By Bob Uphues
Newspaper ads and campaign fliers mailed to voters by a slate of Lyons-Brookfield Elementary School District 103 candidates calling themselves Parents for Student Excellence vowed to "take politics out of the school."
But a review of campaign fundraising and spending documents, filed a week after the election with the Illinois State Board of Elections, tells a different story.
Rather than avoiding politics, it would appear Parents for Student Excellence — which won four of five open seats on the D103 board on April 7 and is poised to start with a clear majority when they are seated on May 4 — was wholly dependent on the money of local politicians to run its campaign.
At first glance, it would appear the Parents for Student Excellence ran a fairly modest campaign, although creating a political fundraising committee is in itself unusual for local school board races.
None of the slate candidates themselves — Mike Bennett, Katie Broderick, Jorge "Rene" Torres, Coleen "Dawn" Shipbaugh and Greg Ramirez — contributed any money toward their own cause. Ramirez was the only member of the slate not elected to the school board.
According to the committee's D-2 report for the first quarter of 2015 (Jan. 1 through March 31), Parents for Student Excellence raised $3,925 and spent $1,355. The expenses were for design and printing.
Prior to Election Day, the committee had reported no contributions at all, since none of the contributions it received prior to the election were for $1,000 or more. If contributions of that size are made within 30 days prior to an election, they must be reported to the Illinois Board of Elections within two business days.
That's why the committee was not required to report that it had received three fund transfers, each for $975 — $25 less than the $1,000 threshold — from local political committees.
On Feb. 27, Parents for Student Excellence received a pair of $975 fund transfers from Citizens for Christopher Getty and the United Citizens Party. Christopher Getty is the village president of Lyons who publicly threw his support behind Parents for Student Excellence.
Getty is also chairman and treasurer of United Citizens Party. Both Getty's own political committee and United Citizens Party are headquartered at Getty Insurance Agency, 7710 Ogden Ave. in Lyons.
According to campaign finance records, Citizens for Christopher Getty and United Citizens Party pay $1,200 and $1,000 per month, respectively, to Getty Insurance Agency for rent.
On March 9, Parents for Student Excellence received a $975 fund transfer from Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski, who is the mayor of McCook, which is part of D103.
Citizens for Christopher Getty also contributed $563.90 to Parents for Student Excellence as in-kind donations for supplies from a local electrical company and photography.
Only two contributions came to Parents for Student Excellence from entities other than political committees in the first quarter of 2015.
One was a $500 donation from Reliable Materials, which is a loyal contributor to Citizens for Christopher Getty, Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski and United Citizens Party. Reliable Materials, which owns the quarry property at 4226 Lawndale Ave. in Lyons, also operates a "clean construction demolition debris and uncontaminated fill site" at 4401 First Ave. in Lyons.
Since 2009, Reliable Materials has contributed $21,825 to United Citizens Party. And since 2011, the company has contributed $20,800 to Citizens for Christopher Getty and $6,350 to Friends of Jeffrey Tobolski.
The only other cash donation to Parents for Student Excellence during the first quarter of 2015 was a $500 contribution from Stars and Stripes, which prior to the April 7 election was hired to do printing for Parents for Excellence and Citizens for Christopher Getty.
But Parents for Student Excellence's outlay prior to the campaign wasn't quite as modest as the quarterly D-2 makes it appear.
A week after the election, on April 14, Parents for Student Excellence reported two large in-kind contributions totaling $9,778 from Citizens for Christopher Getty. The funds were used for printing and mailing.
In response to a question from the Landmark asking what that money was used for, Getty said it was for printing and mailing done before the election.
Including those two large donations, Parents for Student Excellence raised $11,316 from Citizens for Christopher Getty alone, which largely funded the school board slate's aggressive direct mail campaign of at least a half-dozen four-color fliers, which warned of a school district in "disarray" and bemoaning "politics and mispending [sic]" in the schools.
In one of the fliers, the candidates offered an open letter to residents of the district criticizing "low ratings, bad test scores and wasteful spending."
"It is time we remove the politics from our schools and we focus on the children," the flier reads.
As for Getty, who was not running for office and whose United Citizens Party candidates ran uncontested for three Lyons village trustee seats, he was very active raising money in the first quarter of 2015.
Citizens for Christopher Getty raised almost $60,000 through March 31 and reported expenditures of $25,193. About $11,700 of that was spent on printing and postage. United Citizens Party, meanwhile, raised just $1,300 during the first quarter.