The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 candidate forums provide differing views
By Seth Hancock
What should be the vision of education in School District U-46, and are board members and candidates willing to listen to opposing ideas?
Candidates for the three open Board of Education seats in the April 4 election discussed their visions at candidate forums on Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17. In the election are incumbents Cody Holt (Elgin), Veronica Noland (Elgin) and Donna Smith (Hanover Park) as well as challengers Enoch Essendrop (Elgin) and Melissa Owens (Bartlett).
On their vision for education, Holt said everyone on the stage wants “to improve the quality of education in U-46… but how we get there, that’s a totally, totally different story.”
Holt and Essendrop have argued during the campaign that the district needs to be reformed while Noland, Owens and Smith have argued to maintain the status quo.
One hot button issue discussed this school year has been the administration’s change in practice to allow students to access locker rooms and bathrooms based on their gender identity rather than their biological sex. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders made that decision without public input, but current board member Jeanette Ward felt the public had a right to know and be involved in making such a controversial move.
Smith and Noland said they were “frustrated” from hearing from the public on the topic.
“Honestly, I’m very tired of hearing from people that we have opened our locker rooms to everyone,” Smith said and that she doesn’t “know how to discuss it anymore.”
However, when the practice was made public last fall the board’s majority, which includes Noland and Smith, did little discussing and actually belittled members of the public who opposed the change and approved of the administration’s decision to make the change without public input.
Holt noted at the Friday forum that the board majority’s reaction to three straight meetings where the vast majority of the public came out to oppose the change was to craft a new public comments practice that limits the amount of time the public has to speak if over 20 people want to speak.
“They put this policy into place because they didn’t like what they were hearing,” Holt said. “That’s wrong and it obstructs transparency.”
Both Owens and Noland likened the compromise both Holt and Ward have sought as “separate but equal” laws.
Holt responded: “This is not a question of separate but equal. This is an issue of common sense, biology and student privacy. That’s what this involves.”
“What we must do is draft common sense student privacy guidelines that protect the privacy and well being of all of our students, and we can do that compassionately by making sure that we take in the needs and the rights of all of our students,” Holt added. “We can provide them with an alternative option, not to infringe on other student’s rights by allowing a boy into a girls bathroom or a girl into a boys bathroom.”
Essendrop agreed with Holt and said the majority’s decision actually harms the students with gender identity issues.
“Our current practice puts students at the highest risk by throwing them into an environment where their differences are most evident and where bullying is most likely to occur, in the bathrooms and the locker rooms,” Essendrop said.
Noland also claimed “the upset is being created from the outside,” but Holt pointed out “the majority of the people were from our district” that opposed the change. Noland also said students who are uncomfortable “need to come to us,” but in the fall she dismissed the concerns of students who said they were uncomfortable with the change and accused them of being “inflammatory.”
Another hot button topic has been textbooks, and at the Thursday forum Noland continued to accuse Ward of censorship for providing a plethora of examples of one-sided resources she has opposed. Noland has yet to provide any evidence that those resources were not biased, and she has supported censorship of board members and has tried to control speech regarding the transgender issue.
Noland, Owens and Smith all said there’s a process for textbook selection, and they trust the administration, but Holt said “I am here for public oversight, not just to trust that our employers are simply doing what they believe is best for our students, but it is to make sure that we are here for the public to make sure that our children are getting textbooks that are fair and balanced and presents both sides of any philosophical issue.”
On early childhood education Noland, Owens and Smith all fully supported the district-wide Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) offering with Smith saying she believes “that every dollar you put into early childhood education pays off in the long run.”
However, Essendrop noted that studies are unclear on the effect that FDK has and added: “The more programs that we create, the more we’re going to pay for it. It’s really a question about how high you want your taxes to be?”
Essendrop added, considering the play-based curriculum, that “it is essentially a daycare. We’ve got to be honest about what’s going on here. They are raising your property taxes for a public school daycare.”
Owens admitted that as such, but “children learn through play.”
Holt, who voted against FDK last year, noted his role as a board member as he asked the administration for internal data on SUPERA and MAP test scores for the limited FDK students, based on low-income and tuition paying families, that had been offered in the district the previous five year.
“The academic results were the same if not less,” Holt said regarding the SUPERA scores as the administration didn’t give the MAP scores requested. The Examiner reported the numbers at the time which showed on every measure the FDK students did worse than their half-day counterparts.
On their vision for education Noland said she wants U-46 to be a “destination district” and “we get there by improving our programs,” Owens said “collaboration and communication are essential for operating in the community” and Smith said she wants “every child in U-46 is college or career ready” and to get there the district needs to “provide programs.”
Holt and Essendrop said the district needs to spend money on what it needs, not what it wants. Holt said the board’s role is to “hold administration accountable” and provide the “fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers.”
Essendrop said: “Students need to learn the basics. After that, they branch out. That’s what college is for. But as far as our school district is concerned right now, we are spending a lot of money on things that we want and not necessarily on what we need.”
Owens said in regards to funding infrastructure that “it’s unfortunate” the district didn’t go further in debt last year with a so-called “interest-free bond” but Holt responded: “I’m a finance guy. I can tell you that there’s no such thing as an interest-free bond. That bond was subsidized by federal taxpayers which comes out of all of our pockets and would have put our debt over $500 million, higher than our operating budgets.”
Owens said “public education is the cornerstone of our community” and Noland that “if we dismantle public education then we put the success of these students into the hands of who has the most money.”
Essendrop said there’s a “lack of transparency” from the board and a “lack of honesty with parents about what is going on” which is why he’s running.
Holt, who put on an advisory referendum in Wayne asking voters if they want a greater say on if their property taxes are increased, advocated for a property tax freeze which can be achieved seeking sustainable contracts and advocating for structural reforms from the state.
Holt added that “these children are forced to attend these schools because of their zip codes or because of their social economic status, and they deserve a quality education” and said that currently taxpayers are “funding a system as opposed to funding our students” but “we should fund our children and not systems.”