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Opinion: Who Is Ready To Step Up for 109 in Next Election?

In 2013, four District 109 Board of Education positions will be open. Are you going to step up?

Before January of this year I can honestly say I had never attending a Deerfield Public Schools District 109 Board of Education meeting. Needless to say, things have changed.

With a Teachers Strike looming, it was important to me to see what was going on and try to get the facts on the situation. While I understand the situation with the Deerfield Education Association teachers union has caused significant strife, the meetings have been negative, angry, divisive, uninformative and left me incredibly frustrated.

I have felt this from both parents in the community as well as the Board members. I thought the Board’s responsibility was to have open and honest communication with the community. This is clearly not occurring. 

But before I get too far ahead of myself in my own anger and frustration over our chosen elected officials...they are our own elected officials. Let’s think about this for a moment.  

1. Did you vote in the last election for District 109 Board of Education members?

2. Were you aware of the priorities and stances of those Board of Education members you chose to vote for? 

Good for You if You Said Yes

If you answered yes to both of these questions, then kudos to you. Unfortunately for many others, including myself, I was an uninformed voter. At that time, I had been happy with my District 109 experience and did not educate myself on the priorities or positions of those running for the Board. I assumed things had gone well thus far, so stick with the incumbents. My mistake. My bad. Definitely will not make that mistake again.

Our Board of Education has seven elected positions. They run for four year terms. Three of the current Board members are in their third term, two are in their second term and two members are in the midst of their first.

Four members’ terms are up in 2013. The other three are in position until 2015. The Board has many responsibilities, possibly the most important being the hiring of the District superintendent. 

Many community members have stood up to speak at the recent Board meetings unhappy with what is happening with the negotiations, special education and air quality in our district among many other issues.

Many are quick to point fingers and judge our current Board members. I have to believe the current Board is doing the best that they can to resolve the issues at hand. I have to believe that they did not choose to run for an unpaid elected community position to run our school district into the ground.

Are You Unhappy? What Should You Do?

But, I, like many others, are not happy with the current state of our District. So where does that leave us?

In 2013, four slots will be open. It is an off-election year. Hopefully, the looming teachers strike is far from our minds. But not too far. I believe we will need some new faces, fresh energy and a different perspective on the Board of Education in 2013.

Are you ready to step up? When Mark Levitt resigned his position on the District 109 Board of Education in 2010 to become a judge, 25 applicants applied for the open Board of Education position. That is an amazing number.

Twenty five members of our community were willing to step up. I hope that come 2013, there are even more individuals willing to step up and create the change we need in Deerfield. And, I hope, we can all say we not only went to the voting booth-but we went with the information needed to make our own educated decision for the District 109 community. Don’t you?

