Only three of the six candidates running for seats on Lyons School District 103 Board of Education showed up for a candidate forum held March 20 at the Stickney American Legion Hall.
The three no shows were the candidates for running on the Parents for Student Excellence slate — incumbents Katie Broderick and Kendra Pierce and newcomer Olivia Quintero.
At the March 9 school board meeting, forum organizer Shawna Olsowka, the president of the Edison School PTA, personally invited all the candidates including Pierce, and Broderick to attend the forum. After the forum Olsowka said that she had also invited Quintero to the forum by sending her a message on Facebook. She said she never heard back from Broderick, Pierce or Quintero.
Pierce declined to comment Thursday afternoon about why she didn’t attend the forum.
“I’m a work at this time,” Pierce said when contacted by the Landmark on the afternoon of March 23. “I can’t really talk at this time.”
The Landmark called Pierce back on Thursday night and left a voice message that wasn’t returned.
Candidates running on the Putting Students First slate — incumbent Sharon Anderson and first-time candidates Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson — told the overflow crowd of about 70 people at the Stickney American Legion Hall that if they were elected they would try to clean house at the administration building and take steps to get rid of many of the new administrators hired in the last two years.
They all agreed that they had little confidence in Superintendent Carol Baker and Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hastings.
But Anderson warned the supportive crowd that they because Baker and Hastings had multiyear contracts they might not be able to get rid of them as quickly as they would like if they are elected.
If Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson are elected they, along with longtime incumbent Joanne Schaeffer could wrest control of the seven-member school board from the present board majority, which has the backing of Lyons Village President Christopher Getty. Schaeffer was in the audience at the forum.
“We can’t make changes willy-nilly,” Anderson said. “But changes are going to need to be made. These changes really need to start from the top and go down.”
Baker has a three-year contract and Hastings has a four-year contract.
“We’ll do everything we can do legally to oust them as soon as we can,” Hubacek said. “I could never vote for Carol Baker to get an extension on her contract.”
Hubacek said that Hastings’ position was not needed and she wasn’t sure what work he did.
“Kyle Hastings’s job was just invented as political payback for bringing in people,” Hubacek said. “I could never support having that job. He doesn’t do anything and even if he did that’s an administrative position we don’t need.
“But when you have a school board that’s politically connected, financially to the village and they make votes based on what they’re told to do. this is exactly what you wind up with.”
Hastings, who was installed as interim superintendent two years ago soon after the new Getty-backed majority took control of the school board, moved to the new position of assistant superintendent when Baker was hired last summer.
Hastings is paid $1,000 a day, but can work no more than 100 days a year because he is currently receiving a pension from the Illinois Teacher Retirement System.
“I would love to make $1,000 a day and do nothing,” Anderson said.
Johnson also didn’t see the need for an assistant superintendent.
“We made it in this district for how long without an assistant superintendent?” Johnson asked.
Anderson, Hubacek and Johnson criticized the school board majority for hiring administrators without elementary school and middle school experience and said that hiring is based more on political connections than qualifications.
The candidates also questioned the qualifications of Human Resources Director Marty Stack, Maintenance Director Ryan Grace and Technology Director John Williamsen.
Johnson noted that Baker once served on a school board with the son of Kyle Hastings and said the new Costello School principal, Jennifer Bednarczyk, is the daughter of a Getty political ally.
“They are not qualified,” Johnson said. “They’re not meeting the needs of the kids. They are meeting the needs of a politically hungry man who’s trying to advance his career through our school district at the cost of our children and our tax dollars.”
All three candidates said principals should do the hiring at their schools and voiced concerns that hiring is now being done mostly by Hastings and Baker.
“The principals should be choosing who works in our schools,” Anderson said. “The principals know their school. They know their environment. It’s its own little community. They shouldn’t be just putting whoever into a position just because somebody feels the need to give someone a job.”
All three candidates said they opposed switching to grade-level centers, though Hubacek left open the possibility of supporting a switch to grade-level centers if that is what parents wanted.
The forum was sponsored by the Edison School PTA and was going to be held at Edison School until Baker barred school board candidates appearing on school property, saying she wanted to keep politics out of the schools.
Johnson said she was disappointed that her competitors didn’t show up.
“I think that if they were serious about wanting to be on the school board they would have come here and they would have answered the questions from the community,” Johnson said after the forum. “And it just shows that they’re not of their own thinking and they’re not doing this on their own.”