Six vie for seats on District 96 school board

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By BOB UPHUES

Voters in Riverside Elementary School District 96 will have plenty of candidates to choose from when they head to the polls on April 5. A total of six candidates have filed to run for the four open seats on the board, including all four incumbents.

School board President Cheryl Berdelle will join her colleagues Linda Bade, Nancy Jensen and Richard Volpe on the ballot. Newcomers John Allegretti and Ben Sells round out the field.

The District 96 Caucus, meanwhile, has endorsed Berdelle, Jensen, Allegretti and Sells. The Caucus did not make a public case for choosing the two new candidates over incumbents Bade and Volpe.

"We interview all of the people who are interested, and we select who we think will best service the community," said Judy Mantel, chairperson of the District 96 Caucus. "The Caucus felt these were the strongest candidates."

However, three of the Caucus-endorsed candidates share at least one trait?"they are or were lawyers.

Allegretti is a lawyer in the Cook County State's Attorneys office. While he now concentrates on federal litigation, he served for a time as a hearing officer at the Property Tax Appeals Board, and also worked in the state's attorneys office in the property tax division.

In the last four years, the district's coffers were drained by property tax rebates that resulted from commercial property tax appeals. Allegretti's expertise in that area was likely seen as a strong point.

Sells, on the other hand, is a former attorney who now splits his time writing books about psychology and operating a sailing/boat leasing company at Burnham Harbor in Chicago.

While he hasn't held elective office he was active during the 2003-04 referendum push in District 96, serving as the treasurer for the referendum committee.

Berdelle, an attorney who has a private practice in Riverside, has overseen a number of critical changes in the district in her time as the president of the school board. Early on in her current term, the board dealt with class size and school boundary issues and struggled to come to grips with the financial implications of property tax appeals.

The district's financial condition came to the forefront in 2003, when the board decided that it would seek a property tax hike, which succeeded by a wide margin in March of 2004.

Most recently, the board hired a superintendent to replace Dr. David Bonnette, who will retire at the end of the school year after a 13-year tenure. The board is also on the verge of launching a new strategic planning initiative.

"Chiefly, I want to be around for the transition," Berdelle said. "I fell like I have a sense of ownership of all the things we've accomplished in the district. It's an exciting time to see the mantle being passed and I'd like to be part of that."

Jensen, a former software engineer and now a stay-at-home mom, is coming off her first term as a school board member. She said that in addition to seeing the strategic planning process through to completion, she'd like to explore the feasibility of including foreign language instruction in the elementary schools.

Not being endorsed by the District 96 Caucus was termed a "disappointment" by Bade, who is also ending her first term on the board.

A nurse/anesthetist at Loyola Medical Center, Bade noted that Kevin Kemp, the board's current vice president, also didn't receive the Caucus' endorsement.

Bade also pointed to Hauser Junior High as a a focal point for the district's efforts, saying she would "like to see the junior high function as well as the elementary schools."

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