A last-minute change of heart, influenced by last-minute lobbying by some parents of special education students, cost David Kodama the post of president of the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education.

Newcomer Rachel Marrello and incumbent Art Perry cast the key votes that carried rookie board member Mary Rose Mangia to a 4-3 win over Kodama in the race for president at the new school board’s organizational meeting on May 7.

The previous board president was defeated along with incumbent Jennifer Leimberer at the April 9 election that swept Mangia, Marrello and Randy Brockway into office along with incumbent Lisa Gaynor.

Until shortly before the meeting Marrello, who ran on a slate with Mangia and fellow newcomer Randy Brockway, had intended to vote for Kodama for board president.

“I had intended to vote for him, and I changed at the last minute,” said Marrello who received the most votes in the April 9 school board election.

When did she make up her mind to vote for Mangia?

“Probably when I got there,” Marrello said.

Perry, too, said that he decided to vote for Mangia the very day of the meeting.

“I made the decision on Tuesday after thinking about it,” Perry said.

On the morning of the organizational meeting, District 96 parent Mary Lang Judy sent an email to about 50 District 96 parents, expressing concern about Kodama being elected school board president because of his “misunderstanding” of special education issues.

In her email Lang Judy, a member of the Riverside Area Inclusion Network (RAIN), listed the email addresses of school board members and encouraged those who received her email to make themselves heard on the issue of who should be school board president.

“I think it would be good for all of us to contact our current and new board members before tonight’s meeting to let them know of our concerns in that direction,” Lang Judy wrote. What prompted the concern of some special education parents was an email comment Kodama sent last month to the Illinois State of Board of Education supporting two proposed amendments to state rules that would give school districts more flexibility in administering the so called 70/30 rule that limits the number of special education students in one classroom.

The rule generally limits the number of special education students who can be in a regular education classroom to no more than 30 percent of the class. Kodama said he was just supporting greater flexibility for individual school districts.

“We could easily get beyond that 30 percent and also have these arbitrary rules be put in place where it starts to restrict our school district from meeting the actual needs of the individual students in our classrooms,” Kodama told the Landmark.

Marrello said that she was contacted by couple of parents and that caused her to reconsider her support of Kodama.

“Yes, I was concerned seeing those types of emails,” Marrello said.

Cindy Reynolds, a parent very involved with special education issues in the district, praised Perry for casting the deciding vote in favor of Mangia.

“I think it took a lot of guts for Art Perry to make that vote,” Reynolds said.

Marrello said she just didn’t know enough about Kodama to feel comfortable voting for him.

“I have no reason not to have confidence in him,” Marrello said. “I just don’t know him very well. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get a chance to work with each other first so that I could just learn about him a little bit.”

Marrello got to know Mangia during the campaign when she, Mangia and Brockway ran together as a slate. So she decided to support the person she knew best and was comfortable with despite Mangia also being a brand new board member.

Voting for Mangia were the three newcomers to the board, Marrello, Mangia, Brockway and incumbent Perry. The other incumbents, Gaynor and Michael O’Brien, supported fellow incumbent Kodama.

Perry said that the concerns about Kodama’s email to the ISBE were not a big part of his last-minute decision to support Mangia. Perry acknowledged talking to other board members, including Marrello, about who should be president but denied coordinating his vote with Marrello’s.

“There was no direct coordination,” Perry said. “Simply some conversation about what the different individual’s feelings were about the makeup of the leadership of the board.”

Perry said that election results influenced his vote.

“The election showed that voters wanted some change,” Perry said. “I think it’s reasonable to have some leadership change at the top as well, and I have every confidence Mary Rose will be successful.”

Marrello was elected board vice-president by a 5-2 vote after both she and Kodama were nominated for the post. Only Mangia, apparently preferring Kodama as a show of unity, and Gaynor voted against Marrello for vice-president.

It is highly unusual to have first time board members selected to be president and vice-president.

Mangia and Marrello are poring over Roberts Rules of Order to learn how to run a board meeting.

Marrello said it may be a little shaky at first but she has a lot of confidence in Mangia’s capabilities.

“She stumbled through the first meeting and I’m sure she’ll stumble through a couple more meetings,” Marrello said. “We’re educating ourselves on Robert’s rules. I think it will all play out very nicely.”

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