The school board candidates in Riverside Elementary District 96 have begun to make the rounds of PTAs and PTOs as they attempt to introduce themselves and win over voters.

There are six candidates — three incumbents and three newcomers — running for four seats on the school board. The incumbents are supporting each other, as are the newcomers.

Last week, the candidates made brief appearances before the Blythe Park and Ames School PTAs and the Central School PTO. On the evening of Wednesday, March 13 the candidates will appear at a Hauser PTO meeting.

On March 22 all of the candidates except for school board President Mary Ellen Meindl will appear before the Hollywood PTA. Meindl met with the Hollywood PTA last month. The newcomers will host their own forum and answer questions at the North Riverside Public Library at 6 p.m. on March 21.

At last week’s appearances the candidates were given three to four minutes to introduce themselves and questions were not allowed except at Ames, where those in attendance had the opportunity to approach candidates individually and ask questions after the formal presentation.

Because of the brief time allotted to each person, the candidates could do little more than introduce themselves, describe their backgrounds and touch on a few of their key issues. However, the outlines of the race were clear.

Meindl stressed experience, especially with a new superintendent taking over July 1.

“I’ve actively negotiated two teachers’ contracts with raises tied to revenue,” Meindl said. “We completed the largest capital improvement project in 50 years on time, $3 million under budget, without a referendum.”

It takes time to be an effective board member, Meindl said.

“I think proven experience and dedication is important during the transition,” Meindl said. “The knowledge that I have gained the past four years as a board member and the past two years as board president, I believe, are invaluable moving forward. Even a quick learner takes two years in the school cycle to understand their governance role and the intricacies of District 96 and the public education system.”

At Friday’s appearances at Central and Ames, candidate Randy Brockway challenged Meindl’s statement.

“Two years, I don’t buy that,” Brockway said. “I know myself, Rachel [Marrello] and Mary Rose [Mangia] will hit the ground running and begin serving you right away.”

Brockway emphasized the importance of hands-on learning.

“I’m in favor of hands-on and out-of-the-classroom learning,” Brockway said. “I would like to be an advocate for that.”

At Ames School, Brockway emphasized his work on safety issues and traffic and made a pitch for outdoor learning.

“I would seek to green up our school grounds,” Brockway said. “More field trips. Get students out of the classroom; go to public parks in Riverside, the forest preserves and Brookfield Zoo.”

Incumbent Jennifer Leimberer emphasized her background as professional educator. Leimberer directs the Teaching Integrated Math and Science project at University of Illinois-Chicago and is a former Chicago Public Schools teacher.

“I consult nationally on educational policy,” Leimberer said. “I consult nationally on educational curriculum. I spend a lot of time in schools.

“I think as an educator I bring an interesting perspective to the table. I think I have some insights into what are the things that really make a school really function and a district really function.”

Leimberer also put in a pitch for her fellow incumbents.

“I’m very proud of the board that I serve with,” Leimberer said. “The seven people who are currently on the board talk together, debate, spend a lot of time meeting.”

Leimberer said that she ran for the school board four years ago to increase transparency and to encourage more open and honest conversation.

“I think we’re still pushing for that,” said Leimberer, who also said she is pushing for more rigor in the curriculum.

Meindl agreed that improving transparency is an ongoing process, but noted that the district has made progress and improved its website.

“Can things be better with transparency? Of course,” Meindl said at the first forum at Blythe Park. “Things take time to make them better.”

Rachel Marrello jumped on that statement at Friday’s appearances at Central and Ames.

“Transparency takes time; that’s something someone says when they do not want to be transparent,” Marrello said. “First of all this is not the CIA. We’re not hiding top-secret information here, and second of all transparency is as simple as taking a document, throwing it on a scanner and posting it to our website. If you go to our website there is nothing there, very little information.”

Marrello also advocated full-day kindergarten and hiring someone to seek out grants. She said that District 96 administrators are paid, on average, more than administrators in other larger school districts.

But Marrello did not mention that District 96’s average administrator pay will decrease significantly next year as two highly paid administrators, Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson and Central School Principal Janice Limperis, retire. Their successors will be paid much less.

Marrello also said that the district puts too much emphasis on ISAT scores.

Mary Rose Mangia, another challenger, also called for increased transparency and communication with all residents in District 96, not just parents. She said that being retired is an advantage for her.

“I am in a position to devote all my time to the community, because I am retired,” Mangia said.

None of the candidates directly mentioned the controversy surrounding Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi, but many did refer to it indirectly.

“The board of education continues to work through a difficult situation,” said incumbent Lisa Gaynor.

Meindl referred to “a difficult and distracting six months.”

Mangia suggested that the situation does not reflect well on the current board.

She said that the board must be better at “recognizing unique and non-recurring situations that need to be resolved and communicated with conviction to parents and taxpayers and not allowing these situations to go on longer than they should.”

At Ames, Brockway was the most direct.

“We’ve got a lingering problem here that seems to be holding us back,” Brockway said. “If elected I will push to resolve the issue that is presently a black cloud, or a gray cloud that is hanging over the school district. If that is resolved before I take office, I will work for the next four years to regain the trust of the community.”

19 replies on “District 96 school board candidates making the rounds in Riverside”