The race to fill the three vacancies on the District 209 Board of Education may turn out to be among the most interesting local races in next year’s election. That race features two strong slates and one relatively unknown candidate from Melrose Park–Cheryl Anderson.

First published in The Village Free Press

Next year’s school board election may be among the first to feature serious candidates from Forest Park. This year, Maywood’s eastern neighbor, well-known for its deep frustration with District 209 high schools, launched a loose organization of residents and stakeholders from throughout Proviso Township known as “209 Together”. The group has met in Forest Park several times, started a Facebook group that has about239 members and has even turned up at school board meetings to voice their concerns.

The group is animated by its anger over a school district that many say has been the source of broken relationships. A common experience among Forest Parkers, by many accounts, is the long, hard goodbye from one neighbor or friend or relative to the next once children hit high school age and parents must decide between moving to a place with better schools or enduring the infamous ‘double taxation’ of private school expenses.

Recognizing that any hope of separating itself from District 209 may prove ultimately futile, the Forest Park residents involved in “209 Together” decided to channel their anger and discontent into activism, linking arms with allies across borders in the process. That cross-border mobilization has resulted in a slate that features Forest Park residents — Claudia Medina and Nathan “Ned” Wagner — and 209’s longest-serving board member, Maywood resident Theresa Kelly.

They’ll all be pitted against what many among “209 Together” believe to be the source of much of their frustration, or at least a potent symbol–the growing reach of former 209 Board President turned State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-7th).  Welch, who was a driving force behind much of what happened during his more than ten years as board member and/or president between 2001 and 2013, is still, according to sources, a very active presence in the board’s administration.

Welch is throwing his tremendous influence behind a slate that features sitting District 209 board member Francine Harrell, who was elected to the board in 2011; his wife, municipal lawyer ShawnTe M. Raines-Welch; and Rock of Ages youth minister Theodore Matthews. The move by Welch to back his own slate is either a measure taken to secure the progress the district has made since the beginning of the new millennium or a power move to solidify control, depending on the perspective.

Supporters of the slate, which is called “The Children First Party,” say that it features candidates with backgrounds strong enough to stand on their own merits, regardless of the politics involved. In addition, Welch has recently been rather vocal in touting some of the district’s achievements this past year, which include PMSA’s ranking among top high schools in the country by Newsweek magazine. 

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