The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Status quo wins over reform in U-46 races
By Seth Hancock
Despite test scores continuing to fall behind the state average and spending continuing to rise, the status quo candidates won over the reformers for the three open School District U-46 Board of Education seats in the April 4 consolidated election.
Challenger Melissa Owens (Bartlett) was the top vote getter with 9,751 while incumbents Donna Smith (Hanover Park), who has been on the board since 2001, and Veronica Noland (Elgin), first elected in 2013, came in with 9,339 and 9,133 votes respectively. Incumbent Cody Holt (Elgin), who won in 2015 to finish the remainder of a vacated seat, had 5,669 votes and challenger Enoch Essendrop (Elgin) 3,999.
Owens, Noland and Smith were backed by the district unions and ran on a platform of expanding district programs while Essendrop and Holt ran on representing the taxpayers who fund the district and wanting more accountability and transparency.
The three winners took to social media to thank supporters, but Owens was the lone candidate to recognize the divide in the district and a willingness to listen to opposing points of view. She congratulated both Essendrop and Holt for running.
Owens added: “To those who did not vote for me, you have an important voice in this community as well. We may not agree, but I will listen and work to make sure you are represented as best I can.”
U-46 Forward, a group that helped organize for the union-backed slate, claimed to be nonpartisan but both Essendrop and Holt were partisan because of their perceived Republican affiliation. A supporter of Smith’s thanked her because she “energized the Elgin Democrats,” and Noland received a contribution from the Stronger Illinois Committee which supports “the political candidacies of progressive Democrats throughout Illinois.”
In 2015, Holt ran with a slate of candidates that also included current board members Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward.
On social media, a group was created during the 2015 campaign and continues today in order to smear and malign candidates and members of the public who have a different perspective. During this campaign, supporters of the union-backed slate smeared the church that Essendrop and Holt attend and went as far as taking photographs of a church bus to make false claims about the church.
“For the past two years, I’ve been fighting against a well-oiled machine,” Holt said after losing his seat. “When fighting against the machine, the machine will fight back. On Tuesday, the machine won.”
Holt said the “machine” includes “special interest groups, public sector unions, career bureaucrats and Democrats.”
During the campaign, the district’s transportation union made unsubstantiated accusations of campaign misconduct against Holt and refused to provide evidence or speak when questioned by The Examiner.
According to the state board of election’s website, Noland received $1,400 from unions and $2,300 from outsiders not within U-46.
Essendrop echoed the sentiments of Holt.
“Public sector unions were victorious and the taxpayers lost,” Essendrop said. “Ultimately, everyone lost this election. Student achievement will remain stagnant, taxes will continue to rise, teachers will continue to get raises not based on performance and somehow that is forward? That does not make sense and it never will.”
According to data from the Illinois State Board of Education report card, U-46 has consistently fallen behind the state average on test scores, and costs have continued to rise despite flat and declining enrollment.
Total revenue has increased by $110 million over the past decade which is $45 million over the rate of inflation according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, and local property taxpayers have paid $70 million more during that time which is $27.8 million over the rate of inflation. Expenditures have risen $90 million which is $21.5 million over the rate of inflation.
Holt said he’s “very proud of what we were able to accomplish” over the last two years which he included helping defeat the district’s plan to add $50 million in debt, promoting fiscal responsibility and improving transparency. He said he plans to remain active in local Republican organizations and conservative groups and that “education is my hot button issue, and of course I’m going to stay up to date, active and knowledgeable about what’s going on in our school district and state.”
Essendrop said he will likely not run again but he “will be heavily involved in the next consolidated election. Wake up U-46.”
Although the board’s majority has shown an unwillingness to compromise and shown a general disdain for opposing points of view, Holt urged the winners to “reach out to Mrs. Ward and Mr. Costello” more.
“They represent a huge swath of the community who voted for me, and many others who may not have voted this time around,” Holt said. “Contrary to the beliefs of the insiders and members of the machine, there is a large portion of our community that want lower taxes, education reform, fiscal responsibility and who hold traditional American values.”
One town in particular, Wayne, affirmed that by voting 92.57 percent in favor of an advisory pro-taxpayer referendum Holt got on the ballot.
U-46 Forward is urging the winners not to listen to those with differing beliefs and signaled that the smear campaign will continue as it posted after the election: “For U-46 Forward, this means we must finish the job in 2019. It means we replace Board members who sought to exploit our most vulnerable students for their political purposes. It means we replace Board members who supported wasting U-46 taxpayer money to pursue a partisan witch hunt. It means we replace Board members who place the promotion of their narrow ideology ahead of the best interests of our students. It means we replace Board members who refuse to support our ALL students and parents.”