One can never claim to know the true meaning of the word “contrast” until they have attended a District 91 school board meeting one night and a Chris Welch event the next.

On Thursday, Dist. 91 named a new board president and vice president within a span of three minutes. Though the promotion of Lois Bugajsky to president was standard operating procedure following the resignation of Marilyn Garapolo, the ease with which Glenn Garlisch was made vice president was surprising even for Dist. 91, but absolutely unheard of by Proviso standards.

There were no personal attacks, no political parties, political alliances, political kickbacks or political hires. No funds were raised, and no lawsuits filed. Outside of the recommendation of Garlisch given by board member Steve Johnsen, the only word uttered was “congratulations.”

Welch, who spent over $80,000 in his Dist. 209 school board re-election campaign last year, seems to come from a completely different universe. His high-powered connections”formed during his tenure as board president”came out in packs to attend his state rep campaign kickoff.

His numerous critics and political opponents, in the meantime, could hardly wait to log onto the web and speak their mind, and are likely drafting letters to this paper and others right now.

When we have questions about Dist. 91, we call Superintendent Randy Tinder. At Dist. 209, we’re not even quite sure who the superintendent is this week, but whoever he is, you can bet he’s somewhere carrying out Welch’s marching orders.

Chief Education Officer Robert Libka, who, we’re told, performs the duties normally assigned to a superintendent (though we’ve seen little evidence that he does) was at Welch’s kickoff event, right there alongside all the other Welch allies and cronies.

Though he occasionally likes to respond to criticism by saying he is only one of seven elected board members, there is no question about it: Welch is the face and voice of Dist. 209 and wouldn’t have it any other way.

So which school board is running the better operation? Certainly neither is perfect.

Dist. 91’s board is in dire need of some occasional dissent. While Tinder is a highly qualified superintendent and explains his proposals to the board in great detail, a more inquisitive board could give the district the push it needs to stop coasting along in the slightly above average range.

If someone else would have thrown a hat in the ring when the vice presidency became available, maybe some lively debate and fresh ideas would have emerged.

Still, one man’s opinion backed by a board of individuals with nothing but the district’s best interests in mind always beats out one man’s political ambition backed by a connected board majority and opposed by individuals who have been forced into focusing all of their energy on bringing down the president.

The concept of healthy debate, motivated by ideology rather than politics, must be embraced by both districts in order for their 2006 report cards to show progress.