By Bob Skolnik
The battle for control of the Lyons School District 103 Board of Education kicked off on Saturday as the four candidates of the Parents for Student Excellence slate held a school supply giveaway in the community room at the Lyons Village Hall.
The event did not draw a big crowd, but it was a chance for the candidates, who appear to be backed by Lyons Village President Christopher Getty, to hand out campaign literature as well as school supplies. They also could interact with voters.
The slate is led by incumbent Jorge Torres, who is seeking a second term on the school board, and also includes Brookfield resident Vito Campanile, Lyons resident Winifred Rodriguez and Stickney resident Olivia Quintero.
Getty-backed candidates won control of the school board in 2015 but lost control in 2017 when three Getty backed candidates, including Quintero, lost. The Getty-backed candidates must win all four seats on April 2 to regain control of the school board.
Two other candidates with ties to Getty are also running, but they are not part of the slate. Incumbent and former board President Michael Bennett and McCook resident Shakana Kirksey-Miller are not part of the Parents for Student Excellence slate.
Torres was asked why he is not supporting Bennett this time around after running on a slate with him in 2015.
"He's still a friend," said Torres, who works as a building inspector for the village of Lyons.
The other slate in the race supports the current school board majority and is led by longtime board member Joanne Schaeffer. The slate also includes newly appointed board member Tom Weiner, former board member Connie Esparza and Stickney resident Jacquie Magsaysay.
The Parents for Student Excellence slate will apparently make the hiring last summer of a teacher who was facing charges of attempted murder a key focus of their campaign. That teacher has since been fired.
In brief interviews Saturday the candidates said that student safety and tightening up hiring procedures are major focuses for them.
"When you send your children to school you want to make sure they're safe," Rodriguez said. "The teachers aren't being properly screened."
Rodriguez, 55, is a paralegal for the CTA. She earned a bachelor's degree from National Lewis University in 2005. She said that she has nieces and nephews who attend, or have attended, District 103 schools.
Campanile, 56, is an electrical contractor who recently moved to Brookfield after living in Berwyn for about 30 years.
He said that he was motivated to run for the school board because he has granddaughters who will attend District 103 schools.
"I have granddaughters who will be going to District 103," Campanile said. "The first one will be starting in about a year and a half."
More than 20 years ago, Campanile served for five years on the school board at St. Mary of Celle Catholic School in Berwyn. Campanile served as the president of the Berwyn Little League for 10 years and coached in the Berwyn Little League for 16 years.
Campanile said that while he is just getting up to speed about issues in District 103, he is concerned about what seems to be a culture of secrecy in the school district.
"What I don't like is everything over there is a big secret," Campanile said. "I'm big on transparency because we're there for the kids, it's a common goal, it should be totally unbiased. It should be solely in the proper interests of the children."
Quintero also said that she has concerns about hiring procedures in District 103.
"There needs to be new standards," Quintero said.
Asked whether she is related to Lyons Village Clerk Irma Quintero, Lyons' village clerk, Olivia Quintero hesitated and then said, "No." Then she asked why that would be relevant. When informed there is a perception that her slate is backed by Getty, Quintero said the interview was over.
An obituary for a Francisco Quintero-Otero of Lyons who died in 2018 lists Olivia and Irma Quintero as daughters and Olivia Quintero's Facebook profile photo appears to include Irma Quintero in what seems to be a photo of the family.
It is not clear whether the Parents for Student Excellence slate paid the village of Lyons for use of the community room. The village of Lyons did not return calls Monday asking whether the village charged the group.
Lyons Public Works Director Ryan Grace, a close ally of Getty who was the maintenance director of District 103 for a little more than a year before being fired by a in 2017, was handing out Parents for Student Excellence campaign literature at the door Saturday.
When asked whether the school board slate paid for the use of the community room Grace replied that since he was not working on Saturday he couldn't answer the question.