The Democratic Party of Illinois and the state’s largest teachers’ union are getting involved in the Lyons Township High School District 204 school board race.
The Illinois Education Association (IEA) has endorsed and sent out mailers supporting current school board President Kari Dillon, incumbent Jill Beda Daniels and Tim Albores. All three are all running independent campaigns.
They are running in a contested race which features four other candidates, Justin Clark, Frank Evans, David Herndon and Timothy Vlcek.
The IEA mailer supporting Albores, Daniels and Dillon describes them as “educator approved” and “pro-education” candidates. Albores, Daniels and Dillon are also included in the IEA’s online voter guide as endorsed candidates with links to their campaign websites or Facebook pages.
The Democratic Party of Illinois, meanwhile, has created a website called DefendOurSchoolsIL.com which claims that “extremist conservatives” are running for local school board and library boards.
In the LTHS school board race, the site labels Evans, Herndon and Vlcek as pursuing “an extremist political agenda” and gives positive checkmarks to Daniels and Dillon stating that they “share our values.”
“Illinoisans deserve to know the truth about candidates’ ideologies before they head to the ballot box, and DPI will make sure voters have the resources they need to make their decision,” Democratic Party of Illinois Chairwoman and state Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero) said in a press release issued March 23.
“As conservative groups attempt to mask their radical agenda behind supposedly nonpartisan candidates, DPI is committed to supporting credible candidates who will oppose efforts to ban books, revise history, and limit reasonable sex education,” she added. “We can’t afford to sit back while kids and families are at risk.”
The press release came just a day after some District 204 voters received a mailer urging voters to “Stop right wing political activists from the taking over the LT School Board” and urging them to “Say no to Vlcek, Herndon and Evans” and to vote for Daniels, Albores and Dillon.
The return address of that mailer indicates it was sent by a group called Support Our School, with a return address of a post office box at a UPS store at 106 Calendar Ave. in LaGrange. No information about Support Our School could be found at Illinois State Board of Elections website.
The people behind the Support Our School mailer have also launched a website with the same name, promoting the same message.
The website is a single page and describes Support Our School as “an organization of parents and neighbors committed to ensuring a strong future for Lyons Township High School and our surrounding community, starting with electing school board candidates who put education and our children’s future first.”
The website states it is paid for by Support Our Schools, which is the name of an LLC that was registered with the Illinois of Secretary of State’s office on March 9 by two residents of LaGrange Park.
The Landmark contacted one of the managers of Support Our Schools LLC, Jonathan Almer, on March 24 but Almer declined to comment.
“I’m at work, I don’t want to talk about that,” said Almer, who works at Argonne National Laboratory.
The soslyons.com website is registered to Terrie Pickerill, who is a partner in the SP Media Group, a firm that specializes in campaign strategy and media.
According to the SP Media website, Pickerill lives in Western Springs. She has long been active in Democratic politics.
Prior to forming SP Media Group in 2010, Pickerill worked for more than a decade at a political consulting firm led by David Axelrod, a renowned former campaign consultant, who was the chief campaign strategist for, among many others in a long career, Barack Obama.
Pickerill did not immediately respond on March 24 to calls left for her at her office.
Spokespeople for the Democratic Party of Illinois and the Illinois Education Association separately told the Landmark that their organizations were not responsible for the mailer.
Dillon said she didn’t know who was behind the mailer.
“I am not familiar with the group who sent the mailer, but like any candidate, I appreciate voter support,” Dillon said in an email to the Landmark. “Should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected, I look forward to continuing the work we’ve started on behalf of our students and community.”
Below the return address is the insignia GCC/IBT, which stands for the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents workers in the craft and skills area of printing and publishing.
Dillon is an account manager at a higher education marketing firm, Daniels is a lawyer with her own practice in LaGrange and Albores is a director of student services at Plainfield Consolidated School District 202.
The Democratic Party of Illinois said that it will spend $300,000 to support 84 recommended candidates across the state and oppose 74 candidates.
“We’re providing organizing support alongside direct mail and digital communications to make sure we reach voters where they are, especially in these typically low-information races,” DPI Executive Director Ben Hardin said. “Many extreme national groups know that they can hide their regressive agendas behind so-called nonpartisan candidates due to a lack of access to clear and accurate information about the names appearing on ballots.”
The Lyons Township Education Association, the teachers’ union at LTHS, endorsed Albores, Daniels and Dillon without conducting interviews or sending questionnaires to any of the candidates.
Albores said that he didn’t know that he was endorsed by the IEA until a friend of his saw the endorsement on the IEA website.
“I found out after the fact that they endorsed me,” Albores said. “I was never interviewed by them.”
The IEA emailed the Landmark a statement from the president of the LTEA, Andrew Johannes, an economics teacher at LTHS.
“The LTEA’s Executive Committee’s process for selecting these candidates consisted of a deep discussion, thorough background review and ultimately a determination of which candidates align with the core values of our local public schools and our students,” Johannes stated.
Some of the other candidates questioned the teachers’ union endorsing candidates since the school board is beginning to negotiate a new contract with LTHS teachers, whose contract expires Aug. 31.
“I do not think it’s appropriate to accept an endorsement from the IEA because it creates a conflict of interest,” Evans said. “I would never have accepted an endorsement from the IEA or any organization, but especially a teachers’ organization and this board already has a problem with transparency and this endorsement just adds to those issues.”
Herndon also said that the endorsement seemed to create a conflict of interest while Vlcek said that he, Evans and Herndon are not seeking endorsements.
“We haven’t accepted any endorsements from anybody,” Vlcek said.
Dillon said she was glad to have the endorsement from the teachers’ union.
“I think that shows the progress that we’ve made over the last few years especially coming out of COVID,” Dillon said. “I actually applaud them for making a statement and letting us know how they feel about the current board.”
Dillon told the Landmark that she is not personally involved in contract negotiations, although all school board members will vote to approve any new teachers’ contract.