Voters in District 96 have a nice problem on their hands. With four school board seats up for reelection, voters have six solid candidates, including four incumbents, to choose from. All six are qualified for the job, and so it’s a tough decision for us to pick who we think are the top of that group.
One of the decisions was made moot for us, since School Board President Cheryl Berdelle was not interviewed by the Landmark editorial board. We simply do not endorse candidates who we don’t interview, and will not endorse Berdelle as a result of that rule.
Of the five remaining candidates, we feel the four best qualified for the board are incumbents Nancy Jensen and Richard Volpe, along with newcomers Ben Sells and John Allegretti.
With her background in computer technology and as chair of the Education Committee and as a member of the Buildings Committee, Jensen has a solid grasp of the issues. She would like to see more attention focused on Hauser Junior High, especially with respect to electives and making the transition from fifth to sixth grade easier for students.
Volpe was not endorsed by the District 96 Caucus, but we feel there’s no reason to keep Volpe from being reelected to the board for another term. Volpe sees his role as a watchdog with respect to financial issues in the district, and his experience as a lawyer dealing with contract disputes and arbitration will be of value when the district negotiates a new contract with teachers in two years.
Volpe, like Jensen, would also like to see an approach at Hauser Junior High that would allow sixth-graders to more easily adapt to their new surroundings.
We preferred Sells and Allegretti over incumbent Nancy Bade, not because of any inadequacies on Bade’s part, but because the two of them bring attributes to the board we feel will be indispensable.
With property tax appeals a constant threat to the solvency of school districts, including District 96, Allegretti’s experience as a hearing officer at the Cook County Property Tax Appeals Board will give the board a better insight into the problem, and he’s handled every aspect of the property assessment process.
In the aftermath of the flexible school boundary changes in District 96, he also wants the district to make sure it is using all of the facilities equitably before shuttling kids off to schools out of their home area. Allegretti also sees the need for the district to strike a balance between paying teachers fairly and being fiscally responsible, and he feels he has the ability to help both sides strike that common ground.
Sells’ multifaceted background in law, psychology, philosophy and business will bring a distinctive voice to the board, and has promised to focus especially on making sure every dollar spent will benefit students.
His temperament will likely be a asset during contract negotiations, which were more than a little contentious four years ago. He will balance a respect for the union with a requirement that the union’s interest should also be increasing performance on behalf of children in the district.
What we like most of all about Sells is his philosophy of education?”that it’s more than about standardized test scores. It’s about a more holistic approach to education that rings truer and truer in a world that simply wants to spit out test results as proof our children are educated.
Luckily, in Riverside, the children have many eyes watching out for them.