The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Former board members take aim at U-46 Board
By Seth Hancock
In what appeared to be an organized grandstanding effort, nine former members of the Board of Education in School District U-46 spoke during public comments about their displeasure with the current board at a board meeting on Monday, Nov. 16.
The members ranged from E.C. Wilson who said he was elected shortly after Larkin High School was built, to Mariah Bidelman, Amy Kerber and Jennifer Shroder, who left the board this past spring. Shroder finished seventh in the eight-candidate race for one of the four-year seats that were open this past spring.
Kerber opened the statements and asked all nine former members to stand together as they passed the microphone around.
“We stand before you with over 50 collective years of School District U-46 Board of Education service,” Kerber said.
The group explained their abhorrence of what they see as a politicization and divisiveness of the new board while claiming they were above that. They also lauded their efforts to make U-46 better including Ken Kaczynski, who served from 1993-1995 and 2003-2011, who was proud of having “a hand in selecting” Jose Torres as superintendent.
Many served during the ‘90s and data from the Illinois Interactive Report Card (IIRC), which Northern Illinois University compiles from the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) report card, shows that during those members’ terms, costs rose while academic achievement was stagnant.
From the oldest test scores available in 2005 through 2014, the IIRC shows that U-46’s combined composite scores of all state achievement exams were below the state average each year except one, in 2007, when the district matched the state, and no significant gains were made. In 2013 and 2014, the scores significantly dropped from 2012, as did the entire state’s as new measurements were used.
In the ISBE’s data regarding per pupil spending dating back to 1996, U-46 spent $5,088 which has grown to $10,672 currently. Using the inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), the federal government’s inflation numbers show that U-46’s 1996 spending should be at $7,713.
Traci Ellis, who was reelected last spring, has used her seat to attack members of the public in the past, but although the former board members did not name names, they clearly set their target on the newly elected members who ran on a ticket of bringing more accountability and transparency to the district which include Phil Costello, Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward. Sue Kerr is also new to the board, but she ran on the union-backed ticket with Ellis.
“It became painfully apparent that there are two distinctive agendas present on this current board,” said Karen Carney who served from 1991-2011.
“The first are those that are volunteering their time and efforts to do what’s best for kids, work towards defined goals, strive for steady improvement and be ambassadors and liaisons for the district,” Carney said. “This is a difficult and complex task. It requires learning, listening and building relationships.”
Carney added: “The second agenda, newly represented on this board, comes from a political position narrow in its scope, that only views the responsibilities of the board through a narrow lens. The consequences are distraction and obstruction.”
The new board has led to more no votes than what has been the case in the past, but the administration has still had its agenda consistently approved. The only denial of a request came on a request from a fellow board member, Ward’s request to listen to previous closed session meeting recordings that Open Meetings Act (OMA) violations were alleged by former board member Frank Napolitano.
Ellis attacked Ward’s intelligence on that request during a board meeting claiming her reason did not pass “the fifth-grade standards for our logic test,” which received no reprimands from the board’s president Donna Smith, who has claimed she has tried hard to unite the current board.
Costello, Holt and Ward have said since they were elected that they want to work with their colleagues and that they respect differences of opinion. Ellis has implied she is unwilling to work with the new members and a few years ago called Ward, a member of the public at the time, “flawed” and “unenlightened” from her board seat for Ward saying “hiring, like justice, should be blind, based on qualifications and content of character” rather than the race-based hiring Ellis supported.
Ellis has recently called members of the public “childish” on her Facebook page after those citizens claimed OMA violations after being denied a chance to speak during an executive session meeting.
Dale Spencer, who served from 2005-13, said his views were “different then the other sitting board members” but they put those differences aside and all decisions “had to do with the academic success of all students.” Spencer recently attacked Ward’s views as “archaic and delusional” on Facebook for her no vote on a proposed contract.
Still, the former members claimed they had the moral high ground.
“We are here tonight because we cared enough to serve, and we continue to care,” Carney said. “We are dismayed. We are letting you know we intend to be very attentive, and we are not going away. We are uniquely qualified to make this statement because we’ve sat in your seats.”
After the self-congratulatory display, Bartlett resident Art Pierscionek spoke and he expressed his displeasure with those former board members. Pierscionek spoke to the current board a few months ago to explain bullying incidents his son faced a few years back, incidents that if true included criminal assault and battery but led to little to no action being taken by the district.
“The people who served on the board at that time should be ashamed the way my son was treated during those years,” Pierscionek said.
Pierscionek added his dismay with the perception that different opinions and philosophies are not welcome in U-46.
Pierscionek said: “In the United States, if you have a difference of opinion you debate it, you question it, you act civilized. When you start calling names and putting labels on people you are practicing hate. We have a lot of people in this district that have different reasons for liking it and not liking it. Hear them out. We’re not bad people, you’re not bad people. Let’s have a conversation going where everybody can speak and you don’t try to label them or call them names or anything like that.”