The hottest issue in the race for seats on the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education seems to be air conditioning.
Differing views of how quickly to fully air condition both campuses, and on other issues, revealed a clear divide among the candidates for the LTHS school board who met last week for a candidate forum in the performing arts center at the South Campus, moderated by former Riverside-Brookfield High School teacher and Riverside resident Jan Goldberg.
On one side were the two incumbents, Phil Palmer and Barbara Rosinsky, and first-time candidate Alison Kelly who has teamed up with them, arguing for a continuation of the cautious, measured approach the current board has taken on air conditioning and other issues.
The other two candidates, Ricardo Martinez and Kari Dillon, pushed for more aggressive approaches from more quickly installing air conditioning to establishing a 1-to-1 laptop program and perhaps selling land the district has owned for decades.
Currently both campuses at LTHS are partly air conditioned, with about 50 percent of North Campus classrooms air conditioned and about 30 percent of South Campus air conditioned.
Martinez criticized the board for putting off the installation of any further air conditioning until at least the summer of 2020.
“We have $38 million in reserves,” said Martinez, 34, who works as an analytics and insights manager for a large liquor distributor. “Air conditioning costs $13 million based on a study that was commissioned by the board in 2016. And so, based on those things I would like to get air conditioning moving faster instead of delaying.”
But even Martinez admitted that fully air conditioning both campuses would probably have to be done in stages.
Dillon also wanted to move faster on air conditioning.
“It’s a priority; it’s just a basic standard,” Dillon said. “It would be something that I would like to review and look at more closely.”
Rosinsky defended the board’s approach noting how expensive it is to install air conditioning.
“That requires a lot of money and we have it in our plans right now to some work at South Campus, and eventually we will have every almost classroom with air conditioning,” Rosinsky said. “And I apologize because I know how hot it gets. It is definitely on our radar and something we will start doing very soon.”
Kelly, a 1984 graduate of LTHS, said she understands the desire for air conditioning but said that the board cannot do it all at once.
“I get it, it’s really hot,” Kelly said. “It’s hot for students, it’s hot for teachers, but I also understand the cost is up to about $20 million to $30 million to AC both campuses. I think we need to be very fiscally responsible.”
The distinction between the aggressive, change-oriented approach of Martinez and, perhaps to a little lesser extent, Dillon as opposed to the deliberate approach of Palmer, Rosinsky, and Kelly was also apparent in a discussion about whether LTHS should supply each student with a laptop computer as many schools now do.
Rosinsky didn’t think a so called 1-to-1 program was needed at LTHS.
“If you walk the halls of the school you will see that everybody is carrying an iPhone, and we actually just boosted out Wi-Fi throughout the entire the school because of that,” Rosinsky said. “And quite frankly we have over 3,500 computers sitting around waiting for anybody one who needs one. Technology is not an issue for anybody at LT, should not be.”
Martinez and Dillon, who are running independently, disagreed.
“We’re one of the only schools in the area without 1-to-1 laptops and the current policy of bring your own device does not serve the underprivileged students in the community,” Martinez said. “Not all students have iPhones.”
Dillon also said that she supports a 1-to-1 program.
“My daughter carries around an 18-pound backpack with little time to get to her classes,” Dillon said. “It’s just common sense for us to be looking into this initiative.”
Martinez also called on the board to sell the 70-acre parcel of vacant land it owns in Willow Springs at the southern tip of the district. The school district purchased the land in 1958 and 1965 when it was thought that LTHS might need an additional building to accommodate enrollment growth.
“I would like to reinvest that asset by selling it and put that into the air conditioning,” Martinez said.
Dillon, a higher education marketing specialist from Indian Head Park, also called for the board to consider selling the Willow Springs property.
“Personally, I’m not sure it’s worth holding on to if we have opportunities to do some things for the school,” Dillon said.
Rosinsky called the land a nest egg for the district.
Martinez, who is married to a LTHS French teacher, said the board must communicate better with teachers and the community, saying LTHS came close to a teacher’s strike before finally agreeing on a new five-year teacher contract late last year.
“There’s not a lot of communication from the board and that’s something I would like to improve,” said Martinez, who gave out his phone number during the forum.
Martinez, while praising the board for thoroughly analyzing issues and examining the approaches of other schools, called on the board to be more forward thinking.
In his closing remarks, Palmer defended the approach of the current board, and perhaps took a veiled shot at Martinez.
“Myself and this board bring no personal agendas to the board table,” said Palmer, who is seeking his third term on the LTHS school board. “We have one guiding principle when making decisions and that is what’s best for students.”
Kelly joked that she bleeds blue and gold, noting that that 22 members of her extended family, including five siblings, have graduated from LTHS.
“I’ve seen LT from a lot of different angles with those different family members,” Kelly said. “I’ve seen the smartest of the kids, I’ve seen kids that are struggling to get to class. I’ve seen the athletes, I seen actors, musicians, I’ve seen the politicians, I’ve seen kids in academic clubs. I really have seen all angles of LT and I’m hoping I can use that perspective to relate to a lot of the different students and their needs.”
Dillon said that she would bring energy to the board and noted her background as activist on issues. She also called for LTHS to increase its number of counselors beyond the state required minimum.
“I’ve got ideas, I’ve got enthusiasm and I’ve got energy,” Dillon said. “I have been actively listening to students, staff, and community for several months and I am ready to get to work.”