Unless two people run successful write-in campaigns to win a pair of two-year terms on the District 91 Board of Education in April’s election, the remaining five members will need to fill those spots by appointment.
Now add to the list a third seat vacated by board secretary Charles Marinier, who resigned at Thursday’s, Feb. 8 board meeting. According to Superintendent Randolph Tinder, Marinier no longer lives in Forest Park, and therefore is unable to serve on the board.
The likelihood that three of the board’s seven members will have not won a single vote isn’t necessarily alarming, according to district officials, and isn’t entirely unusual either.
“It happens periodically like that,” board President Lois Bugajsky said.
Two sitting board members, Sean Blaylock and Francis Mott, hold their positions on the board thanks to appointments in November of 2005 and January of 2006. Ideally, prospective appointees will have children in the district and are willing to seek election to the board once their appointment expires. To find these people, the board often turns to its citizens’ advisory committee, which doubles as a sort of farm league for the board. According to Tinder, a handful of recent board members got their start on this committee, including Bugajsky and Marinier.
The only new name on the ballot this year is Mary Win Connor. She has served on the advisory committee for several years.
“They’re really always interested in choosing someone that’s interested in running for the remainder of the term,” Tinder said of board appointments.
Both Blaylock and Mott are seeking election to full-length four-year terms, rather than trying to win the right to the remaining two years of their appointments. This eagerness to make a longer commitment to the board, Bugajsky said, demonstrates that appointed members can serve with the same conviction and enthusiasm of elected members.
“They have both worked out to be excellent board members,” Bugajsky said.
Assuming Blaylock and Mott win four-year seats, five of the seven board members will have joined the district through appointments.
Fielding a full complement of candidates to fill the elected positions, let alone a contested race, is made all the more difficult because the district isn’t in a state of turmoil, Tinder said. If Forest Park’s K-8 schools were in dire straits, there would more than likely be plenty of candidates for voters to choose from, Tinder said.
A lack of willing candidates isn’t necessarily a sign of a healthy school district, Tinder said, but it may not be a sign of apathy either.
“It does say people are satisfied with what’s happening,” Tinder said.
Bugajsky though, drew a hard line from the district’s performance to the shortage of board candidates, and said because the general population is happy with the district no one feels inclined to get involved. Also, the board has maintained at least an appearance of harmony, which translates to fewer controversies.
“I think we’re considered boring because we don’t fight in public,” Bugajsky said. “We do it in executive session where it should be. It shouldn’t be all over the newspaper.”
Connor, the newcomer to this year’s race, said it seemed like a natural progression to run for election after serving on the advisory committee. Connor does have a son in the fourth-grade and her daughter is a high school senior. The impetus behind her candidacy, Connor said, is a desire to improve student performance at the middle school.
Connor agreed with Bugajsky’s assessment that a lack of candidates is indicative of a well-functioning school district. Further, those who are appointed, Connor said, are not by default less qualified or less sincere.
“They don’t have to accept the appointment,” Connor said. “These might be people who (running for office) just never occurred to.”