School board contests in Forest Park Elementary School District 91 have featured very little excitement the past few elections, with most races being uncontested. That will change this go-round, as six candidates are running for four spots on the seven-member board.
Running are incumbent Mary Win Connor as well as her husband, lawyer Eric Connor. Other candidates include former school board member and Citizens Advisory Council member Rafael Rosa and Detective Michael O’Connor, a Forest Park Police officer and PBIS school/police liaison.
Of the four, two “newcomer” candidates have not attended a school board meeting within the past year, nor are they members of any advisory or volunteer groups working with District 91. They are Brian Moritz (husband of Village Clerk Vanessa), and Cook County Public Guardian Thomas Bradley “Brad” Keefner, an attorney and former apartment mate and college buddy of Forest Park Village Commissioner Tom Mannix.
Moritz, who has lived in Forest Park for 15 years, said he’s running for school board because he has always admired those who volunteer for public service.
“I decided it was time to step up and get involved,” he wrote in an email.
Taxes and school performance are his priorities, he said. “I have watched the schools raise our taxes so high that the reserves seem excessive to me,” he observed. “The quality of our education does not seem to be improving at the same rate.”
Moritz has been living in Forest Park for 15 years. He has a son who did not attend Forest Park public schools and is a senior at St. Joseph in Westchester. His wife had a daughter who attended D91 schools.
Moritz thinks the district should focus on improving the schools’ report cards, and “rebating or decreasing the tax impact on property owners while sustaining high morale for district employees.”
Keefner, who has lived in Forest Park since 2010, said he chose to run for school board because “education is the most important tool we have to create productive future citizens and ensure the best community to raise families.”
As a public guardian, Keefner said he works with “children at all levels of academic success and children who have a need for academic support.” He has worked in the child welfare field since 2009 and has no children himself, but says he would like to one day raise children in Forest Park. He bought a house in town last September.
Keefner thinks school security should be a priority, with parents, teachers and the Forest Park Police Department “actively engaged.” He considers the high rental population of Forest Park a “challenge” and believes that engaged residents from “all spectrums” will “help advance our children’s educational opportunities.”
Further, he said, a school board provides “checks and balances” on a school district, which encourages the district to “[think] creatively and [support] each student’s educational needs.” He suggests that the school board meetings be televised via webcast to provide “transparency in how school funds are being spent.”
He attended Illinois Wesleyan University with Commissioner Tom Mannix and the two are former roommates who have been “good friends for over 14 years,” Keefner said.
Mannix assisted Keefner, Mortiz and O’Connor by delivering their petitions to the district offices on the Dec. 26 deadline.