling and Jeff Holley

It also cites the loss of professional staff, support staff and building administrators due to “micromanaging and constant conflict with Katzenberger,” which shows the district is struggling to attract and retain top-quality educators.

In addition, teachers fear retaliation from Katzenberger for bringing up concerns at board meetings or to board members, the statement said.

Calls Friday to the district office and the high school seeking comment were not returned.

Katzenberger, 51, a 1989 graduate of then-Mount Carroll High School, has been superintendent since July 2018; before that, she was the West Carroll Middle School principal for 10 years.

She told the board earlier this year that she plans to retire at the end of the 2024-25 school year.

Love was the eighth administrator to lead West Carroll High School in some capacity since the start of the school year, the union leaders said.

They said that on Wednesday night, the union again alerted the school board, saying the situation with Katzenberger “is an emergency and at a crisis level” and asked for immediate action.

The West Carroll school district was formed in 2005 with the consolidation of districts in Mount Carroll, Savanna and Thomson. The district office is at 642 S. East St. in Mount Carroll; it can be reached at 815-244-2005, and the website is wc314.org.

Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.