Just four of 10 candidates for the school board in Brookfield-Lyons School District 103 showed up at a forum on March 8 intended to allow those running to voice their views on issues important to the district.
All three incumbents running for re-election – David DeLeshe, Joanne Schaeffer and Deanna Viti Huxhold – joined in at the event in the gymnasium at George Washington Middle School in Lyons, as did newcomer John Kiser, who is running for a two-year term on the board.
But six other candidates, including five aligned with Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, were no-shows, leaving the 40 or so residents in attendance wondering who they were. Among those not present were Getty-backed Al Ermitage, Mitch Milenkovic, James “Dan” Dever, Lilia Rivera-Ortiz and Doug Lane. Lyons resident Daniel Rank, who is running for one of the four open four-year terms, was also absent.
“I think it’s going to hurt them in the end,” said Jackie Perez, of Lyons, who has two children in the district, one at Robinson School and one at Lincoln School. “I’ve never seen them. I’ve seen a lot of these [candidates who showed for the forum] around town. It would have been interesting to meet them.”
Lyons resident and former school board member Mary Kalfas also wondered about the other candidates’ whereabouts.
“Where are the other candidates? What are they afraid of?” Kalfas asked. “I don’t know why they don’t come to any board meetings, and all of a sudden they become candidates and then they’re not here tonight.”
Meanwhile, some candidates who attended the forum expressed disappointment that voters didn’t get the opportunity to hear from all of the candidates running for office.
“It’s unfortunate that everybody couldn’t be here,” said DeLeshe, who is the current Dist. 103 board president. “I hope they all had something legitimate that they were doing – family, meeting, work, whatever that may be – and hopefully it wasn’t a ‘let’s not go and then we don’t have to deal with it.’ … The bottom line is that [event] tonight gave people a way to make an educated decision on April 5.”
Huxhold said she’s not fond of public speaking but made an effort to be at the forum. She wished the others had too.
“I came out here,” Huxhold said. “I think everybody should have put their best effort out there. Where are they? I hope everyone is doing this for the right reasons.”
That question cast a shadow over a forum that covered a number of topics, from the district’s financial challenges to the gifted and early childhood programming to the effect of the many TIF districts within the school boundaries.
Dist. 103 serves five communities, including Lyons, Stickney, Forest View, McCook and the southeast quarter of Brookfield.
At least one question during the forum addressed the influence of local politics on the school board. Schaeffer, who has been on the school board since 1979, said politics should remain off limits on the board.
“I don’t want to work with political parties in town,” Schaeffer said. “Frankly speaking, I’m very proud of that. This is so different from the political scene. I don’t want politics in our school board.”
Kiser said that while he didn’t believe politics would influence his decision-making, “I think the school district and school board has to work with the local communities. … As times get lean, then maybe we need to start looking at alternatives in working with public works, recreation departments and see where we can get those partnerships between the different organizations.”
DeLeshe agreed that the school district and communities had to work together. Still, he said, “I don not believe that schools and politics mix. … I don’t want to get the idea of mixing money, sharing money, loaning money or anything like that.”
All four candidates strongly supported retaining the district’s early childhood education program. Huxhold, who at one time worked for the program, said, “I stand by it and endorse it. I would keep the early childhood program totally.”
The candidates also agreed that the school board needed to continue to focus more closely on the impact of the TIF districts within the villages Dist. 103 serves and make sure the district gets its fair shares of revenues as those TIF begin to expire.
“This is where we need to work hand in hand with communities and understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and making sure our voice is heard,” Kiser said.
The incumbent board members defended their record on handling the district’s finances and said they didn’t anticipate further cutbacks in programs in the future.
“We have faced some financial difficulties,” DeLeshe said. “I think we’ve done a very good job of holding our own and keeping staff in place. There have been some changes in the past. I’m proud to say we are now very stable.”
Schaeffer said, “I don’t anticipate [cuts] because in recent years we have been very careful in our hirings and in our programs of how we spend money, and it’s why we’re in the black. I don’t anticipate having to make any drastic cutbacks at any time.”