By Bob Skolnik
Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 Superintendent Carol Baker does not want school board candidates in the district's schools during this election season.
Last week, she apparently told principals to tell PTA leaders that school board candidates are not to appear before parent groups at the schools.
As a result, the Edison School PTA has had to change the location of a school board candidate forum scheduled for March 20. Now the forum will be held at the American Legion Hall, 6431 W. Pershing Road in Stickney from 6 to 8 p.m., instead of Edison School.
Baker, in her first year as superintendent, said that she is trying to keep politics out the schools.
"It's been my goal since I've been hired to try and push back and keep the politics out of our walls as much as I can," Baker said. "I know that there are some politically charged elements in this community, so let's keep it outside of where kids are."
Baker, herself a former school board member at High School District 230, said that she did not believe that candidate forums should be held at schools, even in the evenings.
"That does not belong within our schools," Baker said.
Baker took action after finding out that candidate Shannon Johnson had visited with teachers and parents at Lincoln School and George Washington Middle School and after school board candidate Marge Hubacek appeared at a pep rally event at Edison School to kick off PARCC testing on March 7.
Johnson and Hubacek are running together on a slate with incumbent Sharon Anderson against a slate consisting of incumbents Katie Broderick and Kendra Pierce and newcomer Olivia Quintero.
All of the candidates are welcome to appear at the March 20 forum, said Shawna Olsowka, the president of the Edison School PTA and organizer of the candidate forum. However, only Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson have agreed to show, for now.
Broderick, Pierce and Quintero, who are running under the banner Parents for Student Excellence, a political committee aligned with Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, have been reluctant to let their positions be known publicly.
Reached in February by phone, Pierce would not give the newspaper email addresses for herself or her running mates and said she would not answer questions posed to candidates by the newspaper.
The Landmark sent the questionnaires to the Parents for Student Excellence candidates via the U.S. Mail. None has responded and none participated in an endorsement interview for District 103 candidates held at the Landmark's offices last month.
Pierce complained about the newspaper's coverage of her when candidates filed in December. The story published at that time pointed out that Pierce is the daughter-in-law of a village of Lyons employee and quoted her as saying she was not part of any slate of candidates. Pierce's name and photo have since appeared on campaign materials with Broderick's and Quintero's.
Baker denied that her actions were aimed at Johnson and Hubacek. "I wouldn't allow it for anybody," Baker said.
Hubacek, a Stickney resident, said she often attends Edison School events and has worked with the Edison School PTA for about 10 years. She is also friendly with Edison School Principal Jan Bernard, whom she has known for about 30 years.
Hubacek said she did no campaigning at the Edison event, which was also attended by officials of the village of Stickney.
"I wasn't there as a candidate or anything; I was there for their sendoff," Hubacek said. "I didn't have any fliers with me. I didn't have anything with me. I talked to the teachers and people that I know and then I was on my merry way."
Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson had been invited to appear before the Home School PTA on March 9, but then were told they couldn't appear because of Baker's edict.
"We were not allowed to go to a meeting at Home School," Hubacek said.
Baker on March 2 sent an email to all district principals prohibiting candidate forums in the schools and said separately that she doesn't believe candidates should appear at PTA meetings.
"If you're holding a meeting like a PTA meeting where parents are coming together to talk about events for kids and then you invite a politician to come in and out, then you're forcing the parents to participate," Baker said. "That's really inappropriate."
In the past PTAs have hosted candidate meet and greets in District 103, said Olsowka.
"It's been something that PTAs have always taken part in," Olsowka said.
Baker said she has no problems with PTAs hosting candidate forums or meet-and-greet sessions so long as it is not done on school property.
"If a PTA wants to do that outside of the school that's completely within their rights," Baker said. "We have to be careful that if you're really doing something like that that you're being completely neutral and that's not the current climate."
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.