The first of two forums co-hosted by the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and the Forest Park Review was held last week at the Forest Park Middle School, featuring candidates for the park district and District 91 school boards.
The event was held in the school’s “cafetorium” – an assembly-room space which combines the school cafeteria with a stage – and moderated by Forest Parker and former chamber member Bob Senechalle. A small audience submitted questions to Senechalle, who, in turn, read the queries to the four school board candidates and three park board hopefuls.
The Q&A portion, sandwiched by two-minute opening and closing statements, summoned local issues, new and old, covered everything from Dist. 91’s relationship with the teachers union to what the park district intends to do with the Roos building.
“We want to pay fair-market value. … We’re waiting for Harris to pull the trigger,” said Roy Sansone, incumbent park board member, in reference to the Roos.
The board is negotiating with Harris Bank for acquisition of the property and plans to tear down the Circle Avenue portion and convert the rest into a multi-use complex. The park district also needs to obtain the building’s title from the former developer Alex Troyanovsky and make certain that the grounds are not contaminated and meet EPA standards.
Incumbents Sansone and Cathy McDermott, board president, agreed that taxpayers should be given an abatement, if, say, environmental complications prevent the acquisition of the property. A tax referendum was passed last year to allow the district to collect enough annual property tax revenue to prove its ability to pay back the sale of up to $7 million in municipal bonds to investors.
“I want to get that blighted property off the tax rolls,” McDermott said.
John Hosty said he opposes any new tax referendum but added that if Roos is not a viable project, last year’s tax money should only be abated if all other options for other projects are “exhausted.”
“This tax referendum is our money. … We have the chance to grow the park,” Hosty said.
Questions to the school board were not as narrowly focused: One audience member wanted the four candidates to describe the relationship between the board and the teachers union.
“We have a collaborative relationship,” noted incumbent and board President Frank Mott, adding that the teacher’s association, the board and the teachers union hold monthly meetings to address any issues. “We cancelled one or two meetings because there were no concerns,” he noted.
Another audience member’s question expressed an ongoing concern that kids living outside of the district were attending Forest Park schools. Rafael Rosa responded that though he understands the concerns, this is not really an issue.
“The best we can do is be vigilant,” he said, noting that the board investigates every case that arises, and most students are cleared.
Blaylock added to this by saying that Superintendent Lou Cavallo hired a private investigation firm to look into the matter. What’s more, Blaylock said that parents are required to provide proof of their address every year.
There was also a question about the district’s finances, which are in sound condition due to Assistant Superintendent Ed Brophy’s frugality, Mott said, and healthy reserves, which total about $12 million.
Despite those reserves, non-incumbent John Tricoci said the district has to be careful about how it spends its money. He said residents can’t afford to be taxed anymore.
When asked how the district addresses bullying and gangs in schools, Mott said that even though there wasn’t a program or initiative devoted exclusively to this issue, the community-wide implementation of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program addresses this. “It’s a great way to start,” Mott said. PBIS is an evidence-based program that addresses behavior and does not emphasize punishment.
“We won’t tolerate it,” Tricoci said, of bullying.
During the closing statements, the park candidates’ statements varied. McDermott told the audience that unless they vote, their voices don’t count. Sansone said he wouldn’t let residents down if elected again. Hosty said that, moving forward, all board members need to be accountable and he is only in favor of an abatement of the Roos money if no other project is possible.
In their final comments, Blaylock, Mott and Rosa reminded the audience of the progress the school district has made. Mott and Rosa also expressed their opposition to Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to merge school districts, which would do away with the local board and the programs it has instituted. Tricoci said the board must do a better job communicating with parents – which all of the incumbents agreed with.
The next candidates forum features village board hopefuls and will be held on Wed., Mar. 23, at 6 p.m. in the same location, at the Forest Park Middle School “cafetorium.”