It is always good when elections are contested. Issues can be debated. Candidates are challenged to explain their ideas in some detail. Voters have choices. So we are glad to see six candidates on the ballot for the April District 91 elementary school board election.
However, we have some concerns which we will address in a moment.
Regular readers will know that we admire the current District 91 board and have applauded its gradual improvement over the past decade. Once a simple rubber stamp for an unambitious school administration, this board has grown into a thoughtful and independent leadership body with clear plans to improve our schools and the increasing confidence to hire administrators capable of implementing real change.
In recent years this district has reorganized its schools by grade level, upended and improved curriculum in most key subjects, hired strong new principals, invested in buildings and technology and rebated tax dollars to citizens. That’s a good record and one to be built on.
On April 9, Forest Parkers will elect a majority of this board as four of seven seats are up for election. Just one of four incumbents is running for re-election. This too is a healthy sign, in our mind. Local elected offices, especially school boards, are not intended to be lifelong commitments. New members, most often, though not always, parents with students of school age, should cycle on to the board, work hard for a term or two and then make way for new people.
The downside is that strong talent with a clear sense of District’s 91’s positive leadership structure is departing en masse. Voters will have to choose carefully if the district’s progress is to continue.
And here is our concern: Among the six candidates are three men aligned to some degree with the village government and specifically with Commissioner Tom Mannix. Mannix delivered the election petitions of Brian Moritz, Brad Keefner and Michael O’Connor to the school district offices on deadline. In our 25-year experience this village government connection is not typical and we worry about possible efforts by village-focused politicians to expand their influence to the elementary schools.
Moritz is the husband of Village Clerk Vanessa Moritz. Keefner is a newcomer to Forest Park though his connections to Mannix go back to college days. And O’Connor is a Forest Park police officer – though one with strong and positive connections to the schools as police liaison officer.
In the category of oddities we’d also note that the lone incumbent running for re-election is Mary Win Connor and that her husband Eric Connor has filed petitions to also run for the school board. Two years ago when he ran for village council we strongly endorsed Eric Connor. Mary Win Connor was appointed to fill a vacancy then re-elected and has risen to the challenge. So clearly we like them as candidates. But they’ll have to convince us of the benefits of potentially having two school board seats residing in one house. We also endorsed Rafael Rosa with his strong science background in the last election.
It is still early. Our minds are open to all six candidates. But, as we’ve noted, our antennae are up. Here’s to a vigorous and open campaign of ideas about how we make the District 91 schools better for all students and, as a result, a more vital part of Forest Park.