Evanston Now has obtained documents showing that School District 65 has paid more than $350,000 for round-the-clock bodyguards for Superintendent Devon Horton since last summer.
Horton mentioned the bodyguards during a Board of Education meeting on May 23, saying “I sit here with armed security 24 hours a day.”
However, no details were given about the cost and who is providing the service, so Evanston Now filed a Freedom of Information request with the district.
Documents received show that an existing contract with Skokie-based Phoenix Security (which has been providing unarmed security for the district for a number of years), was amended on July 1, 2021, for “Executive protection.”
The pay rate for that protection is $65 per hour, round the clock, 7 days a week, except on holidays, when it is time-and-a-half, or $97.50 per hour.
Based on invoices in the document packet, the first day for armed bodyguards for the superintendent was July 26, 2021. While the monthly total varies slightly based on whether it’s a 28, 30, or 31 day month, or if there are any holidays, the district’s monthly expense is usually in the $47,000-$48,000 range. It adds up to $356,395 since the amended contract was signed.
For unarmed security services, Phoenix is generally paid between $25 and $37.50 an hour per person, for security guards at District 65 school board meetings, elections when polling places are at schools, and general security at the administration building (although many of the administration building hours were apparently eliminated after armed security for the superintendent began).
Phoenix is also paid a flat $3,534 monthly rate for weekend and holiday building checks, to make sure no one has broken in, there is no vandalism or to discover potential maintenance emergencies.
Based on a required vendor expense report submitted to the state of Illinois, District 65 paid Phoenix Security $97,460 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. The modified contract with “Executive protection” took effect the next day.
District 65 officials first reported receiving racist and hateful mail and email during COVID in Fall 2020. About a dozen communications were sent to Horton, to board members, and to some other school administrators, after a news story went national about the potential return to in-person classes and the district’s effort to reduce the racial achievement gap.
Later, a homophobic note was discovered in the car of board member Biz Lindsay-Ryan.
The hate mail and homophobic note were all reported to police, but no one was ever arrested.
Then, in January 2021, just before the school board went into private session to discuss security, Horton said district “board members and administrators get attacked via email and postcards with death threats.”
Then-board president Anya Tanyavutti also referred to “veiled death threats.”
In July 2021, in a website posting, Horton said he received “two voice mail messages containing racial slurs and threats of bodily harm,” and also stated that his “car window was broken while parked in a District lot by what appeared to be an intentional act of vandalism.”
Again, police were notified, but no one has been caught.
That website posting was on July 10. The first day for round-the-clock bodyguards, based on the invoices, was July 26.
The amended contract with “Executive protection” runs through the end of this month, so the District 65 school board will have to decide whether to renew it, and, if so, under what terms.
It is also possible that the total cost since last summer is more than $356,395.
Documents provided under the Freedom of Information request by the district did not include monthly “Executive protection” invoices for either September 2021 or January 2022. There was also no such invoice for Nov. 1-7, 2021 and Aug. 16-31, 2021.
If bodyguard services for those periods actually were provided, that would add roughly another $130,000 to the security tab for the superintendent.
Evanston Now plans to ask the district if invoices for those periods were omitted, or, if there were no bodyguard services for those times. And, if there were no such services for certain times within the contract period, why not?