For only the second time in 20 years there is a contested school board race in Brookfield-LaGrange-LaGrange Park District 102. And unlike four years ago when there were four candidates for three seats, this year’s race is hotly contested complete campaign signs along Ogden Avenue and campaign brochures.

District 102 serves the southwest portion of Brookfield and includes the attendance area for Congress Park School.

While incumbent board member Pete Tiemeyer is running unopposed for a two-year term, there are seven candidates, including four incumbents, running for four seats on the board which have four-year terms.

No candidates from Brookfield are running. There are no members of the District 102 school board from Brookfield.

As the campaign signs along Ogden Avenue make clear, the campaign has turned into a battle between the four incumbents who are running as a team against two challengers who are also running as a team.

There is also one other candidate, Kay Mautz, a former teacher from LaGrange Park, who is running independently.

The four incumbents are May, who running for his third term on the school board, current board Vice President Joyce Easter Fitch, Dawn Aubert and Don Sands. They have campaign signs that feature their four names.

The other two candidates are challengers Peter Daniels and Matthew Scotty. Daniels, an attorney with the Chicago law firm of Walker, Wilcox, Matousek is making his second race for the District 102 school board. In 2009, he finished fourth in a four-person field.

Daniels and Scotty are endorsed by the District 102 Delegate Assembly, which is actively campaigning for them. The Delegate Assembly is a non partisan citizens’ caucus that screens school board candidates. Usually an endorsement from the assembly is tantamount to victory, and candidates not endorsed by the assembly don’t run.

But this year things are more complicated.

In addition to endorsing Daniels and Scotty, the Delegate Assembly originally also endorsed May and Fitch.

But May and Fitch decided to turn down the active support of the Delegate Assembly and instead pool resources and run as team with the other incumbents. In addition to campaign signs, the incumbents are distributing a glossy color brochure.

May explained why he turned down the active support of the Delegate Assembly.

“I didn’t reject it; I was glad to receive it,” May said.

But May said that he thought it would be too confusing if his name appeared on two sets of campaign signs featuring different candidates, since he and Fitch supported all the incumbents in the race.

“Joyce and I decided it would be too confusing if we were on their signs and on the other signs, so we declined their offer to have them work on our behalf,” May said.

Bill Kopp, the chairman-elect of the Delegate Assembly, said that his group wanted a blend of experience and fresh faces.

“We felt there was value in continuity and longevity, but we picked a couple of new people, too, because we thought there should be a fresh approach sometimes,” said Kopp.

Kopp said that the Delegate Assembly was looking for school board members who would ask tough questions.

At a candidate forum held at Park Junior High School in LaGrange last week there wasn’t a great deal to distinguish the candidates, although Daniels was clearly the most aggressive in pointing out the tough financial challenges the district faces.

District 102 is currently running an operating deficit of about $2.3 million this year, May said.

“In 2015 all of our funds will be gone,” Daniels said at the forum. “In 2013, the ed fund will be gone. I’m running because I offer a fresh perspective.”

May said that the district’s budget problems are largely the result of lackluster revenue growth as a result of the tax cap law.

“Our property tax growth is much lower than it used to be,” May said. “State aid is going down.”

May said that he would like to delay a tax referendum for a year or two until the economy recovers.

Daniels said that spending, not just a lack of revenue growth, is part of the problem.

“We are heading for insolvency in a very short period of time,” Daniels said. “It’s not a complete picture to say it’s only a revenue problem. We need to be careful of putting all of our eggs in the referendum basket.”

The school board is now in negotiations with the teachers union, exploring possible contract modifications and givebacks in its existing contract, which has two more years to run.

Daniels said that adjusting the current teachers contract would not solve the district’s financial problems.

“This can’t just fall on the teachers,” Daniels said. “First of all, they won’t nearly give us enough money to get out of the situation. We ought to look hard at all of our spending and prioritize. I’d be willing to examine everything right now.”

All the candidates agreed that the administration and the board must do a better job of communicating with district residents.

“Communication is something that we’ve historically struggled with in this district,” Aubert said.

Mautz, while admitting that she is not well-versed on the financial issues, said that she could help with communications.

“I would like to concentrate on communications between the board and the citizens of the area,” Mautz said.