By Bob Skolnik
The recent controversy around Ames School Principal Colleen Lieggi and the removal of a teacher from the school in 2011 will apparently play a role in Riverside Elementary School District 96's school board election in April.
The field of candidates is set as the filing period came to a close on Dec. 26 when three newcomers all filed their candidate petitions. Three of the four incumbents up for re-election had submitted their nominating petitions earlier in the filing period. There are four four-year terms up for election on April 9.
The newcomers are Randy Brockway, Mary Rose Mangia and Rachel Marrello. They all live in the Ames School attendance area, and two — Brockway and Marrello — have children attending Ames.
Three incumbents, including school board President Mary Ellen Meindl and Jennifer Leimberer and Lisa Gaynor are running to retain their seats. Gaynor was appointed to her seat in 2011 to fill out the term of Mary Stimming, who resigned when she moved out of the area. Meindl and Leimberer were elected to the board in 2009.
Nancy Jensen, who has served on the board for 12 years, has decided to call it.
Marrello, 38, works as an investigator for the Cook County Office of the Independent Inspector General where she investigates public corruption. She has a degree from Chicago Kent College of Law and is married to Riverside police officer Daniel Marrello.
"I think I have a lot to offer as far as my experience and background," Marrello said. "I have three children attending school and next year will have four in the district."
Marrello said that she is not a one-issue candidate, but is very concerned about the events at Ames in 2011 and how they have been handled by the current school board and administration.
"There's a lot of things that I see that have been going awry that I'm concerned about and I have to say that this particular [thing], seeing what's happening, is kind of the straw that broke the camel's back," Marrello said.
On Dec. 17 Marrello, along with two others, met with Meindl and District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson about the Ames situation and how it was handled. Marrello said she was not reassured by what she heard at the meeting.
Marrello said she is not ready to decide if she thinks Lieggi should stay on at Ames after her contract expires on June 30, but she left little doubt as to the way she is leaning right now.
"We need more information," said Marrello, who said she has read only one page of the police report that is at the heart of the controversy. "I don't think she's a good fit for the school."
Brockway, 58, is self-employed landscape architect and urban farmer. He is married to Pearl Gaskins, who sharply criticized the school board at its Dec. 18 meeting for its handling of the situation at Ames.
"My wife and I have been troubled by the recent action, or lack of action, lack of transparency," Brockway said. "It just kind of brought to a head some of the, I think, some of the failures of our school district board and the administration and that is the communication and lack of transparency."
Brockway has been active working on pedestrian safety issues and has proposed building a pedestrian bridge over First Avenue at Forest Avenue. He also serves on a committee that has been exploring possibly building a bike path, walking trail or sidewalk along First Avenue so that Riverside-Brookfield High School students who live in North Riverside can have a safe way to walk or bike to school.
Mangia, 61, has lived in Riverside with her husband, a retired soldier, for 12 years. She is retired but worked for many years in the insurance industry. She teaches catechism classes at St. Mary's Catholic Church and holds two masters degrees from Benedictine University, including an MBA.
Mangia also spoke at the Dec. 18 school board meeting, the second school board meeting she ever attended and criticized the school board for a lack of transparency.
"I know that they're limited by what they can talk about, but there is a way to acknowledge the concerns of the community without violating the trust that they have with their own employees," Mangia said. "I just feel like they could acknowledge the situation a little bit more and reach out to the community."
Meindl said that she is running for a second term because the board needs experience with a new superintendent taking over on July 1 and a new principal needing to be hired for Central School.
"We have tremendous transitions taking place in our school district, and I believe it's important to have consistency," Meindl said. "I have learned much in my last four years serving on the board, and I'm committed to helping the district have a smooth transition into the new leadership and the leadership at Central School."
Leimberer said that she, too, had more that she wants to accomplish on the board.
"I'm not done here," Leimberer. We have more to do."
Jensen said that 12 years on the school is enough.
"I've served three terms; it's been interesting and rewarding," said Jensen who served as board president from 2009 to 2011. "[It's] time for new perspectives and someone else to take a turn. While I would like to be part of the transition with the new superintendent, I have a lot of confidence in the current board and believe they will work well with Dr. Bhavna [Sharma-Lewis] and continue District 96's path of excellence."