In the past two years, the only students still attending classes on the Lincoln-Way North High School campus have been dogs.
The 90-acre campus boasts a building with about 100 classrooms, a track and stadium, auditoriums, a swimming pool and more. However, it was closed in fall 2016 by Lincoln-Way High School District 210 officials as part of a plan to avoid a financial meltdown.
However, in a nearby “climate-controlled” and “spacious” facility, the Super Dog Obedience Training program, also known as Superdog, is holding classes. Puppies and adult dogs can receive training classes and take a “Canine Good Citizen” test.
The program came under the scrutiny of federal prosecutors in 2016.
In a federal indictment last year, prosecutors alleged former Superintendent Lawrence Wyllie fraudulently used at least $50,000 in school district funds to build and operate Superdog, which provided “no benefit to the four high schools” of Lincoln-Way.
Wyllie was also charged with several crimes, including misappropriating school funds for his own benefit and concealing the true financial condition of District 210 to district board members and the public. His case is scheduled for a four-week jury trial starting Nov. 26.
Wyllie’s attorney, Dan Webb, failed to return a call and a message Friday. Attempts to reach Wyllie were unsuccessful. Frankfort Square Park District Executive Director Jim Randall failed to respond to several questions regarding Superdog.
Although Superdog supposedly began in May 2014, there are indications that it was operating long before then.
Former District 210 board President Kevin Molloy claimed that he did not know of Superdog’s existence until March 2015, although he signed an intergovernmental agreement between the school and park districts in 2012 that mentioned Superdog on Page 2.
Molloy also claimed that he was not aware of Superdog in the agreement because he did not read the whole agreement. He said board members usually sign the agreement every year after receiving a brief summary from school officials.
“You have people you trust, they give you a brief synopsis, you sign it,” Molloy said.
The Morris branch of the Illinois Education Association sought records on Superdog in 2013. Former district business official Ronald Sawin said in a 2013 response that the program was run through the Frankfort Square Park District.
Sawin also said Lincoln-Way spent $44,770 to build the Superdog training facility.
The defunct Lincoln-Way Area Taxpayers Unite group alleged in a
2015 lawsuit against the district board that Wyllie ordered the creation of
the program for his own dogs and had his personal dog trainers, Sandra Heimberg and Tanya Mikolajczyk,
The lawsuit alleged Wyllie had the program created “at taxpayer expense and provided free training to Wyllie and his dogs.”
In a Feb. 19, 2014, letter to Mikolajczyk, Randall said the facility would be available for her private training and “will always be available for Dr. Wyllie’s use.”
The Superdog website once listed Wyllie’s dog, Duke, as part of their Superstar Dog Athletes from 2000 to 2015.
The Dog Show Scores website, which tracks American Kennel Club data, lists Wyllie as having two dogs, a female Australian shepherd named Bay Creek Duke Duchess of York and a male one named Faithwalk Duchess Duke of York.
In 2013, both dogs attended several classes at South Side All Breed Dog Training Club in Chicago and Stone City Kennel Club in New Lenox, according to the website.
Between May 2014 and June, Superdog generated about $198,113 in revenue, paid $113,799 in instructor expense and remitted about $50,795 to District, 210 according to the Frankfort Square Park District.
Before 2014, Sawin indicated that Lincoln-Way did not charge rent for Superdog.
The average number of participants since 2014 has been about 92, according to the park district’s data.
Federal prosecutors began investigating the Superdog program and Wyllie himself in 2016. Both the Frankfort Square Park District and District 210 were subpoenaed for records on the program and its employees.
Wyllie was once considered an “absolute genius in school financing” by former Board President Ron Kokal but federal prosecutors allege he caused Lincoln-Way to assume
$7 million in additional debt and misused at least $80,000 in district funds for his own personal benefit.
Wyllie retired as superintendent in 2013 after a 24-year reign at District 210. He has a government pension of more than $321,000 a year, which he could lose if convicted.