In the past two elections, candidates for the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education backed by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty didn’t show up for candidate forums.
This year the candidates backed by Getty are taking a different and more active approach. They participated in a candidate forum hosted by League of Women Voters last week and also appeared at a meet and greet hosted by Indivisible Brookfield the week before.
At the forum last week, the Parents for Student Excellence slate of incumbent Jorge Torres, Olivia Quintero, Vito Campanile and Winifred Rodriguez pressed their attack, albeit in a low-key manner, in the battle for control of the school board.
They are facing off against the Putting Students First slate led by longtime school board member Joanne Schaeffer, incumbent Tom Weiner, who was appointed to the board late last year, former board member Connie Esparza and newcomer Jacquie Magsaysay.
A ninth candidate, McCook resident Shakana Kirksey-Miller, does not appear to be campaigning. She did not appear at either the candidate forum or the meet and greet.
The Parents for Student Excellence must sweep all four seats up on April 2 to take control of the school board after losing the majority in 2017. They are focusing much of their campaign on attacking the current board majority for the district’s hiring last year of a man facing charges of attempted murder.
A campaign committee called Integrity PAC, formed in 2016 to back Getty-aligned candidates in the District 103 school board race, sent out a four-page mailer attacking the board majority for hiring Rodriguez. The mailer features the mugshot of Rodriguez on the cover.
At the forum no one mentioned Rodriguez by name, but Quintero certainly referred to his hiring in her opening statement.
“The safety of our children was violated when the current board failed by hiring a sixth-grade teacher that is facing attempted murder [charges],” Quintero said.
And in her answer to a question about how to maintain student safety, Winifred Rodriguez (no relation) seemed to have the Andres Rodriguez situation in mind.
“I would request a full background check be done, that a criminal search be done, and make sure that both personal and professional references be given, that a Google search be done as well,” Rodriguez said.
School district officials claim that they made no mistakes when hiring Rodriguez noting that his background check came back clean, because he has not been convicted of any crime. School board members do not conduct background checks, but rely on administrators to perform them.
District officials claim that they made no mistakes when hiring Rodriguez noting that his background check came back clean, because he has not been convicted of any crime.
Some of the Parents for Student Excellence candidates made unsubstantiated charges that the district currently has reading and math interventionists who are not specialists in those subjects.
“I’ve heard that we have multiple situations where teachers are in classrooms assigned as reading and math interventionists, but they’re not truly certified in those subjects,” Campanile said.
After the forum Co-interim Superintendent Robert Madonia said all interventionists in District 103 are certified in elementary education, which is the certification required for elementary school teachers and are qualified for their jobs.
Quintero said the district should have more social workers, tutors and bilingual teachers.
All the candidates said that village politics should have no place on the school board.
“We should not have anything to do with any mayor or politician, so I think that all decisions made should be made for the best interests of our children, our teachers, and our community,” said Quintero, whose sister is the Lyons village clerk.
In the audience at the forum was former Lyons Village President Ken Getty, who is the father of Christopher Getty. Ken Getty was convicted in 1998 of bid rigging and spent time in federal prison.
Also in attendance was Lyons Public Works director and close Christopher Getty ally Ryan Grace, who was fired from his position as District 103 maintenance director in 2017.
Torres claimed that he has been bullied by the current majority and said that the board needs a new majority.
“The current majority of the board has consistently failed those students, parents, and taxpayers,” Torres said.
The Parents for Student Excellence slate also said the district must do a better job of communicating with parents and the community and criticized the current administration for shutting down the district’s Facebook page.
Schaeffer, 79, who has served on the school board for almost 40 years and says that this will be her last campaign, put the blame for the lack of communication on part-time Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hastings, who was hired in 2015 and then given a long term contract in 2016 that pays him more than $1,000 a day.
At the time, the school board was controlled Torres and three others who were elected with the support of Getty. The current board majority has limited Hastings to working just 12 days a year.
“A gentleman was hired and paid to do it for this year and last year; nothing has gone up,” Schaeffer said, referring to Hastings. “One slick went out to only parents.”
Esparza said that the district needs to put out information in more languages than just English.
“We need to be pushing out our communication in the language that our community will understand,” Esparza said.
One question asked the candidates if they would commit to attending closed sessions. Torres has skipped a few closed sessions since his faction lost its majority on the board.
“I’ve never, ever missed a closed session,” Schaeffer said. “They’re too much fun. Why someone would want to miss a closed session is beyond my comprehension. That’s where you get the information to make an informed decision.”
Campanile and Quintero said that the district has had too much turnover of principals and other staff in recent years.
“The turnover rate that I’ve seen, and I’m new to all this, is kind of appalling,” Campanile said. “The first basis of a sound school district is to have a solid staff, a qualified staff, and a long-term staff.”
Quintero referred to the recent forced resignation of the principal of Lincoln School and noted that Lincoln is now on its fifth principal since 2017, if you count Andrea Maslan who recently served one month as acting principal after Principal Tara Kristoff was placed on administrative leave.
“That’s embarrassing to our district and should not be acceptable,” Quintero said.
Quintero also said that people have a right to know the reasons when principals are let go.
Weiner said that it was not an easy decision to vote to remove Kristoff and reassign Robinson School Principal Al Molina next year, but tough decisions needed to be made to benefit the district.
“Principals have to be held to higher standards,” Weiner said. “Unfortunately, some principals will need to be let go because they’re not performing up to standard.”
All the candidates agreed that academic performance must improve in the district. Magsaysay said that the best way to improve academic performance is to listen to and support teachers.
“The teachers need to know the board has their back and will listen to whatever they say,” Magsaysay said.