By Bob Skolnik
A pair of local political activists are teaming up to run for two seats on the school board in Brookfield-LaGrange Park School District 95.
Christopher Ryan Crisanti, the founder and chairman of the Brookfield Democratic Organization, and Meaghan McAteer, one of the founders of the Indivisible Brookfield group, are running a joint campaign for the April 2 school board race.
They will face four other independent candidates in a six-person race for three spots on the school board.
Incumbent Joe Ivan is running for another term and former school board member Brian Pencak is also making another run for the school board. Also in the race is Katie Mulcrone, the president of the Brook Park Council (BPC) and Jacqueline Jordan, the mother of a daughter who is in the same first-grade class as McAteer's son.
Two incumbents, Brian Conroy and Karen Winslow decided not to run for re-election. Conroy is making a run to be Brookfield village trustee.
Crisanti, 25, founded the Brookfield Democratic Organization shortly after returning to Brookfield in 2017 after receiving a master's degree in public administration from Northeastern University in Boston.
His faculty advisor was 1988 Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.
Crisanti and McAteer got to know each other working on various Democratic campaigns over the past year or so.
"We decided to work together just because we've worked before on things, and I think we're pretty much of the same mind as to why we want to run," McAteer said.
McAteer, 43, who works in mortgage underwriting, moved to Brookfield in 2017. She is the mother of a son who is in first grade at Brook Park School.
Crisanti grew up in Brookfield and attended St. Louise de Marillac Catholic School, Nazareth Academy, and the University of Dayton before going to Northeastern for graduate school.
He recently left a job as a consultant and is now studying to become an insurance agent with the goal of opening his own agency.
Crisanti also serves as the suburban vice chairman of the Cook County Young Democrats and is a precinct captain in the Lyons Township Democratic Organization.
Despite their political background and interests, Crisanti and McAteer say that they are not running to bring politics to the school board. They say that they just want to get people more involved in and knowledgeable about what's going on in District 95.
"There's nothing quote, unquote, political about that," Crisanti said.
They will do a lot of door knocking and talking to residents in their campaign and say that they would continue to do that if they are elected.
"We're really big on transparency, we're really big on connecting with people, knocking on doors, seeing what they're interested in," Crisanti said.
Crisanti and McAteer said that they think school board meetings should be broadcast live, perhaps by streaming on Facebook or some other method.
"There are people who can't make every other Thursday at 7 o'clock but want to be engaged and know what's going on," McAteer said.
Crisanti said he didn't think it was unusual for him to run for the school board despite being only 25, unmarried, and without children.
"You don't have to have a child at the schools to care about what's going on at the board because, in the broader picture of it, what happens at the school board affects your property taxes as well, so it's incredibly important to everybody in the community," Crisanti said.
Conroy, who is giving up his seat on the school board to run for the Brookfield Village Board on the PEP Party slate, encouraged both Mulcrone and Jordan to run.
"I think they both would be phenomenal," said Conroy, noting he was only speaking for himself and not for the PEP Party, which traditionally doesn't get involved in school board races.
Conroy said that he also is supporting Pencak.
"I think he would also make a great board member," Conroy said.
Conroy said that he meant no disrespect to fellow board member Ivan.
"You can only pick three," Conroy said. "It's not that I don't support him. Joe obviously has the experience and that's important too."
Mulcrone, a graduate of Northwestern University who works as the national account manager for Dawson Sales, a food ingredient broker, has been the president of the BPC for the past three years. She is the mother of three students in the district.
"We've been through every grade, the whole process," Mulcrone said. "I think I can offer a perspective of an involved parent and have a good feel for what's happening in the schools, which could be of value to the board."
Jordan, a LaGrange Park resident who works as an investigator for the Inspector General's office of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Michigan.
"I've been really impressed with how the school has operated, I've been really impressed with how they've worked with my daughter," Jordan said.
Jordan said her background as an investigator would help her carry out the oversight role of a school board member. She said that she wants to be an advocate for vulnerable children in the district.
Pencak, who was appointed to board in 2016 to replace John LaBarbera, who resigned from when he moved out of Brookfield, hopes that his third run for the school board will be the charm.
Pencak narrowly lost races for the school board in 2015 and 2017, finishing last both times. He was beaten out for the final seat by LaBarbera in 2015 by 41 votes and finished just eight votes behind Scott Encher in 2017.
An architect for the firm DLA, which specializes in school construction, Pencak is the father of sixth-grader at S.E. Gross and a daughter who is a freshman this year at Riverside-Brookfield High School. Pencak said he enjoyed his time on the school board working with the administration and other board members.
"I don't have an agenda or any axes to grind, that's one of my most important things that I would like to say," Pencak said. "I'm willing to work with all the school board members for the best interest in district."
Ivan has two daughters, one at Brook Park and another at Gross. He works in logistics for a small biotech company. Ivan was appointed to the school board in 2016 to replace former board president Lynn Waterloo, who resigned to move out of the district.
He was elected, running unopposed, to a two-year term in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and a master's degree from Elmhurst College.
Ivan said that he wants to see through the current construction work at Brook Park and S.E. Gross schools and views serving on the school board as public service.
"I just really want to do my part to keep the community a place to raise my family," Ivan said. "I'm grateful that the public places their trust to take on this fiduciary responsibility to make sure our tax dollars are best spent."