The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 board candidates begin fundraising effort
By Seth Hancock
Candidates for the three open Board of Education seats in School District U-46 on April 4 have started raising funds for their campaigns.
Three incumbents are looking to retain their seats: Cody Holt (Elgin), Veronica Noland (Elgin) and Donna Smith (Hanover Park). There are three challengers: Enoch Essendrop (Elgin), Melissa Owens (Bartlett) and Tracy Smodilla (Bartlett).
On Thursday, Jan. 19, Holt held a fundraiser in Bartlett while a group called U-46 Forward, which has endorsed Noland, Owens and Smith, held a fundraiser in Elgin. The Examiner attempted to speak to the organizers of the U-46 Forward event but was unsuccessful.
At Holt’s event, he told attendees: “Twenty months ago when I, along with two reformers, Jeanette Ward and Phil Costello, took the oath of office we didn’t know truly how bad things were. Though still in the minority we saw what three decades of bad governing had done to affect the students and taxpayers of U-46. Massive debt, stagnant academic achievement, one of the largest property tax burdens in the nation, left wing indoctrination in our curriculum, and we were met with obstruction trying to make our district more transparent. These problems weren’t only caused by the board majority and those who preceded them, but by a well financed machine comprised of special interest groups, administrators and organized labor bosses who seek to retain the status quo and their unsustainable power structure.”
Holt added: It’s a time for the voters to say no, we reject what we have seen for 30 years. It’s a time for the voters to say reform education, empower our parents. It’s a time to say we demand you reform our government. Open it up, make it more transparent, accessible and accountable. Make sure that you protect the privacy of all students. It’s time to reform our finances to protect district taxpayers. Create sustainable labor contracts, lower our debt, ask the state for pro-taxpayer reforms and of course a favorite of mine, freeze property taxes.”
At the Jan. 23 board meeting, Holt also recognized National School Choice Week. He said U-46 has “semi” school choice with the high school academies, and “I hope in the future we look to expanding school choice options for students and parents.”
Allen Skillicorn, a newly elected representative in House District 66, spoke in support of Holt at his fundraiser, his theme being return on investment.
“Illinois has the highest tax burden in the nation,” Skillicorn later told The Examiner. “My question is are we getting a good return on our investment? We need leaders like Cody Holt to ensure our tax money is spent where it benefits the community and the people.”
U-46 Forward is proclaiming itself non-partisan and above politics with the tagline: “There is no left or right in education. There is only forward and backward.”
Among the attendees at the fundraiser were members of the teachers union’s leadership.
The group’s actions and information appears to show U-46 Forward is very partisan. According to the group’s report filed with the Illinois Board of Elections, Kathleen Thommes is the chairman and Tracy Kelly the treasurer.
The Examiner stopped by the group’s event in an attempt to speak with a representative but was left waiting. Larry Bury, who failed in his attempt to win a board seat in the last election, said he did not speak for the group but was a member and simply said “their message you can find online.”
Noland and Smith have consistently refused to answer questions from the media regarding their voting decisions and other U-46 related issues, and the group backing them appears to not feel the need to answer questions either. The Examiner did leave contact information at the event but has not heard back from the organizers.
The Examiner wanted to learn how the group vetted candidates and made their decision on endorsements. Both Holt and Smodilla said they were not contacted by the group for consideration and Essendrop said he was “pretty sure” he did not receive anything from the group.
Smodilla founded a group called New You46 in the last election which invited every candidate to be interviewed. New You46 eventually endorsed Holt, Costello and Ward who all won as well as Ed Nowak, who did not win a seat.
Every candidate was sent a letter through registered mail by New You46 according to Smodilla who said: “Absolutely I believe in that whether or not two organizations, two people, share the same ideological principles, they deserve a chance to speak. This isn’t about us versus them, it’s about finding common ground.”
Smodilla said the New You46 endorsed candidates were the only ones who showed up to be interviewed, and she showed The Examiner emails from Bury, who ran on the union-backed slate, showing he refused because she “wouldn’t give him private information” on a member of the public.
Although Noland and Smith, who has been on the board since 2001, have represented the status quo, U-46 Forward claims they are the ones to move the district forward. The group is portraying that the district only has a revenue problem and supports the so-called “equitable funding” from the state that district officials have been lobbying for, but as The Examiner has reported pertinent information, such as the state’s debt which is currently $153.5 billion according to usdebtclock.org, is not discussed.
Along with U-46 Forward, the group’s endorsed candidates also will have help from the district’s Citizens’ Advisory Council (CAC) which is supposed to be a non political outlet for parents but has consistently appeared to be a political action committee supporting the administration rather than parents.
CAC’s Family and Community Engagement (FACE) committee is organizing a candidate forum on Thursday, March 9 at the district’s central office at 7 p.m. but has a conflict of interest on the committee. The Examiner emailed the committee asking if the conflict of interest has been resolved but did not receive a response.
At the Jan. 23 meeting, Bury, a co-chair of the FACE committee, and Owens, who chairs CAC, illuminated the political activity and the conflict of interest as they updated the board on the candidate forum. According to FACE’s most current minutes from November, Owens, a candidate, and Bury, who is actively supporting candidates, were in attendance when the committee was starting to organize the candidate forum.
Bury is in charge of collecting questions, and Ward asked at the board meeting “how are you going to decide which ones to exclude?” Bury said FACE, even with the conflict of interest, will “actually be looking at that and trying to distill that down” meaning they will have the ability to control the message of the forum.
The U-46 Forward fundraiser may have also violated the Open Meetings Act. Noland and Smith as well as current board member Sue Kerr were in attendance when The Examiner was represented there, and board member Traci Ellis responded that she would attend on social media, and if all four were in attendance at the same time and board business was discussed that would represent an OMA violation.
On the Attorney General’s website under the OMA training exam, which all board members have taken, it says a meeting is “a gathering of a majority of a quorum of a public body held to discuss public business.”