In addition to owning the Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor and being the mother of three children, Forest Park resident Connie Brown has been investing 30 hours a week as the campaign manager for Ned Wagner, Claudia Medina and Theresa Kelly who are running for seats on the District 209 school board, which includes Proviso East High School and the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park.
Brown described a typical day. “I got out of bed at 6:30 a.m. I dropped one child off at band practice and took the other two to their school. I went home and finished some emails, picked up some material from the campaign headquarters in Westchester, ran to the store to edit some video, drove to a restaurant supply store, drove back to pick up my children but on the way I forgot that I was supposed help Claudia Medina with some translation into Spanish, so I rushed over to her house, but that meant I couldn’t pick up my kids so Claudia’s husband picked them up and brought them to the Medina home where my husband Matt picked them up on the way home from his job.”
“Then I ran to the office supply store and then home to make dinner. After the three children were in bed I went back to the Brown Cow to bake cookies and pies for the next day, after which I came home to finish editing some documents and got to bed at 1 a.m. The next day it started all over again.”
Brown has three answers to the question everyone asks her: “Why are you doing this when the three candidates don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected let alone changing the system in District 209?”
Her first reply is that she is investing herself in this campaign because only 58 percent of Proviso East High School students actually graduate, only 7 percent are ready for college when they do, and Proviso East is ranked 608 out of 677 high schools in the state. And these statistics seem to indicate why families move out of Forest Park when their children approach high school age, draining the village of people who invest in the community. “Our oldest son, Keagan,” Brown offered as an example, “is now in 7th grade, and he is the only person left from his kindergarten class.”
Her second response is that most of the blame for what she calls “a dysfunctional system” should be placed on the shoulders of the members of a dysfunctional school board. “There are seven members on the school board,” she said. “For the past 20 years, five or more of those spots have been held by people with deep political ties. Chris Welsh, our 7th district state rep, and the mayor of Melrose Park, Ron Serpico, have had a hold on these spots for the last 12 of those years which you can tell by following the donation money trail and by seeing who was offered which jobs. Under their ‘leadership,’ the schools have gone from bad to the worst in the state of Illinois. This is not opinion — it is fact; in 2009 the State of Illinois put in place a Financial Oversight Panel — one of only three such panels out of all the school districts in the whole state and you can see the decline in our Illinois school report cards.”
Third, she believes the time is right for change to happen. Responding to those who say her slate of candidates doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected, Brown believes that she is seeing a snowball effect, i.e. what began as a few people asking “what if” has snowballed into a movement with people “coming out of the woodwork” to help with time, money and expertise. Brown herself has a background in marketing, and the campaign is going on at a time when business is slow. The demand for an ice cream cone is low when the temperature outside is in the single digits.
She said, “For the first time we have three people with the same goals who are not tied politically to anybody, who are willing to put in the time and effort and who have the experience and expertise to bring to the school board the changes that are required. Besides that, they have an ally [Kevin McDermott] already on the board, so for the first time there’s actually hope that if all three of these people get elected, a majority can be formed which can get something done.”
Finally, Brown says her commitment to the campaign is rooted in a moral ground. “This is not about politics,” she said. “This is a moral obligation — to provide education to our children in a safe school environment.”
Brown takes the issue personally. She and Matt moved to Forest Park right after getting married 15 years ago. She started a business here. The couple is raising three children in town. And they have grown to love Forest Park. What is painful to them is that when they went to a financial advisor, she stated that they would not have enough money to send their children to private high schools, to finance college education for them and to retire. One of the three had to go, and so the Browns will be putting their house on the market in the near future.
So why is she investing 30 hours a month in the campaign when she intends to move? She replies to the question by declaring, “There’s no direct benefit to me but to the town I love, and I refuse to go without a fight.”