By a substantial margin, Forest Park’s Bob Cox earned himself a seat on the District 209 school board in last week’s election, beating out his two closest competitors by almost 1,000 votes.
A field of nine candidates vied for three seats on the Proviso Township high school board, competing for the right to serve families and taxpayers in the district’s 10 communities. Prior to the April 17 election, Forest Park did not have direct representation on the seven member board and traditionally does not send many of its middle school students to the public high schools. Cox said the strong show of support for his candidacy may be a call to arms for the village, demanding a greater level of involvement in this embattled school district.
Finishing second behind Cox’s 6,209 votes was incumbent Theresa Kelly with 5,252 votes, according to the county clerk’s unofficial tally. The third seat up for election went to Cox’s slate-mate Robin Foreman who won 5,242 votes.
“It’s not so much pressure, but responsibility,” Cox said of his margin of victory.
Students at Proviso’s three area high schools recently found themselves at the bottom of a list of 90 Chicagoland school districts when comparing standardized test scores. Administrators are touting huge gains on a projected $14 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year, but district officials have acknowledged rampant financial mismanagement, patronage hiring and an overall lack of professionalism at the board level.
In acknowledging the long list of challenges to be faced during his four-year term, Cox is still predicting that by 2011 Proviso will see an increase in the number of Forest Park students in its classrooms. The key, he said, is to continually take incremental steps toward improving and touting those successes.
“These are points the community should keep listening for and if they don’t hear it,” Cox said, they should call on him for an explanation.
In campaigning alongside Cox, Foreman said she emphasized every community’s responsibility and called on Forest Park residents to join the charge. Following the election, Foreman pointed to Westchester as another community that has largely turned away from Proviso, opting instead to send its students to private schools much like Forest Park families have done. She echoed Cox’s message of celebrating success to get more people on board.
“We have honor roll children,” Foreman said. “The newspapers never talk about those children. You hear about the squabbling and the other things that go on.”
Most of the candidates in the District 209 school board election formed slates, and much rhetoric was devoted to the importance of either maintaining or overturning the balance of power on the board. For years, the board has been sharply divided into a four-person majority and three-person minority. Kelly, an outspoken critic of the board president and minority member declined to comment for this report.
Both Cox and Foreman, who had the backing of the board president, said civility must reign if the board is to be productive. Cox said he contacted all of the candidates after the election and encouraged an ongoing dialogue. Foreman said longstanding board members like Kelly should be able to offer guidance to incoming board members.
“I like getting the votes, but the bottom line is the students need to benefit from this,” Cox said.