Two new candidates have emerged in the last week to contend for a an unexpired two-year term on the Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education.

And each one of those candidates has influential supporters. 

On one side is District 96 school board President Mary Rose Mangia, who is backing Robert McCormack. On the other is former District 96 school board member David Kodama, who is backing Jeff Miller. 

Miller filed his nominating petitions on Friday, while McCormack’s papers were filed Monday, the last day candidates could file for the spots on the April 7 ballot.

In September, Kodama and Lisa Gaynor resigned from the school board in disgust with the direction of the board under Mangia, when it appeared the school board would try to remove Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis. Nearly two years ago, Mangia was elected school board president over Kodama in a 4 to 3 vote. 

The differences and rivalry remain. 

McCormack and Miller have filed to run for Gaynor’s unexpired two-year term while five other candidates — Juliet Boyd, Rich Regan, Dan Hunt, Shari Klyber and Lynda Carey Murphy — will fight it out for the three four-year terms on the ballot April 6. 

Mangia and Kodama are also backing different candidates in those races, with Mangia supporting Boyd, Regan and Hunt. Kodama is backing Klyber and Murphy. 

McCormack, 47, is aligned with Boyd, Regan and Hunt. Mangia supports all four of them. 

Kodama said he resigned from the school board in an attempt to wake up the community. He strongly disagrees with Mangia’s leadership and the direction of the school board.

“The way I see it, this election is about continuing her leadership versus whether the community wants something different,” Kodama said. “I don’t agree with her leadership on the board and so I am encouraging people like a Jeff Miller, like a Shari Klyber, like a Lynda Murphy and those types of candidates that I believe have a strong commitment to the school district and its mission and I’m willing to commit to that.”

Mangia gathered signatures for McCormack’s nominating petitions. She and board member Randy Brockway met with McCormack last week to convince him to run. She specifically mentioned McCormack’s experience as a military officer and as the parent of a child with special needs as adding additional perspectives to the school board.

McCormack works as a plant manager for a Waste Management recycling facility on the South Side of Chicago. He is the parent of two daughters, a third-grader at Ames School and a 4 year old. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and served for five years as an infantry officer in the Marines. He has a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla and earned a MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“I don’t have an agenda,” McCormack said. “I think there is something in my background that does make me a little bit different, and if a little bit different is an asset I would like to lend that to the community.” 

Miller, 51, almost ran for the school board two years ago, but ultimately decided against it. He says the school board needs to have a common vision and should focus on educational excellence while letting the administration do its job.

“You need to have a board that is working with the administration,” Miller said. “Everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction. … It has to be evaluating the administration, but the administration has to be given the ability to execute the vision without micromanagement.”

Miller is a partner in proprietary stock trading firm based in Chicago. He holds a doctorate in theoretical physics from the University of California-Santa Barbara and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago. 

He has two children; a sixth-grader at L.J. Hauser Junior High School and a second-grader at Central School.

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