Susie W February 23, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Another great way to be involved, informed and have an impact on our schools is to participate in the School Board Caucus. Caucus interviews interested candidates and presents the best slate to the electorate. In the past, it has been a challenge to get members of our community to dedicate time to the processes of electing a school board perhaps this cycle will see a change
John Russillo February 23, 2012 at 12:41 PM
I would particularly like to see citizens with education backgrounds step up in this election. One thing that has become evident is that the current Board is not up to speed on certain very important issues such as special education. They have not routinely been engaging parents or teachers. They are getting their information from administration and taking it on faith. The Board needs to talk to parents, teachers, and children on a regular basis, not just when union negotiations go bad.
Charlie February 23, 2012 at 01:59 PM
The caucus party system is a big part of the problem here. It's not an open democratic process, especially in times when it can't attract enough "volunteers" to serve the candidate selection process, which results in the caucus becoming a very influential special interest group.
Charlie February 23, 2012 at 02:32 PM
I doubt that Chuck Caruso could win a caucus endorsement in today's environment.
RonnieTheLimoDriver February 23, 2012 at 03:31 PM
@charlie, spot on! The caucus made a lot of sense pre- Internet age. Now it is easy for responsible voters to get information on all candidates, even for local elections. I do not need a small group of highly vocal people to make my decisions for me. The Caucus system, much like the electoral college system, are vestiges of the past that only get in the way of true Democracy in action.
RonnieTheLimoDriver February 23, 2012 at 03:38 PM
John, it sounds like the problem you are describing is only in a small part caused by lack of an education background. You point out that the Board is not up to speed on important issues, and is only getting their information from one party, the Administration. While I don't know that to be true or not true, I do know that a background in education would not fix that. The Board's job is to represent the best interest of the citizens, meaning the parent's and children. If they are not talking to those they represent, then they are doing a bad job, no matter what their background. They are also intended to provide oversight to the administration, so by default they should be talking and listening to them, but should also take steps to verify the information they are getting is accurate. That may include some discussions with teachers.
John Russillo February 23, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Yes, I am not saying that every Board member should have an educational background. But if one member, say, has a special ed background, they could help the other members understand some of the complex issues. This Board was blind-sided by the special ed problem, that much is clear. And I agree with you that, regardless of background, communication is a skill that every Board member should master.
Charlie February 23, 2012 at 03:57 PM
How about board members who understand the importance fixed asset management and maintenance? If you neglect buildings, then people can't be far behind. The only thing they're competent at is scaring voters into believing our property values will sink if we don't surrender to more taxes as compensation for their mismanagement. What role is the judge's (former board member) campaign manager play in all of this as a member of the administration. Could one role be..."pack the caucus"?
Charlie February 23, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Is it public info? Where did you get that copy? How did you get it? And why should any reader here trust your opinion? They always had a plan, just never had a clue about its importance or how to execute it. The caucus web-site doesn't look like it's been updated recently, and it is soliciting for members. Your comments are disturbing and only foment more distrust.
Gayle February 23, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Who decides who is on the caucus? (Although I have often wondered why it is needed - especially with information so easily accessible these days.) An effective school board should include members with an education background as well as members with financial and management expertise. There are 7 board members so it is important to think about skills/experience/expertise that each board member has and then fill in gaps in order to end up with a board that has strengths in many areas. Great article Elizabeth! I hope it gets people thinking - and considering a run for office!
John Russillo February 23, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Well, I'm not sure how many of the current Board members were around when the schools were in an alarming state of disrepair prior to the referendum but they are in excellent condition now, according to Fanning Howey. I know a couple of them were. The unveiling of their 10 year capital improvement plan will certainly shed some light on your concern.
John Russillo February 23, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Whatever Charlie. I'll withdraw them if they upset you so much.
Neil G. February 23, 2012 at 04:52 PM
In response to the author's point that 25 individuals applied for Mark Levitt's vacant seat; what the author doesn't know is that only one of those 25 applicants ever filed to run in a general election. It's easy to just be appointed, but takes some chutzpa to collect signatures, speak at open debates and run a campaign. We need individuals willing to take on the challenge. In regards to the Caucus, they ask you 5 questions, which you have in advance of the interview, and base their decision on those questions. It's a fruitless process.
Elizabeth Fish February 23, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Thank you for that info about "election vs appointed". I agree it definitely takes a lot more "chutzpa" but at a minimum shows people want to get involved and step up. I guess we will have to wait & see. Thanks for commenting.
Elizabeth Fish February 23, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Thank you Gayle
Bringin' Down Briarwood February 23, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Thanks for the education, Elizabeth. Keep it coming, and keep reminding us. As a fairly new resident, there sure seems like a lot of stuff that is done up here verrrrrrrrrrrry quietly. Time to open up some things. The Patch is good place to start.
Harry Steindler February 23, 2012 at 10:11 PM
On top of having individuals with various technical strengths, having board members who are responsive to the community and who are willing to listen to the community and the district's own educators is imperative. Also, based on where we are now relative to special education in district 109, someone with a strong background in special education, who has empathy for families of children with special needs and understands the importance of treating children with special needs in a world class way would be very welcome.
Gayle February 23, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Harry - how could I have forgotten that! :D Great points!
Eddie Jacobs February 24, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Great opinion piece! Harry- again, extremely on point in terms of special education. I get concerned about some of the comments starting to sound like there is some conspiracy out there to drag the district down. Also, I take exception to the comments that board members only get their facts or form their opinions based on what the administration tells them. After serving for ten years on the board I guarantee you that any board member worth a darn MUST be a good listener to EVERYONE in the community and within the schools. They must also be willing to learn as much as possible to act as a true "advisory" board to the administration. The Board does not and should not run the district. That is why we have some top flight administrators. I agree that we should have board members with different skill sets to complement each other. Let's get back to the basics. Fix the special education issue, it will not be easy, resolve the teacher evaluation issue so both sides retain some amount of control and clarity, and agree to a reasonable comp. package. Lest we forget, we have a great district, but of course it could be better! Work together!
Michelle February 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Great article Elizabeth! I think the board should meet with the parents who have shown up at previous meetings that have had children in special Ed 5-10 years ago. These parents have said the programs the district had in place were successful for their children. Ask these past parents what the programs entailed and maybe bring them back instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
Concerned Taxpayer February 26, 2012 at 10:54 PM
The board and current administration has no credibility in regards to fiscal responsibility. They have inreased the payroll around 1.5 million annually. Partly by creating new positions, and partly at the expense of special ed, classroom size, art, music,
Concerned Taxpayer February 26, 2012 at 11:12 PM
and PE. While at the same time hiring more administrators and giving them perks such as gas cards, matching 403b's, free insurance, and some are provided with a vehicle. If the school board and administrators demonstrated more fiscal responsibility, then maybe the teachers would be more willing to "tighten the belt" themselves. To spend with reckless abandon on one hand, and then cry poor when it comes to negotiating with the teachers doesn't make sense.
Concerned Taxpayer February 26, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Since the school board hires and fires the administrators, it is not in the best interest of the administrators to volunteer information to the board about failing programs they have implemented or other bad decisions they have made. Therefore, many of these problems are unknown to the board members. The school board DOES NOT seek, nor get, uncensored feedback from the teachers, students, or parents on new programs or initiatives in the district.
Curious Resident February 28, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Does anyone know anything about the committee of a whole meeting last night? I went to the website to see if there was any briefs on it like they do for the board meetings and I didn't see anything....
John Russillo February 28, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Yes, I was waiting for the Patch article before commenting on it. Stay tuned.
John Russillo March 04, 2012 at 04:02 AM
Sorry, Eddie. I'm sure you were all those things when you were a board member but this board is out of touch with the district. They were blindsided by the special ed problem. They are unable to work with the teachers. They most certainly WERE getting all of their info from these "top flight" administrators you speak of. I absolutely agree that any board member worth a darn must be a good listener to everyone in the community. The question is where do we find such people? The communication in these contract talks has broken down. It's up to the Board to make sure that doesn't happen. Like you said, get back to the basics and work together. I do not believe that the board is dragging the district down on purpose, but intentional or not, that is exactly what is happening.

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